Walking the Great Wall of China for Multiple Sclerosis

12 strangers boarded a plane, 12 friends returned home.

On the 15th of October 2018, 12 people boarded a plane headed for Beijing, China. We were complete strangers but we had a common goal – to raise funds for people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). We were nervous but ready for the huge challenge ahead of us – walking for five days across the Great Wall of China.  

All 12 of us had a personal connection to MS, a condition of the central nervous system that interferes with nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Two members of our team had MS while others had worked directly with those living with the condition – one was a physiotherapist, one was an occupational therapist, and one was a doctor who had spent four years caring for people with MS. Then there was me. I belonged to the group of people who had been driven to take action because a close family member or friend had been diagnosed with the disease. All of us knew about the slow, unpredictable and indiscriminate deterioration that MS inflicts. All of us were driven to do something about it.

The diagnosis that changed my life  

I was walking for my Dad. Ten years prior, at the age of 55, he was diagnosed with MS. It had taken his medical team years to settle on a diagnosis because Dad didn’t fit into ‘the box’ of those who are commonly diagnosed with MS.

Dad’s symptoms manifested in his inability to use his right arm. Dad, like most of us, is right-handed. Take a moment to think about all the things you do with your dominant hand – the everyday things in life you don’t give much thought to like writing, shaving, getting dressed, doing your shoelaces…the list goes on.  All these things became a challenge for him.

As Dad’s MS got worse, he was unable to use a lot of his right side. The positive news is that since that early deterioration, Dad’s MS has remained dormant. Others aren’t so fortunate, with their deterioration being concentrated over a short period of time.

The nature of this insidious disease means that no one really knows how or when they will be impacted. There is no cure for MS so all you can do is control the symptoms with an array of drugs.

If you’ve read my story you’ll know that my Dad’s diagnosis did more than motivate me to walk The Great Wall of China. It also inspired me to change careers. I went from working in intellectual property law to becoming a financial planner. Why? Because Dad’s diagnosis showed me how important it is for people to be financially prepared when experiencing a crisis.

Dad’s inability to write impacted his ability to work. Fortunately, he had income protection insurance. If you’ve talked to me about your finances, you’ll know that I talk about insurance A LOT. I do this because I’ve seen how the having the right insurances can provide relief and certainty when life gives you a big ol’ dose of lemons.

But I digress, back to the Wall…

$150,000, 50km and a whole lot of memories

Before the 12 of us boarded that plane to China, we had pulled out all the stops and raised as much money as possible. We’d held cake stalls and sausage sizzles and one of the women had even run the Gold Coast marathon. My partner, Mark and I were incredibly fortunate to have the support of our friends, family, work colleagues and connections who dug deep to contribute to our fundraising goal. While Mark and I started with a fundraising goal of $7,000, collectively our group raised over $150,000 to assist those living with MS. My mind still boggles when I think of that incredible amount!

Not only did we raise a lot of money, the experience was more enriching and life-affirming than any of us could have imagined. As we walked a total of 50kms, we saw many areas of the Wall and formed bonds with the locals and each other.

Day 1: The walk begins

After travelling from Beijing for approximately three hours by bus, we arrived at a somewhat secluded section of the Wall on the top of a mountain. We walked from Taipingzhai to Huangyaguan, before settling into our accommodation which was an old fort, a uniquely constructed maze-like building that was designed to confuse and trap invading armies.

Day 2: Crouching tiger, hidden dragon

After a short bus ride from the fort, we arrived in a small village called Gubeikou. We saw the Hidden Dragon and Crouching Tiger section of the Wall which was one of the most spectacular stretches. This section of the wall was not as reconstructed as other parts. It had been bombed by the Japanese during World War II because it crossed through a valley just north if Beijing making it more prone to invasion. That evening we stayed in a homestay. Our hosts couldn’t speak a word of English but they looked after us exceptionally well and were the most beautiful people.

Day 3: Steep climbs and spectacular views

Day three of our walk saw us scaling some of the steepest sections of the Wall. While it was challenging, the views were spectacular making it my other favourite section of our walk.  

Day 4: Suits and steps

Next, we travelled to the Mutianyu section of the Wall which was more touristy due to its proximity to Beijing. Our guide told us that many Chinese travel to the Wall to pay their respects to Chairman Mao. A lot of people dressed in suits climbed the 1,000 steps to reach an inscription on the mountainside honouring Mao.  

Day 5: The journey ends

On day five, the last day of our walk, we climbed the Juyongguan section of the Wall, which spans two sides of a fortified gate. Here, the Great Wall loops across the Badaling highway, snaking off through the landscape and into the scenery. Another touristy and very steep section of the Wall, we climbed up one hillside and completed our journey by climbing down another hillside.

It was a real privilege to undertake this challenge in such a beautiful part of the world. I am so proud of the huge sum of money we raised thanks to the support of our nearest and dearest. I will never forget the 12 strangers who boarded the plane with me that day and shared their raw and honest stories as we walked. The experience changed me and will forever hold a special place in my heart.

My experience with my Dad has given me great insight into the importance of financial planning and education. If you’re ready to get your financial future sorted, I would love to help. Book in a free 30-minute phone consultation to start the process of securing your financial future.

Nicola Beswick is a financial adviser, mentor and confidante based in Melbourne, Australia who empowers people to create a financially certain future free from stress and uncertainty.

Find Out More

More insights

The back road to advice: Nicola Beswick

Profile Piece: Professional Planner. Read a recent article published on the Professional Planner website, written by the talented Tahn Sharpe.

Keep Reading

The Good and the Bad of the SMSF: My podcast interview with Gen Frost from The Reality Cheque

Have you heard of a Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF) but never really known what it was about?

Keep Reading

General advice disclaimer: This article has been prepared by FMD Financial and is intended to be a general overview of the subject matter. The information in this article is not intended to be comprehensive and should not be relied upon as such. In preparing this article we have not taken into account the individual objectives or circumstances of any person. Legal, financial and other professional advice should be sought prior to applying the information contained on this article to particular circumstances. FMD Financial, its officers and employees will not be liable for any loss or damage sustained by any person acting in reliance on the information contained on this article. FMD Group Pty Ltd ABN 99 103 115 591 trading as FMD Financial is a Corporate Authorised Representative of FMD Advisory Services Pty Ltd AFSL 232977. The FMD advisers are Authorised Representatives of FMD Advisory Services Pty Ltd AFSL 232977.