Fredrik Westerlund, a 37-year-old father from Sweden's cold north, climbed his first mountain peak on Wednesday – and will receive 71,000 kronor ($10,630) for reaching the top. But there are still four to go before he reaches his personal goal.
Wednesday morning marked the beginning of Westerlund's journey, and his very first time climbing a mountain. He suffers from mild cerebral palsy, and has always had some difficulty walking.
The Local spoke with Westerlund as he sat at the top of the first peak, gazing out across the mountainous northern landscape. The first hike was the shortest, and took Westerlund, along with his friend and guide Guido van den Berg, nearly four hours.
"I’m quite tired, I must admit," he told The Local. "I drag my feet and wave my arms a lot, so it's easy for me to lose my balance. I have fallen a number of times. But I’m here."
For every mountain top he reaches, Westerlund will receive the same sum. But none of it is actually for him – every krona will be donated to the region's Children's Cancer Fund (Barncancerföreningen Norra), a charity.
Westerlund's three-year-old son Sebastian was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago, and was taken to the Umeå University Hospital. Westerlund was overwhelmed by the efforts and generosity of the hospital and the Childen's Cancer Fund.
"They’re incredible," Westerlund explained. "They do everything, from making sure there is food and fruit and places to stay for the children’s families, to taking kids on chopper tours to beautiful places. They do an amazing job, and I’m really proud."
Upon returning home Westerlund was determined to do something himself. In proud defiance of his cerebral palsy, he decided to conquer at least five mountain peaks.
The "Top of Arjeplog" is a popular challenge in Lappland, one of Sweden's northernmost provinces. Participants receive a card and can tick off the peaks they climb, and once they have reached five of the ten they are eligible for prizes.
Westerlund wasn't interested in prizes. He just asked local companies and others to contribute a few hundred kronor for every peak he could master. He created a Facebook group to spread the word, and within a week he had 10,000 supporters.
"It’s a really disastrous moment in your life when you learn that your child has cancer. And that’s when you really need that support," Westerlund said. "The response has been incredible and people have been very generous."
After climbing the first mountain, Westerlund felt a bit overwhelmed. "My initial goal was to reach five, but at the moment, with aching feet, I’m thinking about three," he laughed. "But ask me again when I’ve gotten some rest and a pizza."
At the time of writing, 389 different companies and private people had pledged to Westerlund's campaign, adding up to 71,510 kronor per peak. And donations keep rolling in. Westerlund said it's a lot of pressure – but also a pleasure.
"There is undeniably a lot of pressure on me," he said, noting that each peak he fails to surmount will effectively cost the charity more than 70,000 kronor. "But it feels exciting and inspiring," he added.