A KELSO woman is going to scale the highest mountain in Africa in memory of her brother.
Mum-of-four Jo Ballantyne will climb Mount Kilimanjaro in September to raise money for charities which helped her family and late brother Andy.
In her appeal for support, Mrs Ballantyne says: “On March 21 last year I lost one of the most important and precious people in my life. Andy wasn’t just a brother to me, but a best friend.”
The 37-year-old hopes to raise at least £3,000 for Marie Curie, Hospiscare and the Brain Tumour Charity.
Mrs Ballantyne is already in training for the challenge, giving her younger children piggybacks up local hills as well as doing aerobics, step, pilates and kettlebell classes, and working out on a walker. She plans to tackle Munros when the weather improves.
Asked what the challenges of ‘Kili’ will be, she said: “Coping with the altitude. The consequence of climbing too high, too quickly, is altitude sickness. You can get headaches, suffer vomiting and struggle with your digestive system. And I have to be prepared mentally, I will be leaving behind my husband and four children and travelling on my own – and sleeping in a tent.”
She chose the African mountain, and is taking a less popular and more challenging climb up it than the so-called ‘tourist route’, because “Andy loved the mountains and used to do a lot of rock climbing. Kilimanjaro has always inspired me and I love Africa.”
Asked what her brother would think, she said: “He’d say ‘go girl and conquer that mountain’.”
Mrs Ballantyne says she’s looking forward to reaching the top, “seeing and taking in the views around me and actually climbing the highest mountain in Africa”. As to what the rest of her family think she said: “My Mum and Dad are worried but also proud of me, and my brother and sister realise it is a journey I need to do for Andy.”
Brother Andy was diagnosed with a brain tumour in June 2005 and told he might have only 10 years to live.
“I never actually expected that to happen. Near the end, he tragically lost his mobility and eye sight. This is not the way a young man of 40 who was an outdoor pursuits instructor and a competitive sportsman, specialising in tennis coaching, should finish his life,” she writes in her appeal.
“Andy lived his life for his tennis and his two children – Blue, aged 12, and Beau, aged eight.”
As Mrs Ballantyne came out of hospital celebrating the birth of her and husband Michael’s first child, Matt, Andy went into hospital after having epileptic fits. Doctors found a benign tumour the size of a golf ball wrapped around one of the main lobes in Andy’s brain which they said could have been growing since he was a teenager. It turned malignant and aggressive, and doctors operated. But in February last year medics gave Andy just four to 10 weeks to live.
“He had tried to keep his independence by living with one of his best friends but had to move to Devon to be cared for at my parents’ home with the help of his siblings and partner, Claire.
“We could not have coped with this without the help and support of the Marie Curie nurses who came night after night in March to sit and nurse Andy when we realised as a family we just couldn’t be with him 24 hours.
“Simultaneously, Marie Curie and also Hospiscare in Exeter supported us with help and advice of what was to come and tried to prepare us for when we would finally lose him. With their help it meant that Andy was able to stay at my parents’ house almost until the end.”
Her climb is to raise money for the supporting charities “for the invaluable support offered to us and for other families going through similar circumstances to enable them to have the same help and support that we had,” she says.
And money will also go to the research Brain Tumour Charity because “it was so frustrating knowing you couldn’t do anything to help him get better”.
Mrs Ballantyne says: “Andy loved mountains and challenges, and hopefully this journey will help me personally grieve for him and honour his memory.”
Anyone wanting to donate can visit www.justgiving.com/teams/jokilimanjaroclimb or send a cheque written out to the relevant charity(s) and enclosing their name and address to Mrs Ballantyne at M & J Ballantyne Ltd, 24 Shedden Park, Kelso, TD5 7AL.