When farmers Emily Padfield and Mark Warner applied for a new TV show promising an “off-grid experience in the Alaskan wilderness", they never once imagined they would actually end up appearing on the show, let alone winning it! We caught up with Emily to hear more about the couple’s experience on the BBC2 show ‘Win the Wilderness’ and why it was her MS that persuaded them to take on this ‘crazy’ adventure.
I’ve never had a great memory for things. Some people can remember an infinite amount of moments, circumstances or reminisce about childhood or the past, but I must have limited brain capacity to store this sort of stuff. But I do remember acutely the moment I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 15 years ago.
At the time I was working as a parliamentary stagiaire (or intern) in the European Parliament in Brussels. Walking to work each morning I had started to get tingling legs every time I moved my neck, and it was steadily getting more noticeable. I had no idea what it might be, thinking that I had done something to my neck or back by falling over some time before.
By chance, my boss at the time pointed me in the direction of a neurosurgeon (the health system works a bit differently over there and luckily with my job I had health insurance). Within a week, following several brain and spine scans, I was back in his office on a Friday night being told I had MS.
Back then, there was no widespread mobile internet and I lived in a shared apartment with one phone, so I went back to my little office at work and started Googling.
I wouldn’t encourage anyone to Google MS following diagnosis. It’s inevitable that you will, but I urge you not to try and take everything in. Everybody’s MS is different and you will not find a case study that fits your symptoms or progression exactly. I guess we all feel happier when we have a box we can fit in, but it’s just not possible.
After my diagnosis I returned home to my parents in the UK to get a bit of a handle on things. I guess for the next two years I ran from my diagnosis. Newly graduated, I applied for jobs and was open about my diagnosis and didn’t get interviews, after never being turned down for anything before. I soon learned to keep it to myself until I could prove myself, how legal or not that is I don’t know. I know I am lucky when it comes to my disease and I have always felt that. Soon after my return home I signed up for a lambing job (12-16 hour days) that pushed me greatly physically before then going on a harvesting gang where we would regularly top 18 hour days. That was my ‘running’ time as I describe it, when I was running from my diagnosis rather than turning to face it.
Since then I have been incredibly fortunate to have studied for an MSc, established myself as a journalist and PR consultant as well as enjoying a busy and rewarding life farming sheep and beef alongside Mark, my partner of nearly 10 years.
When I saw the opportunity to live off-grid in the Alaskan wilderness advertised on a farming forum, it immediately appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mark.
The advert was quite short. It just asked, “would you like to experience living off-grid in the Alaskan wilderness?”. The short answer to that was yes, and Mark seemed up for it too. Little did we know at that point that there was a house to win at the end of it, that all came later.
For those who haven't seen it, the premise of Win the Wilderness: Alaska, is six couples competing to win the chance to inherit a property (owned for the past 35 years by Duane and Rena Ose) deep in the Alaskan wilderness, braving sub-zero temperatures, wild bears and predators along the way!
During the decision process I can honestly say having MS didn’t even come into mine or Mark’s reckoning. I am lucky, I know this. My MS flares up in the form of numbness, fatigue, pins and needles and sometimes I do feel I am not perhaps as sharp in the mind as I once was. I do need a nap from time-to-time (doesn’t everybody!) and I now take Gilenya having moved from Copaxone injections around 18 months ago.
Having been accepted to go on the show (remarkably!) I did worry that my physical fitness and MS might not be up to the challenge. We didn’t really know what the whole process would involve and I guess I was thinking more Who Dares Wins (the SAS show) as opposed to how it turned out. I enrolled in a gym (much to Mark’s amusement, he put no training in at all!) and tried to get more in shape. I do think I underestimated my fitness levels. Working on the farm gives you an inert level of fitness and strength but I am definitely no marathon or even 5k runner!
During the filming of the BBC2 show (still available on iPlayer and also globally on Netflix) I realised I needn’t have worried. Most of the other couples were a good bit younger than me and I didn’t feel left behind in the slightest. I guess that’s what I struggle with sometimes, judging my activity against others. I have always overcompensated because of MS in everything I do. I guess I feel like I need to prove to myself that I can still do just as much if not more than others to feel like I am topside of it.
There are so many more people worse off than me, with MS or with many other debilitating diseases. I always think that of the things to have, MS is one of the better ones for me currently. I know I am lucky. I don’t know how long I will be this lucky so that’s why I take on crazy things like Win the Wilderness: Alaska. Right until the end I didn’t know if we would win or not (which amazingly we did!!). But not once did I think it would be my MS that stopped me.
I can’t believe it’s been a year since we took part in the show, pretty much to the day. We returned to Alaska in the autumn and had supposed to be back there in May, but like many others, Covid-19 has prevented us from travelling. We very much hope to make it out there this summer but we are just waiting for the US to open its borders for UK citizens.
Our plans for Ose Mountain are to spend as much time as we can there, but also to open it as a veteran and first-responder therapy resource for wilderness-based rehabilitation. We can’t wait to get back there and have even ordered a sawmill for delivery in order to get started on producing the lumber needed to finish the build!
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