A 29,029 foot climb to honor mom

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Kelly DeBusschere burns the 29029 emblem into a board tracking climbers ascents upon completing her last climb. (Photo courtesy of Kelly DeBusschere)

In October, Kelly DeBusschere climbed a mountain 17 times. When she peaked on her 17th go, she had climbed the equivalent of the height of the tallest mountain in the world.

DeBusschere’s mother was at the end of a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s, and the athletic feat was in honor of her – a woman who had created a life for herself and her three daughters in Manhasset and had touched hundreds of lives along the way.

By challenging herself to climb 29,029 feet as part of the 29029 Everesting Challenge in Vermont, DeBusschere said, she raised more than $15,000 for the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Corcoran was known as a creative, selfless member of the community, DeBusschere said.

Mary Margaret Corcoran. (Photo courtesy of Kelly DeBusschere)

She was the class mom at her three daughters’ schools, coordinating trips and events. At Our Lady of Grace Montessori School, she started an annual Christmas boutique fundraiser.

Every Christmas, Corcoran decorated St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church with flowers and wreaths for her favorite holiday.

“She was just nice to everybody and super loving,” DeBusschere said. “She was amazing.”

When Corcoran was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012, her ability to provide selflessly for her children and 10 grandchildren faded, which DeBusschere said was one of the hardest things for her to see.

“Everyone knows of a cancer survivor, but no one knows of an Alzheimer’s survivor, so it’s sort of a long and slow goodbye to your loved one,” she said.

Mary Margaret Corcoran and Kelly DeBusschere in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Kelly DeBusschere)

It was while listening to a podcast that DeBusschere and her husband, Dennis DeBusschere, were inspired to compete in the 29029 Everesting Challenge: a mission to climb a mountain and take the gondola down 17 times in 36 hours to achieve the vertical height of Mt. Everest.

The podcast featured two interviews: one with Jesse Itzler, an entrepreneur who created the challenge in 2017 and spoke about the rewards of pushing oneself to the limit, and Colin O’Brady, who severely burned his lower body but went on to place first in the Chicago Triathlon 18 months later.

“When Dennis and I were contemplating signing up I said, ‘Well, this would be a great way to raise money for Alzheimer’s,’” she recalled.

The Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation offers programs and resources for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

The organization helped Corcoran’s husband, Jim Corcoran, with counseling referrals and navigating the disease as his wife’s caregiver.

“Someone like Kelly brings such awareness to the disease because it’s such a stigmatized disease and people don’t like to talk about it,” said Tori Cohen, executive director of the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation. “This event that she did brought a lot of attention to it and can mean a lot for a lot of different families.”

DeBusschere started preparing in March, with strength training, high-intensity interval training classes and StairMaster machines.

Then there were the runs, the longest of which was 16 miles. She was working out six days a week, DeBusschere said.

Throughout it all, donations were streaming in, which she said is “another testament of how many people loved my mom.”

In October, the couple headed to Vermont to complete the challenge.

The first day of the climbs, DeBusschere started at 6 a.m. The second day, she woke up at 4 a.m.

Kelly and Dennis DeBusschere at Stratton Mountain in October for the 29029 Everesting Challenge (Photo courtesy of Kelly DeBusschere)

There was rain and snow predicted and she had six climbs left to complete. She finished two before 6 a.m. and then the inclement weather arrived.

The support she gained for her cause and in honor of her mother helped her keep going, DeBusschere said.

“You could take the gondola down and easily go in and go have some food and every time I went down I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do another,” she said.

With the funds raised, the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation will be able to provide more services to more people, Cohen said.

Corcoran died Dec. 26 at age 68. Her family received over 400 Mass cards, DeBusschere said.

And, she said, her Everesting accomplishment has been one thing that’s helped her bear the pain of the loss.

“I miss her terribly, but I just focus on all the memories I did have,” DeBusschere said. “I think doing something like 29029, and testing myself mentally really gives me the willpower and confidence to say, ‘OK, I can get through this.’”

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