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Crohn's sufferer reaching top of Africa

Clinton Shard challenging disease, raising funds

Clinton Shard couldn't gaze at anything past hospital walls less than a year ago. But next month, the 16-year-old Crohn's Disease sufferer expects to be gazing across the Tanzanian landscape atop the highest peak in Africa.

Shard is joining an IBDAdventures team of six on the long trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, raising funds for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada and the Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society.

The team is led by North Vancouver's Robert Hill, also a Crohn's Disease sufferer, who has climbed the highest peaks on six of the seven continents.

Shard has been battling the autoimmune disease, which affects the digestive system, for nearly five years. Altogether, he has spent about four months in hospital, including a six-week period in 2008 and a most recent stay in February.

He has only recently returned to the activities he enjoys thanks in part to a new medication produced by Abbott Laboratories, which is the pharmaceutical company sponsoring his trek. He's now back on the soccer pitch with the U-17 Rep team and was able to take part in Don Ross Secondary's Outdoor Leadership Program this year.

The trek up Mount Kilimanjaro marks a significant transformation away from a painful time devoid of hope, said Shard.

"I didn't even see myself being able to get back into soccer again, or even run," he said. "It is quite a big thing to be able to see that I'm going to be doing this after seeing the position I was in a year ago."

The effects of high altitude are but one of the challenges Shard will encounter while climbing to the 5,892-metre summit starting Sept. 7. But he's in good hands. Hill provided support during hospital stays and sees Shard as one of the next leaders in the fight against Crohn's Disease.

"It's amazing to see," said Hill of Shard's progress. "One thing that I recognize is finding the right individuals to sort of pass the torch or have them help carry the torch to make it a lot easier and be a role model for the younger kids."

Hill already plans to conquer Mount Everest next spring, which will complete his goal to climb the highest summits on each of the world's seven continents. He attempted the climb last year along with Squamish locals but severe intestinal problems forced him off the mountain.

Hill has experience enough to know that reaching the summit is only half the journey.

"You really have to get down and be with your family and the people that you love and care about and have given you the strength to accomplish such a task," he said.

Shard attributes a large part of his wellbeing to the support of family and friends, who are now helping to spread the word and collect donations to support his cause. Those wishing to make a donation can do so by visiting www.ibdadventures.com. Click the "team" link and scroll down to Shard's profile.

In the meantime, Shard's mother Wendy is contemplating her son's journey with a mix of worry and excitement. What matters the most is the hospital walls are down and the outside world awaits.

"I'm excited for him but of course as a parent I'm going to always worry," she said.

"But I worry when he's sick and this is a different type of worry. I'm okay with this type of worry."