An Abbotsford resident and adventure-seeker is hoping to make her mark as the first person with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis to dog sled 300 kilometres across the Scandinavian Arctic next April.
Kate Goertzen was diagnosed with MS, a disease that causes damage to nerve tissue, in 2012 after waking up with numb hands, diminished vision and exhaustion, despite 12 hours of sleep.
“After many trips to the doctor’s office, an MRI later, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And that’s the reason I choose to live life full,” Goertzen says in a YouTube video promoting her dog sledding effort.
“It means I have no idea whether I will be in a wheelchair at 35, 45 or 55. So I’m not wasting a single minute of my life.”
Goertzen has entered a contest put on by outdoor equipment brand Fjällräven to participate in the brand’s Polar 2019 event, a 300-kilometre dog sledding adventure starting in Signaldalen, Norway to Väkkäräjärvi, Sweden, “testing the limits of everyday adventurers.”
She said she wants to win the contest not only to win the trip, but to “spread the awareness of this really scary disease for most people.”
After her MS diagnosis, Goertzen says she entered a drug study for the disease, which fuses a monoclonal antibody into her body twice a year.
“And it turns out it works pretty good,” she says. “It seems to halt the progression of my MS.”
She’s since graduated from a nursing course and moved to Fort Nelson in Northern B.C., where she worked as a nurse and volunteered at a dog sledding kennels.
“I socialized puppies, ran with them, cleaned up with them and loved them. But as much as I dreamed about riding a sled, I never got to do it,” Goertzen said.
Three years ago, she moved to Abbotsford, where she’s now an emergency department nurse. But that volunteer work with the dog sledding kennel appears to still be tugging at Goertzen, an itch she hopes to scratch with the Fjällräven Polar event.
“This would be such an accomplishment for myself personally and I think a true testament for those also living with MS to know they can follow their dreams, to be driven and not let this really hard disease hold them back from anything,” Goertzen said.
The contest is divided into countries and regions, and two people are selected from each region: one selected by a popular vote on the Fjällräven Polar website, and the second chosen by a Fjällräven Polar jury.