How was it? That is the question that I am still getting asked on a daily basis. "So....How was it?" I have a fairly standard, generic answer for more people –it was amazing, beautiful, breath taking, exhilarating, challenging, successful. But the truth of it all is that I have been spending the better part of the last month trying to answer that question for myself. How was it?
Those adjectives I that I mentioned before...amazing, beautiful, breath taking; they cannot begin to even describe what I saw. Exhilarating, challenging, successful cannot begin to describe what we did. It is hard for me to find the words and to vocalize exactly what this Epic Climb trip was for me.
Many of you reading this have been a part of this journey from the very beginning and are familiar with my story. When I first heard about the Epic Climb of the Grand Canyon, I knew that I wanted to find a way to do this. Then I stopped to think for a second (or minute, or week) and realized that the title of the climb is more than that; it continues...it's the Epic Climb of the Grand Canyon for Epilepsy. Wow. In that instant, I went from the feeling of wanting to the feeling of necessity. I needed to do this climb. I have faced and overcome and conquered so many challenges living with Epilepsy. This climb was a chance to prove to myself just how limitless I can be, and to prove to the world that Epilepsy does not need to be a life sentence of stigma and isolation.
This climb has created lifelong bonds with new friends, it has introduced me to so many other people in our community that are living with Epilepsy, it has given me a chance to say the word Epilepsy in a positive light nearly every single day for the last year, and it has let me know just how far I am able to push myself. I know now that whatever comes my way, I can endure the challenge and rise above. Hopefully, I will be able take that lesson and inspire other people with Epilepsy to do the same.
So, how was it? The canyon was cruel, but kind. It pushed our bodies to the absolute limits. We were sore, mentally anguished, and physically exhausted by the end. But its vastness is mesmerizing, and as one of my fellow climbers put it, its stillness is deafening. Standing still in silence overlooking the canyon is one of the most beautiful moments I will ever experience, though not just for its serenity. With the sun setting over the rocks, and in a time when we were all silent and taking in the view, I experienced a very special moment of solitude. Because although in that moment, I felt like it was just me and the canyon physically, I also felt the undeniable connection with my fellow climbers as I knew they were doing the same thing. We were all in that moment right then because we were all dedicated to the Epic Climb for Epilepsy. I knew in that moment that I would never again feel the isolation I have felt before because of Epilepsy. Now, I have a community surrounding me, embracing that word.
So many people have experienced the Grand Canyon and what its beauty has to offer. So many people have walked its switchbacks and awed at its views. It has been impactful on so many lives. But I like to think that we left a lasting impact on the canyon with our 15 sets of feet pounding its trails together, representing our community rallying for a cause –Epilepsy. I left sweat, tears, and raw emotion in the canyon. I will always remember the layers of exposed rock and history, the feeling of the cold creek on my feet, and the taste of the dusty trail. It took me days to wash the dust off of myself and my clothes, but the marks the red rock dust has left on my soul cannot be washed off. And with a piece of the Grand Canyon always in my heart, I will use this experience to help other people like myself to realize their full potential and conquer their own Epic Climb.
Thank you so much for everything that you have done to make this climb a reality for us. Know that we truly carried each and every one of you with us this entire journey.
– Chelsea Kerstens