Monday, September 28, 2009

Chris Waddell Takes On Mt. Kilimanjaro

Chris Waddell, the most dedicated paralympic male skier in history, is attempting another feat that no one has attempted before: he is working to become the first paraplegic to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro under his own power. What many people do not realize about one of the tallest mountains in the world (at 19,000 feet) is that it is a walkable mountain, so it is possible for one using a wheelchair to successfully reach the summit with a wheelchair. He had previously done a scouting trip of the mountain in 2008, where he made it to 16,500 feet and realized that he was facing the most difficult thing he has ever done. Besides the obvious danger of fatigue, he will be encountering five different climate zones—savannah, mountain rain forest, heather, alpine desert, and glacial plateau—not to mention decreasing oxygen levels (just 48 percent at the peak), and travel a rough, soft sand and rock, rutted trail that necessitated a redesign of his hand cycle. With a grant from the Easton Foundation, a team built a new one-of-a-kind bike known as the Bomba, incorporating the changes Waddell found necessary: a narrower, shorter wheel base, traditional bike gearing, and significantly lighter weight—48 pounds rather than 83. The new design provides better traction and enables Waddell to maneuver over foot-tall obstacles and climb in and out of the deep trenches built into the trail every few yards to prevent erosion from rain. The changes also enable Waddell to go twice as fast, 1 mph to 2 mph, which will significantly cut his time. Why is he doing this? Waddell has dedicated his life to defying the conventional wisdom of what a paraplegic can and cannot do. Through his work with the Paralympics, Waddell has proven that being a "para" does not mean living a disabled life. Waddell's athletic abilities garnered international attention and have helped to change the way disabled individuals are viewed. His decision to summit Kilimanjaro is intended to "shine the light back on the disabled — to show that if you take the time to look, you might be surprised." Waddell hopes that his incredible climb will provide a counterpoint to people's preconceived notions. "I hope my climb will make us see some of the 21+ million disabled people in the world in a whole new way," says Waddell.

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