March 4, 2002: Climbing for awareness, one summit at a time

      Contact: Shelley Kean at 604.983.7596

      (NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C.)--The 14-week Wilderness Leadership program at Capilano College was merely a stepping stone for 31-year-old rock climber, Rob Hill. His next challenge will be to climb the highest peak on seven continents to raise awareness for digestive disorders.

      "There is such a stigma attached to problems with the gastrointestinal tract,"says Rob, who completed the certificate program last November. "Maybe if more people knew about these disorders, it would bring them out of the closet."

      A supporter of Rob's seven summits campaign, called No Guts, Know Glory, is the Northwestern Society of Intestinal Research. It helps with education and medical research in areas such as Crohn's disease, hiatus hernia's, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. In Canada, IBS is second only to the common cold as the leading cause of absenteeism from work or school, affecting up to 20 per cent of the adult population.

      "This Society really focuses on education and that is key," Rob says. "With greater awareness, people may seek help when they become sick rather than leaving it too long."

      While Rob was growing up in B.C. his dad worked as a forester, moving his family to where the work was and spending his free time outdoors. "My dad's an avid rock climber," Rob says. "He's the one who got me into it."

      Rob grew up loving the province's backwoods where he honed his athletic skills. But in May 1994, life took a complete turn when he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the digestive system. In 1995, he had to have his colon removed.

      Having a serious illness and undergoing major surgery can be a physical and emotional obstacle for anyone, let alone an active 23-year-old. But it wasn't long afterwards that he suffered yet another setback when the high tech firm he worked for went through a period of downsizing.

      "I took a hard look at what I really wanted to do with my life and thought that wilderness guiding may be something I would like," he explains. "I checked out various educational options and decided to attend the Wilderness Leadership program at Capilano College. It offered a lot of what I was looking for the educational aspect and the hands-on experience."

      "I got a lot out of it," he adds. "It was a real personal growth experience. It helped me learn a lot about myself."

      Rob came up with the Seven Summits idea while working on a business plan in the program. He plans to tackle his first mountain, Russia's Mt. Elbrus, this June. However, he won't be going alone. Joining him will be Brian Jones, manager of Canada West Mountain School. CWMS is one of the largest and most established mountain skills and guiding centres in British Columbia. Its professional instructors provide some of the training for students of the College's Wilderness Leadership program.

      "Just meeting the instructors in the Wilderness Leadership program would have been worth it alone," Robs says. "The program has the right people with the right skills. They're the best in the business."

      Rob is currently working with the NSIR to raise funds for his upcoming continental treks. He hopes to do two a year, but weather will dictate when and what he can accomplish. After Mt. Elbus, there is South America's Mt. Aconcagua; Mt. McKinley in Alaska; Asia's Mt. Everest; Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt. Vinson in the Antarctica; and finally, Carstensza Pyramid in Indonesia.

      When he comes back down to earth, Rob hopes his awareness campaign will have been worth it. "These diseases and syndromes are very taxing physically and mentally," he says. "I really want people who have them to know that support exists and they're not alone."

      To find out how to support the Seven Summit's trek, contact the Northwestern Society of Intestinal Research at 604.875.4875, or visit its Web site at www.badgut.com.