Mastering Mountains
Accompanied by his wife Rebecca (Bex) we were treated to a presentation by Nick Allen on his journey leading to his activities with the Mastering Mountains Charitable Trust.
Established in 2015 the Trust aims to enrich the lives of people affected by MS and Functional Neurological Disorder.
“By helping our grant recipients get outdoors we aim to create life-long change in their lives by enabling them to live a physically active and meaningful life” shared Nick.
Nick’s experiences include being a writer as well as a semi-professional climber and he has a passion for making the outdoors accessible for others.  “This is very important for physical, mental and spiritual health” said Nick.
Looking back on growing up, Nick remembered his Dad taking him for an experience in the mountains at age 7.  He found it quite challenging and very much an adventure that left him with a big sense of achievement.
As a consequence he decided that he wanted to be a climber and scoured the libraries for every book he could read on the topic.  He also pinned a picture of Mt Everest on his ceiling.
In his late teens, however, he started to experience neurological issues including a weakness in his legs and tremors in his hands.  He tried training harder but this had no effect.
One day at aged 21 he hit the wall and woke up feeling extremely weak and unable to climb the stairs.  He kept trying to exercise but had little luck and ended up bedridden repeatedly, sometimes for up to a week. He found this extremely hard, demotivating and left him feeling he was lost with little hope in sight. 
Luckily he also found real strength at this time with the community he was in.
So at aged 24 he decided to study overseas even though this meant he was having to use a mobility scooter as the pain made it difficult to walk very far which he was not fond of and made things incredibly hard.
On turning 25 he realised he needed to drop out of his studies and return to New Zealand.  One day while sitting across the table from a medical professional it was suggested he had MS.  This was quite the surprise as he realised it was going to be a long term experience.
“One in 5 New Zealanders will have a neurological challenge and diagnosis at some stage of their lives” noted Nick.  “I still tried to ignore it but the result of my efforts of continuing to train also led to me crashing more”.
He decided to alter his approach by improving his diet and adopting a more balanced activity regime.  In 2010 he got into a Massey rehab plan and adopted a three pronged approach including improved diet, better stress management and guided exercise. This meant learning how to listen to his body.
As a result he slowly began to manage his situation better and was making progress as he neared his 30th birthday.  So five years after being told he had MS he was able to finally get back into rock climbing as he now had an approach that was working.
He also realised he was still at home and unsure where he was going in life.  “So off to climb in the Himalayas I went” smiled Nick.  He attempted 2 peaks and finally achieved what had been a childhood dream which included being at the top of a 21,000 ft peak.
Seeing the sun rise over multiple 8,000 ft peaks was magic and gave him a great sense of achievement and accomplishment as it had taken months of training to reach a goal that he felt was unattainable.  He especially appreciated the community support that helped him get there.
In 2016 he wrote a book titled “To the Summit” which was the hardest thing he’d done in his life.  “It also helped me process the nature of my diagnosis at a time where I was experiencing mixed emotions from both my previous experiences and the challenge of writing the book”.
In 2017 he got married which was one of the best blessings to come from writing the book.  “I have learnt that hardship leads to blessing” smiled Nick.
In 2019 he achieved ten first ascents on granite rock faces on Stewart Island which reminded him of the value of these and other recent achievements he had experienced.
“More recently I am often fatigued and it is an on-going battle to maintain strength in my legs but I continue to think through how to best manage the on-going challenges I love” smiled Nick.
With respect to Mastering Mountains, as noted earlier Nick and his team help people overcome challenges in the outdoors environment.  This included assisting a MS client with a grant to have a personal trainer that helped her achieve a major traverse with her family and community. As a result she is now better equipped to go through the ongoing challenges of MS.
 “The approach we take” explained Nick in closing “involves helping people accept change, build capacity, learn new skills and implement lifestyle changes which helps them successfully cope with their challenges”.
We thanked Nick for his insight into how both he and the clients Mastering Mountains support find effective ways to ensure they can successfully manage their neurological challenges and continue to experience interesting and rewarding experiences in their lives.