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South Jordan Journal

‘On Top of the World!’—SoJo Couple Includes Neighbors, Friends in Unique Ascent of Mt. Timpanogos

Sep 09, 2019 11:27AM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

SoJo resident and outdoors lover Laura Sorensen trained for a year, powering herself forward in her all-terrain “Freedom” wheelchair 3 miles, three times a week. (Mike Lindsay)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

The greenery is lush. High-altitude flowers gently dance to the whisper of a breeze—a hint of cool appreciated by hikers who already feel the heat of the July Saturday, even in the early morning.

The ear-tickle of babbling brooks and the occasional exhilarating rush of water falls accompany friendly chatter from the eclectic group, some with bulging calf muscles and others who may be climbing Mt. Timpanogos for the first time.

All of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, comes the curious request: “Someone needs to grab my butt! Grab my butt and center it!”

The request seems anything but commonplace. 

Then again, South Jordan resident Laura Sorensen, the one asking for butt-centering, is, herself, anything but commonplace, as is the case for her husband, David; her son, Adam; and the 40-some community members and friends who participated in a wonderfully unorthodox ascent to Timp’s mid-mountain in late July.

‘Grab my butt and center it!’

At 6:30 a.m. this Saturday in July, Laura is on an ascent of the second-tallest mountain in Utah’s Wasatch Range.

When she is not making her way up one of Utah’s iconic mountains, she spends time mopping her own floors, pulling herself along with her arms, alternating between being on her back, sides and front to keep her home on one of SoJo’s quaintest circles—the kind of place where ducks cross and butterflies flutter—ultra-tidy.

The fact that Laura Sorensen has lived with-multiple sclerosis for nearly three decades was not included in the initial description of this remarkable woman.

And that’s because Laura, David and her rich support network of family, neighbors and longtime professional colleagues do not allow the disease to define her.

MS is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. MS causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. 

Personal communication, though, is not a problem for Laura, who, while riding atop the back of her son, a former Force Reconnaissance Marine, understands physics and needs to have her body adjusted.

‘Get Laura to the Top!’

During the course of the 40-person, three-dog pilgrimage to Timp’s mid-mountain, 12 men will take their turn carrying her in places she is unable to power herself with her all-terrain, appropriately named, “Freedom” wheelchair.

She is situated atop Adam’s back with the help of a custom backpack, gifted by her son’s friend Jonathon, an Iraq war buddy, who lost both of his legs on a tour. Dave retrofitted the backpack, which “we couldn’t have done without,” he said, with leg straps to accommodate Laura.

Laura, like Jonathon “No Legs” Blank has not just a sense of humor, but a sense of adventure. Laura’s sense of adventure has been nurtured, even curated, as she is the daughter of a former park ranger.

Part of the trip she does herself, powering herself with the arms of a 20-year old—a very buff, lean 20-year old.

Laura spent a full year training for this day.

Three times a week she would use those young arms to power herself three miles along her neighborhood roads—seated in the fat-tired mountain bike-like wheelchair engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed to allow non-ambulatory individuals in third-world countries the ability to get themselves to work along dirt roads.

A rallying slogan and—the defining element of a memorable event--a T-shirt

“Get Laura to the Top!”

The slogan is memorialized for those who participated. 

Not only is it a rallying cry used to buoy spirits, amid challenges faced on the 4.8-mile trek to Timp’s Grand Staircase, but it is also an enduring parting gift for those who have come to lend their support: Appreciative Laura designed T-shirts with the slogan, and companion Dave presented them to those participating in the hike the week prior, so that they could wear them on the joint journey.

One day of crying, then—onward!

It was Oct. 30, 1993. Dave and Laura spent the afternoon cheering on the University of Utah Football team to a 45-41 win over San Diego State. It was an exciting time, as the U was looking to earn a repeat-berth to a bowl game.

When it came time to leave and head about the day’s Halloween activities, the active mother of two, the lifelong water skier and snow skier, was suddenly having problems negotiating stairs. Even getting up was a losing struggle.

“I don’t think I can do this,” she told her husband, seeking comfort and calm in his confused eyes. 

Twelve men took turns carrying lifelong outdoors-lover and daughter of a national parks ranger Laura Wilson on a late-July journey to ascend Mount Timpanogos’ mid-mountain. (Mike Lindsay)

Laura, a decorated emergency nurse who has trained teams and—due to her life-defining love of national parks—opted to head helicopter emergency rescues in areas such as Yellowstone for her day job, knew she needed to be checked out by a medical professional other than herself.

She had her husband drop her off at what was then Cottonwood Hospital. Test after test, room after room, professional after professional still kept her at the facility. After shepherding the family’s two sons for trick or treating, husband Dave was by her side when the couple received the news that Laura had multiple sclerosis.

“She doesn’t cry much,” Dave said, describing Laura’s having—literally—spent only the one night crying about the diagnosis that would change not just her but their family’s lives.

With what she calls a “today is today” outlook, Laura Sorensen got up the next morning and went to work, just like she would do for the next 10 years, until MS compromised her physical abilities. Two years into her diagnosis, she was honored as “Emergency Nurse of the Year” by the State of Utah Division of Medical Services.

A July hike to Timp’s snowy midpoint

In June of 2018, Laura let her husband know of her hankering to summit Timp. 

“I could tell she was missing it,” Dave recalls, with “it” meaning hiking itself, accessing national treasures of the outdoors, and being on adventures.

Dave, a retired air-traffic controller, who now spends much of his time one-on-one with Laura, got right on the project.

Interested friends met a few times to plan for the trip. Laura’s outdoor training sessions had the unintentional effect of recruiting additional neighbors. The interest to participate seemed contagious.

While they planned to reach the top of the mountain, this year’s long precipitation season presented conditions that seemed unsafe to Dave.

Laura, of course, wanted to go, but Dave, of course, called it a day at midpoint. 

‘On Top of the World!’

When the entourage reached Timp’s Grand Staircase and settled in for some lunch and celebration, joyous Laura led the euphoria. Alternative Indie band Imagine Dragons, while not making the official hike, was there in spirit, as Laura blasted their 2012 hit “On Top of the World,” joyously singing along with others who also danced.

“I’m really feeling true, authentic love from every one of these people,” she said.

Adam posted on his Facebook page the loving thought, bracketed by heart emoticons—“Carry mom up mountains to make her smile? Absolutely!”

Longtime friend Karen Minchow, a former paramedic and firefighter friend of Laura’s who now works in the Emergency Unit of the University of Utah Medical Center, said, “This is the coolest thing.”

Friend Brooke Scott, a former neighbor in the SoJo home Laura and Dave have lived in for 27 years, journeyed all the way from Vietnam to attend the pilgrimage.

“I’m not perfect; he’s not perfect. But together? We are perfect,” Laura said, crediting her husband’s work in making her dream climb a reality.

She might even extend the perfection description to the whole crew and to the half-day experience on the mountain, special to Laura as it is “the closest national monument” to her SoJo home.

“It’s not so much about us,” Dave said, noting, though, that the experience gave back to those who gave their support. “You don’t realize the impact it will have on other people.”