Double Amputee Scales Kilimanjaro...On His Hands
Spencer West raises $500,000 for charity in legless ascent
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation: 19,341 feet) is a big deal. Only half of those who attempt to scale the mountain make it to the summit, and the trek takes most people upwards of a week. That 31-year-old Spencer West summited in seven days, then, is great, but not all that extraordinary…
Until you learn that West has no legs. West climbed Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, on his hands.
West was born with sacral agenesis, a genetic disorder that left his spine underdeveloped and his legs permanently crossed. When he was three, his legs were amputated from the knees down; at five, doctors cut off what remained—and then told him he’d be disabled for life.
Ever since, West has been determined to defy his doubters—and now, nearly three decades later, West has accomplished something that many able-bodied people never could.
The impetus for West’s Kilimanjaro ascent—a campaign called “Redefine Possible”—came in 2008, when West was on a volunteer trip with Free the Children to help build a school in Kenya. A little girl in a rural Kenyan village looked at all 2’7” of him and, with unknowingly brazen honesty, said, “I didn’t know something like this could happen to white people, too.”
“That one phrase fundamentally changed the entire course of my life,” West said, “and it helped me recognize that I can use my story to inspire other people that are facing different obstacles.”
West began training a year in advance for the climb, doing exercises like pushups to improve his upper-body strength. But not even he expected how much time he’d actually spend walking on his heavily calloused hands.
“We came into this thinking it would be 50% in my chair and 50% on my hands,” he said. In actuality, it ended up being 80% on my hands.”
What made the seven-day journey even better—other than that West, y’know, reached the summit of Africa’s tallest peak on his hands—was that his best friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers, were with him the whole time. And near the summit, it was West who was urging his altitude-sickness-stricken friends to keep pushing.
“I got in between them,” West recalled, and just said, 'We're going to do this as fast or as slow as it takes.'"
West and his friends woke up at 4 a.m. for their final push to the summit. They arrived at the top seven hours later—and “collapsed and cried” the moment they did so.
Also worthy of happy tears? The fact that the climb has raised over $500,000 (and counting) to create clean water in Kenya.
Redefine possible, indeed.
Check out the Redefine Possible blog for more pictures, videos and updates from every day of the climb.