Lupus Sucks, Exploring Doesn’t – An Interview with Kate Appleby

Born in the Lake District, 29-year-old Kate Appleby is an advocate for the benefits of a life spent outdoors. A climber, hiker, boulderer, swimmer and all-round adventurer, Kate documents her lifestyle as she balances action with illness. Sufferering from Lupus, Raynauds, Hashimotos and other incurable illnesses, Kate talks openly about the challenges those with disability and illness face when getting outdoors and regularly completes endurance challenges to raise awareness of the difficulties that hidden illnesses pose. She specialises in pushing her own boundaries to inspire, motivate and educate others.

In this conversation with Kate, we explore what the outdoors means to her, how she balances adventure with her illnesses and find out her ideas on how the outdoors can and should become more accessible.

Kate Appleby exploring in the snow during winter

Using nature as a remedy

Lupus is an automimmune disease that causes the immunse system to attack the body, causing problems with the skin, joints, kidneys and other organs. “It felt like a death sentence”, Kate recalls, as she thinks back to her diagnosis at just 16. “But as time has gone by, I’ve learnt to manage it alongside my active lifestyle. Every day I’m in pain – muscle pain, joint pain, nerve pain. I suffer from debilitating fatigue and am hugely susceptible to illness. I suffer from ‘brain fog’ too, a state of confusion caused by my illness, along with circulation issues and photosensitivity. My Lupus has gone on to cause other illnesses like Raynauds, Annemia and Hashimotos”.

You would forgive her for throwing away any dreams of adventure. But that’s not Kate. What has followed her diagnosis is a lifelong journey of discovery, balancing pain and fatigue with epic highs and feelings of euphoric accomplishment.

“On my worst days, I’m bed bound – on my best, I can scale a mountain” Kate explains. “Because of this, I have to prepare very differently – taking extra pain relief, wearing clothes that protect my skin from sunlight and so on. Activity causes me pain, but I find that the mental benefit of getting out outweighs this”.

“The outdoors is my best advocate, my most effective therapist and my passion above all others. The outdoors is the place where I feel most alive – my illnesses and I are accepted, but it’s also a place where I can challenge and push myself. Whether it be swimming in waterfalls, traversing up rock faces or camping under the stars, whatever my physical health and ability on a particular day, there’s always space and opportunity for me to find the strength I need to push through.

“Inside, I’m Kate, with Lupus. Outdoors, I’m Kate, the adventurer. The outdoors gives me a sense of identity, that I just don’t find elsewhere.”

Kate Appleby exploring in the snow during winter

Improving Inclusivity Outdoors

Kate is a true advocate that a life spent outdoors is a life well-lived, regardless of your background or ability. However, she admits that there is more to be done to make those with disabilities feel truly empowered in the outdoors.

“You’ll be amazed at what a difference small changes can make. Whether it be through accessible toilets, to use of braille more widely, to gates instead of stiles, which are much less painful! It’s vital that outdoors centres, bodies and brands consult with representatives from diverse groups to ensure that the wonder of the great outdoors isn’t inaccessible for so many people. Change is informed by education – the catalyst for so much of this must come from increased awareness, understanding and visibility.”

Kate is fully aware that the mental side of adventure can be just as challenging as the physical, even for someone who suffers with chronic physical conditions. But she has some inspiring words to help encourage and motivate everyone to enjoy the healing powers of nature.

“It’s so important to remember that all of us, have a 100% track record of making it through even our toughest challenges. Every time I face a new challenge, a new hurdle, I take time to remember those that have come before me, as well as the celebrations I’ve experienced. Life is short; not one of us knows when our tomorrow will be much harder than our today – acknowledging this is the first step to empowering ourselves to make the most of every opportunity, every day that comes our way. For me, I have a little more uncertainty in my life – that just means focusing on the here and now is even more important!”

Kate Appleby's top three achievements outdoors

At Blacks, we believe that the outdoors is for everyone. Our #EverydayLifeOutdoors campaign aims to prove it, by exploring transformative accounts of people who have turned perseverance to positivity, adversity to adventure, differences to diversity, and resilience to representation within the amazing outdoor community. To see more inspiring stories like Kate’s, head to our #EDLO page below.

Adam is a lover of the outdoors who’s recently moved back to rural Lancashire after living in the urban confines of Leeds for the past few years. His favourite pastimes include cooking, playing countless sports to a barely acceptable standard and exploring the local countryside with his dog, Chip.

When the weather gets in the way, Adam can be found at home watching films & TV and listening to music. If he’s not there, he’ll be in the pub down the road.  

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