Port Angeles native willing to climb mountain to raise funds

PORT ANGELES — When Erika Ralston’s best friend was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, they began seizing the moment and going on yearly vacations.

“One year, we were talking about Africa, and I said that we should climb Mount Kilimanjaro,” said Ralston, a Port Angeles native who now lives in Seattle.

Courtney Blethen, her best friend, wasn’t keen on the idea at first.

But a few weeks later, Ralston approached her with the idea of raising funds to donate to research of Huntington’s disease.

“She immediately was on board,” Ralston said.

Ralston said she wanted to do something to help her friend.

“The disease is a slowly deteriorating disease which will probably someday take her life,” Ralston said.

Sometimes call Huntington’s chorea, it is a progressive hereditary disease accompanied by increasing mental deterioration.

Probably the most famous person to endure — and eventually die — from Huntington’s disease was the American folk singer-songwriter, Woody Guthrie.

“The Hereditary Disease Foundation is all about researching to cure this disease,” Ralston said

Fundraiser in PA

Ralston, who grew up in Port Angeles, along with family and friends hosted a fundraiser at the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center on Saturday evening.

“Everyone was so generous,” Ralston said.

Auctioning off Pearl Jam memorabilia and special Puget Sound trip packages, the group of 37 people donated a total of about $15,000 which will all go toward Huntington’s disease research through the Hereditary Disease Foundation.

Altogether the group has raised about $150,000, mostly through the Web site www.klimbforthecure.com.

“We are trying to follow Barack Obama’s example by encouraging people to donate a little at a time,” Ralston said.

“We’ve had donations of about $10 or $20, and that has made up the bulk of it.”

The goal of the Klimb for the Kure is to raise $1 million for the organization.

“Not a single penny of the money donated will go to help our trip,” Ralston said.

“Each of us going is taking care of our own expenses.”

Ralston said she never before has attempted to climb a mountain, but that she has always been a hiker.

“I grew up in Port Angeles and my parents were very active and took us hiking around,” she said.

“Am I hiker? Sure. A mountain climber? Not really.”

But she and the rest of the dozen or so friends have been training for about a month to take on Mount Kilimanjaro, which rises to 19,340 feet above sea level in equatorial Tanzania.

“We do a lot of boxing for cross training and a lot of walking — a lot of walking,” she said.

Huntington’s chorea is a deteriorative nerve disease that affects motor coordination, muscle control, short-term memory and rationalization skills. It also causes depression and intense mood swings.

Ralston said a documentary film crew will travel with the group when it begins its hike on Feb. 6.

The trip will last about 10 days, and the group will ascend about 15,100 feet.

It lies within Tanzania near the Kenyan border.

__________

Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige. dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

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