Climbing for a Cause

Fighting CP, step by step.

Phil-BerenzFORWEBWhen Phil Berenz, BCNS ’07, was young, he used to make up excuses for his limp. It’s hard enough being a kid without having to tell people you have cerebral palsy.

Now, he’s shouting it from the mountaintops. Last February, Berenz became one of a just handful of people with cerebral palsy ever to reach the 19,341-foot summit of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro. He and three friends raised more than $14,000 for United Cerebral Palsy of MetroBoston through the effort, which he hopes will improve awareness of the disorder, and give hope to those with it.

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a chronic condition that affects coordination: damage to the brain’s motor areas sends bad signals to the body’s muscles, making control of movement difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Berenz grew up with countless hours of physical therapy, wearing a brace to correct his gait. Then, at age 8, he underwent an innovative surgery in which tendons from his foot were used to lengthen his hamstring, giving him relief from the constant tension and making walking easier.

The procedure was liberating. Berenz took up hiking and rock climbing. Then, one day in the gym, he saw a poster of Kilimanjaro, and asked some friends if they’d like to make the trek with him as a fundraiser.

“It took a solid year to plan,” he says. “It was a part-time job.” They gave their effort a name, Climb for CP. Eventually, local media picked it up, and the donations started to roll in.

Meanwhile, Berenz spent a lot of time in the Blue Hills in Milton, building up endurance and flexibility in his leg.

“It was the most challenging thing, physically and mentally, that I’ve ever put myself through,” Berenz says. “We really did take it day by day, step by step.”

A day and a half before summit, he and a partner got sick from bad water. They took antibiotics, but suffered through chills the night before they were set to reach the top, and barely slept. But they made it.

“I want other people with CP to have the opportunity to push their own limits, too,” he says. “Be it someone taking their first steps or getting a scholarship to college. To me, those things are just as monumental as climbing a mountain.”

Berenz has another climb in his sights for 2015: The highest mountain in both the western and southern hemispheres, Argentina’s 22,837-foot Aconcagua.

SEAN J. KERRIGAN

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