Sabourin has raised about $25,000 for Parkinsonís and
Tom Sabourin climbs mountains, and not just
because, as mountaineer George Mallory said, "Theyíre
there." Sabourin climbs mountains because Parkinsonís disease
and Alzheimerís disease are still here.
Since 2004, Sabourin has raised upwards of
$25,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Alzheimerís
Association by running marathons and scaling some of the most
exhilarating peaks on Earth, including Mount McKinley in Alaskaís
Denali National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
The Kilimanjaro climb in July 2009 is
chronicled in the documentary feature film "10 Mountains 10
Years," narrated by Anne Hathaway. Produced, written and directed
by Jennifer Yee, the film focuses on an international team organized
by Enzo Simone, who is determined to climb 10 of the worldís
greatest peaks in 10 years to raise awareness and money for Alzheimerís
and Parkinsonís research.
For Sabourin, the challenge is personal.
Sabourin says what he misses most about his
maternal grandmother is her wry sense of humor. He also misses her
homemade pierogi, and the way she used to scold him in Polish. She
lived with his family in Milwaukee from the time he was a little boy.
He was just starting high school when she was diagnosed with Parkinsonís.
"We werenít really informed about what that meant,"
Parkinsonís is a progressive disorder of
the central nervous system affecting movement, and usually develops
gradually. Debilitating tremors in the hands, face, feet and legs are
the most recognizable symptoms.
Sabourin watched his grandmother try to cope
with the side effects of medications, and he felt her
self-consciousness at holiday gatherings when the shaking became too
pronounced to ignore. He saw his mom become her motherís caregiver
as the disease moved through its final stages.
Parkinsonís touched Sabourinís life
again when a high school math teacher, the one who inspired him to
become an engineer, was diagnosed with the disease.
Sabourinís engineering career took him to
Seattle, where the views are dominated by the Cascade Mountains,
particularly Mount Rainier. When a friend from the Sierra Club asked
him to come along on a winter camping trip on the mountain, Sabourin
took a giant step outside of his comfort zone. It would be the first
of many exciting climbs.
"Every time I climb I learn something
new about myself ó about what level of discomfort or endurance you
can get through," Sabourin says. "It makes you push yourself
Sabourin had been planning a climb on Mount
McKinley, the highest peak in North America, when he moved back to
Milwaukee to take a position at GE Healthcare. He decided to make his
2004 McKinley climb a fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. He
called it StellaTrek, to honor his grandmother.
In 2006 and 2007, Sabourin continued to
raise money for the foundation by running in the New York Marathon as
part of "Team Fox."
Meanwhile, Simone had been leading his
"10 Mountains 10 Years" team to the top of Franceís Mont
Blanc, Cotopaxi in Ecuador and Mount Hood in Oregon. The team is
called "The Regulars," because it consists of climbers from
everyday walks of life. Most are also caregivers for people with
Alzheimerís or Parkinsonís. In 2008, Simone found Sabourinís
photos of the Mount McKinley climb on a social media site, and invited
him to join The Regulars for the Kilimanjaro trek. Simone didnít
have to ask twice.
The climb of 19,340 feet to the peak of
Kilimanjaro took six days. In addition to their gear, The Regulars
were carrying letters from caregivers, which they read aloud when they
stopped at camps along the route. The movie includes shots of the
people who wrote those letters.
"We tried to think about why we were
there," Sabourin says. "I always thought about my
On Summit Day, two climbers from the
11-member team stayed behind at camp. One was ill, says Sabourin, and
the other was simply exhausted.
"The last 4,000 feet we did the last
day were extremely difficult," Sabourin says. "Itís always
overwhelming, the last few steps to the summit, because youíve been
training for six months to a year for these climbs. And thereís the
symbolism of your doing it as a fundraiser and youíve achieved that
part of the plan."
Sabourin had the chance to relive that
moment at the premiere of "10 Mountains 10 Years" at the
Connecticut Film Festival last May. The film received a standing
ovation and won best documentary honors. He says it had been entered
in the Milwaukee Film Festival (Sep. 23-Oct. 3) as well.
Soon after the screening, Sabourin took a
trip with his parents to their cottage in Northern Michigan. He
noticed that his mother was repeating herself a bit and seemed to be
having difficulty with short-term memory. He wasnít sure what was
going on, until he started to help her unpack her things and made an
accidental discovery. "Sheís on two medications for Alzheimerís,"
Now there is one more mountain to climb.
To view a movie trailer of "10
Mountains 10 Years," go to