Climbing Kilimanjaro Without Legs


Mt. Kilimanjaro has the power to intimidate even the fittest hikers.

At 19,340 feet high, it is not uncommon for people to develop life-threatening problems up there, such as swelling in the brain or lungs. Even if climbers escape severe mountain illnesses, the air is thin and cold. Breathing is hard. And the terrain, while not technical, is extremely steep.

By some estimates, at least 60 percent of people who attempt to climb the mountain turn around before they reach the summit. But none of those statistics deterred Chris Waddell from attempting the peak, even though he is paralyzed from the waist down.

With help from 61 African porters and eight teammates, Waddell became the first person to climb Kilimanjaro on a handcycle.

He was already an accomplished athlete. Even though it was a skiing accident that caused his paralysis in 1988, Waddell was on a monoski within a year and a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team a year after that. He went on to win 12 medals in four Paralympic Games.

But the climb up Kilimanjaro proved to be a new category of challenge, which you can catch glimpses of in this trailer of a new documentary about the journey, called One Revolution, and in the film’s photo album.

It took Waddell six and a half days to reach the summit after an estimated 528,000 revolutions of his custom-built set of wheels.

All of it was worth the effort, according to Waddell, who summed up his feelings on the film’s website:

“I climbed the top knowing that I’d experienced an epiphany, but still worried how the public would perceive it. My answer lay in the man next to me at the summit. Tajiri had been a porter on the mountain before a rockslide took his leg. We bought him a light prosthesis that fit well. When he returned to the mountain he said to the other porters, ‘You never thought you’d see me here again. Well I’m back.’ He’d recovered from a shell of a man to become complete. I worried about how the world might perceive my feat, but we’d already changed one person’s life.”

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