It’s the fifth highest peak in the contiguous United States, with a summit elevation of 14,409 feet. It also happens to be an active volcano.
Many people who attempt to climb to the top of Mount Rainier don’t make it, but Sultan resident Heidi Kossow Dawson, along with her friend and business partner, Kirkland resident Kelly Tipple-Moran, are not going to let that stop them. In less than three weeks the two will be embarking on their Mount Rainier adventure, and they plan on giving it their best shot.
The two moms are planning on making the climb in conjunction with their “Steptember Northwest” initiative, which is a collaborative campaign being coordinated by Dawson and Tipple-Moran’s nonprofit organization, the Determined Parents Foundation, and another nonprofit called Provail. Both organizations are dedicated to supporting the families of children with special needs.
The Steptember Northwest event, an adventure-themed crusade meant to encourage people to get more active, will culminate in their climb of Mount Rainier which is scheduled to take place from Sept. 18 through Sept. 22.
Steptember Northwest will both raise money and spread awareness for special needs children. Originally started in Australia, the concept was used to spread cerebral palsy awareness. Provail and the Determined Parents Foundation have broadened the message to include all special needs children, and have joined forces to spread the word even farther.
The Determined Parents Foundation, which recently became an official 501C3 non-profit, was developed as a means of providing grants to families of children with special needs. Provail is an established nonprofit organization dedicated to providing services to children with special needs.
“We provide the grants, Provail provides the services and it’s all nonprofit,” explained Tipple-Moran. “They came to us and asked us to partner with them on this, which was wonderful. They’re the big dogs and we’re just two moms.”
“They are sky-rocketing us into the big leagues and we’re okay with that,” added Dawson.
Both parents of a special needs child, it was the high costs associated with caring for their children that motivated them to start the Determined Parents Foundation. Tipple-Moran and Dawson shared a vision of being able to help other families deal with costly insurance copays and other out-of-pocket expenses which can cost thousands of dollars per month.
Tipple-Moran’s 5-year-old son, Jack, has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which negatively impacts the brain’s ability to control muscle movement. Dawson’s 8-year-old son, Patrick, has a different neurological disability called sensory processing disorder, a relatively new diagnosis which causes sensory signals in the brain to be confused and disorganized, essentially creating a neurological “traffic jam.”
Both Dawson and Tipple-Moran are vastly experienced at navigating the world of experimental therapies, insurance premiums, deductibles and everything else that is a part of caring for a special needs child. They have become all-too-familiar with the limitations of insurance policies, which cease covering any kind of treatment or therapy for neurological disorders once a child reaches the age of seven.
This was an especially rude awakening for Dawson, whose son wasn’t diagnosed until he was 6-1/2 years old. That left them with six months’ worth of therapies covered before they were forced to pay for everything out of pocket.
Dawson has had to seek alternative methods of obtaining funding, such as grants, or else find other ways of absorbing the extensive out-of-pocket expenditures.
“There are some months that are very much harder than others,” said Dawson. “You shouldn’t have to choose between food on the table and getting your kid the therapy that he needs.”
Part of the foundation’s mission is to spread awareness that coverage for neurological disorders should not end when a child turns seven.
Another part of their mission is to help families afford the costs associated with experimental treatments. Experimental treatments can often be extremely effective at helping special needs children, but are not typically covered by insurance companies.
Serial casting, also known as constraint-induced therapy, is one of the experimental therapies that Tipple-Moran has obtained for her son. In Jack’s case, the treatment was used to force him to use his right hand, which was very weak, as opposed to his left hand, which was strong. The therapy involved placing his strong hand into a cast, thus forcing him to begin utilizing his weaker hand.
In addition to helping him develop and improve his fine motor skills, the treatment has given him the ability to use both of his hands.
“Before we did that, he had no use of his right hand,” said Tipple-Moran.
Early intervention, combined with experimental therapies like casting, will hopefully enable Jack to avoid surgery in the long run.
