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Spotlight: The Vanstone’s Trek to the Great Wall of China

In September, 17 year old CF warrior, Madi Vanstone and her mom, Beth made the trek to China in support of Cystic Fibrosis Canada. For five days, the mother-daughter duo walked along the Great Wall of China and raised over $32,000 in CF research and care.

Check out our Q&A with Madi and Beth on their recent trip to China:

 

Why did you decide to take on the Great Wall of China?

Initially, when we read about the Worldwide Walk to Make Cystic Fibrosis History in Peru, we thought— “Yes! We need to do this.” We have been participating in the Walk to Make Cystic Fibrosis History in Toronto for 17 years, and thought it would be a challenging and rewarding experience. We thought it would be an amazing opportunity to raise some money for CF Canada, and celebrate Madi’s good health, thanks to Kalydeco.

Further investigation into the event proved that the altitude in Machu Picchu was a cause for concern with regards to Madi’s lungs. So, we looked at some other options and thought the Great Wall of China was a perfect fit. Raising money and awareness for CF Canada is so important to us, and we felt this was a perfect way to achieve both.

 

How did you prepare for the trek?

We began with setting up a training plan. We purchased our hiking boots first, as having well broken-in boots that fit well are essential. With our new boots and hiking poles, we began looking for fun and challenging places to hike. The internet provided us with a variety of beautiful local hiking spots, all offering different levels of elevation and trail lengths.

It was a lot of fun heading to different trails with our dogs to train for the trek. Initially we worked on our distance, slowly increasing it each week. As we got more comfortable with our distance, we began specifically looking for trails with opportunities to climb — in preparation for the many stairs we would face on the Great Wall.

We added a gym routine into our regimen, focusing on full body training to ensure our core-strength was efficient enough to carry our backpacks for 6-8 hours a day. While we were training, we also focused on fundraising initiatives. We crafted and sold our wares in farmers markets, we sold our “Just Breathe” hats, and we were very active online in sharing our journey and asking for sponsors. We are proud to say that our efforts paid off, and we managed to raise over $32,000.

 

Could you please tell us about your trip to China? How was it?

The trip was beyond any of our wildest expectations! Charity Challenge was phenomenal and took care of every detail of the trip, and more. We met at the first lodge and were introduced to the group. We were part of a group from the UK, and unexpectedly there was a fantastic couple from Montreal who were hiking for CF Canada as well, as their 18 year old daughter also suffers with CF.

We had three group leaders who were all experienced hikers and travelers. Tony was from China, and planned each detail to perfection; from taking care of language barriers, to travel issues in Beijing, and providing positive support and leadership while on the wall. Ray was another word- class trekker who was a great support, and kept the trip safe and fun. The third leader, Robert, supported the other two leaders and ensured everyone was having a good experience on the wall.

Day one started with a 1.5 hour bus transfer to the Great Wall. Once we arrived at our destination, we did a brief warm up before climbing 1050 stairs to get on the wall. It was tough, despite our training — but the wall itself was incredible. The mountains were beautiful and lush, which was something that we didn’t really expect to see.

Most of the walk consisted of stairs of varying heights and widths. The walking poles most certainly came in handy. The group was made up of different ages and fitness levels. Some hikers charged ahead, some made their way at their own comfortable pace, others who at times found it more challenging, did the walk at their own speed and took breaks as required.

Each day after the walk, we were back on the bus to travel to the next lodging. We generally had an hour or so to shower and prepare for dinner with the group, followed by a briefing on the part of the wall we would be trekking the next day. Some of the group would get together after dinner for a bit of socializing, others would go back to their rooms to pack their bags and prepare for the next day as we were generally up by 6:30 for breakfast.

The wall was never boring. Each day we were on a totally different part of it. One day, we hit a popular touristy portion with a neat little “village” with shops, restaurants, and gondolas for the tourists to go up and see the beauty of the wall. There was a day that we spent most our time trekking beside the wall as it was in such disrepair from having not been touched in hundreds of years. Most days, we didn’t see other people on the wall, or very few as we were taken away from the popular sections.

We participated in a couple group outings that were organized by Charity Challenge. We had the chance to visit a famous Chinese restaurant, and went to a jade factory. Each day after returning to our room, it was shocking to review our pictures from the day, and see how far we had travelled and the heights we had climbed that day. It was both rewarding and empowering seeing what we were capable of.

The final day was a tour of some of the historical spots in Beijing brought to life by our amazing tour guide, Tony. The history of it all was very interesting. We loved every minute of learning and seeing the history firsthand.

 

What surprised you on this journey?

I think the thing that surprised us the most was how different China is from Canada. Of course we knew it would be different, but some of the cultural differences were so interesting to learn about. The wall was more beautiful and varied than we could have ever imagined. Each day brought up an entirely different experience.

 

What will #aworldwithoutCF mean to you?

A world without CF would mean that we would no longer need to worry about two-week hospital admissions interrupting school, work and life in general for us. It would mean that we would no longer need to advocate for life-saving medications to be made available to CF patients.

A world without CF would mean we would not have to grieve as our friends pass away from this horrible disease.  We have not known “normal” since Madi’s diagnosis at eight months, which would be wonderful. For people living with CF, the feeling of living on the edge each day knowing how quickly your plans can change as a new cough starts is all too familiar.  We believe we are going to see the cure soon, and we are happy to be a part of working towards this goal so that one day, CF will stand for cure found!