Doon Wilkins is headed for Africa, to adventure for a good cause.
The 64-year-old retired public speaker will take part in a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in September to raise awareness and funds for a new Parkinson’s Disease research project.
“There’s cautious optimism they might have gotten to the point where they might be able to stall this disease in its tracks,” said Wilkins.
The research project is being conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, and Wilkins found out about it while visiting friends in San Diego, CA.
“They’ve come to the point in stem cell research where they’re going to have a go at this,” said Wilkins. “They have lots of research and experimentation to date that says this could be the one.”
While stem cell research in the past has been controversial, due to the extraction of cells from human embryos, for this project the cells are being extracted from the cells of patients participating, to be transplanted later.
“It’ll be groundbreaking if it’s successful, not only in terms of Parkinson’s, but also diseases like MS,” said Wilkins. “We’re on the verge of huge gains.”
Scripps needs about $300,000 to conduct the project, and is at $125,000 now, so with a planned departure date of Sept. 1, the group of climbers has more than two months to raise the remainder of the funding.
“The whole idea is people who care about it are gathering together and seeing if we can pull something off that could be big,” said Wilkins.
As for the adventure part, 17 climbers are taking part, each paying their own way – all money raised through the fundraising goes to the project, not to the climb. Wilkins is the lone Canadian, with the remainder all being from the U.S., three of whom have Parkinson’s Disease.
“It’s the adventure of climbing the highest freestanding mountain in the world,” he said. “I’m in my first year of retirement and I’ve got this chance to do something that I’ve loved all my life anyway.”
Wilkins has previously climbed mountains in many other places, including India, Nepal and the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s definitely in alignment with what I love to do anyway,” he stressed. “This project is really compelling, it’s an opportunity to have a grand adventure and I think it’s important to become part of something that’s bigger than yourself.
“There’s a sense of that’s what makes life rich, to immerse yourself and try to give back a little bit.”
Mt. Kilimanjaro, located in northern Tanzania, is the highest mountain in Africa, at about 19,340 feet. Canmore sits at the same elevation as the base of Kilimanjaro, making it an elevation gain of nearly 15,000 feet.
For perspective, Mt. Rundle is an elevation gain of 4,300 feet. This will be Wilkins’ first major climb in quite some time.
“India was 25 years ago,” he said. “But I’ve been training and I’m in the perfect place to take this on.
“I’ve got nothing but mountains between here and the day I fly. I’ll be in pretty good shape by the time we get there.”
The important thing is raising awareness and funding for the project.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if in a few years there’s an announcement that they’re able to make significant progress?” asked Wilkins. “When you meet these people, and they’re struggling with the disease, it’s an amazing happening.”
Wilkins, originally from Red Deer, has lived in Canmore for the past seven years and has been a public speaker for 20 years.
“I travel around and talk to people about finding a life path that works for yourself and being resilient as you go through your life’s journey and career efforts,” he explained.
He hopes to speak on this subject over the coming months, to help with the fundraising effort.
To learn more or to donate, visit the website summit4stemcell.org