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Modestan scales Mt. Shasta to support cancer research

At first impression, it appears Amy Paradis could be carried away by a stiff breeze.

She stands 5-foot-3 and looks the part of a former gymnast, which she is. But check again. Her eyes shine and she walks with a purpose, as though her agenda is locked in place.

Paradis, 40, always seeks a challenge. Like climbing to the top of Mt. Shasta.

"Lost a pant size and climbed a mountain," she summarized.

There's a lot more, of course, to both her feat and her motivation. Paradis, a Modesto nurse practitioner, agreed to tackle Mt Shasta, all 14,179 feet of it, in the annual Climb Against the Odds for the Breast Cancer Fund.

Paradis was inspired by her mother-in-law, a 24-year breast cancer survivor, along with a stricken co-worker. Here are other important things you must know about her: She often cares for sick and prematurely born babies and, by the way, she's not intimidated by challenges.

Which means her strength, both physical and emotional, belies her tiny frame.

"When she puts her mind to it, she goes," says her husband Dave, a Modesto doctor. Together, they've traveled long distances on mountain bikes and even hiked to the top of Mt. Whitney two years ago.

"It takes a lot to get her down," he continued, "which is a good trait to have when you're climbing a mountain."

One doesn't just wake up one morning and decide to take on Mt. Shasta and its icy and wind-swept ridges. The project required training, guts and a thrill for the quest. Paradis also was assisted by about eight months worth of Pilates core workouts ("I'm a big believer").

Her party of 28, led by Shasta Mountain Guides, embarked on June 28. Twenty joined Paradis on the summit 10 hours later -- eight stopped due to fatigue or altitude illness -- and Paradis returned home with stories to last the rest of summer.

"I was more of an excited nervous," she said. "I never had a moment where I was in an unsafe situation. I knew we were in good hands."

She was more at ease snowshoeing or riding bikes, of course, than being tethered together by ropes. No, this was new.

"It's very much out of your comfort zone with the crampons on your feet, the harness around your waist, being roped to another person and carrying an ice ax," Paradis said. "You must practice special steps to balance the exertion on specific muscle groups. You can't just walk a straight line up like on stairs. You would fry your calves within a few hundred feet."

She learned techniques like pressure breathing "to keep the CO2 from building up in your lungs so you can exchange more oxygen," and specialized steps to retain leverage and balance.

The party climbed Mt. Shasta's daunting West Face, steep and long. It rested for 10-minute "maintenance breaks" each hour.

Paradis gazed ahead at 12,800 feet and thought, "Boy, the mountain is getting bigger." At 13,500 feet halfway up "Misery Hill," fatigue nearly defeated her.

"One of our leaders and I had a little chat. He just happened to know," she said. "He gave a little pep talk and we had a little hydration and some food and off we went. You got so focused on your technique, where you put every foot for safety, you really didn't focus much on exertion."

By the time they reached their destination, they had been rejuvenated. "You knew by then you're going to get there, so you're just Jones-ing and riding adrenaline and you have a permanent smile on your face," Paradis said."

Paradis also was pushed by other breast cancer patients on the climb, some with no previous experience on any mountain.

"Whenever I had a 'What am I doing?' moment, I would look at the other rope teams," she said. "These are women weakened by cancer. I didn't have cancer and I thought, 'I just have a blister on my toe. Keep going.' "

And so she did.

Carly Chomer, a Breast Cancer Fund spokeswoman, said the Climb Against the Odds raised more than $450,000. More is needed. An alarming one in every eight women will be tormented by breast cancer this year in the U.S.

"I saw women in their 30s who were completely healthy with no risk factors get slapped in the face with a breast cancer diagnosis, and they climbed that mountain," Paradis said.

Will she try it again?

"I'm going to let it percolate a little bit," she said, and then it percolated for a few seconds.

"I will do it again with the breast cancer fund. I'm sure I will."

Bee sports writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or578-2302.

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