Dawson also finds experimental therapy extremely helpful with Patrick’s disorder, and has been utilizing a treatment called Integrated Listening Systems. The strategy is used to help improve sensory processing, cognitive reasoning, social responses and much more.
“Both of our kids, they work harder than most adults that we know,” said Tipple-Moran. “It’s really ridiculous how much effort these poor kids are putting out every day just to do the same things that we totally take for granted.”
But when it comes to hard work, Tipple-Moran and Dawson are no strangers to the concept. The two have been training since the beginning of the year to prepare for their upcoming Mount Rainier climb. Neither of them has climbed a mountain in the past, and will be embarking on the adventure as a part of a group, complete with four experienced guides.
“I’m a runner, so the majority of my training has been long-distance running,” said Tipple-Moran, adding that running with both her 5-year-old son, Jack, and her 3-year-old daughter, Alice, in their stroller adds at least 100 pounds of weight to the trek.
For Dawson, the training has been a complete shift in her daily routine, both physically and mentally. A business owner, Dawson had been intensely focused on getting the foundation set up and raising her four children; 8-year-old Patrick, 6-year-old Joshua, 4-year-old TJ and Ethan, who is two.
Her husband, Tyler, works full-time at Boeing, so finding the time to exercise was a definitely a challenge.
“I was basically a 250-pound sedentary mom,” said Dawson. “I didn’t work out at all.”
Dawson shared that she has focused more on strength training with intense bursts of cardio and has utilized videos from the Insanity series by Shaun Thompson. She trains at Loves Hill in Sultan, as well as at the Sultan High School stadium. She has lost close to 50 pounds since the start of this journey, despite having had her thyroid removed less than a year ago.
“My scale still doesn’t move very fast and it is depressing, but my clothes are falling off,” said Dawson. “So something is changing.”
Both Dawson and Tipple-Moran are required to report for the climb with extensive gear including glacier goggles, hiking boots, food, layered clothing, long underwear, several shirts that can be layered for warmth, ear coverings, hats and three different types of gloves. Certain equipment, like backpacks and glacier gear can be rented.
They will be summiting via the Disappointment Cleaver route, which is also referred to as the DC route. The DC route offers the best chance of a favorable summit, being both the most popular route and the one with the highest success rate. Camp Muir is the first stop on the climb, located at approximately 10,000 feet, which is where they will stay the first night. The next day they will climb to Ingraham Glacier, which is located at roughly 12,000 feet.
Once at the glacier, they will stop for a few hours rest, and begin the final approach at midnight.
“It’s a twilight start,” said Dawson. “You start up the mountain in the dark.”
How long they remain at the top entirely depends on the weather conditions while they’re up there. Factors like the potentially frigid weather coupled with complications surrounding the high altitudes have established Mount Rainier as a notoriously difficult climb.
“You never know,” said Dawson. “The mountain could send you back down; your body could send you back down. You hope and pray you get up to the summit, but in September… I think I read it was a one in 10 chance of getting up to the summit.”
Tipple-Moran and Dawson are inviting everyone to participate in the event with them via their Steptember Northwest daily step challenge. The object is to challenge participants to take 10,000 steps per day throughout the month of September. Teams of four can compete against other teams from around the world in categories such as the number of steps taken as well as the amount of funds raised.
Tipple-Moran would also like to encourage participants to Instagram photos of their stepping adventures with the tagline #steptembernw as a method of interacting with other participants. To sign up or to donate money, visit the Steptember Northwest website at http://www.steptembernw.org/.
Folks can make donations to support Dawson or Tipple-Moran by going to https://event.steptember.us/donate. Dawson’s team is called the Devilish Dawsons and Tipple-Moran’s is called Team Jack and Alice. All proceeds from Steptember will be divided up evenly between The Determined Parents Foundation and Provail.
For additional information on the Determined Parents Foundation please visit http://www.thedeterminedparentsfoundation.org/. For additional info on the Rainier climb, or to donate to the actual climb event, visit http://www.gofundme.com/5rsaxs.