Man with no legs to climb Mount Kilimanjaro
No legs? No problem for Spencer West
Spencer West in Kenya. West, who has no legs, plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, this month.
If you’re waiting for the punchline, it’s no joke. On June 10, Spencer West, who stands two-foot-seven and has no lower body below his pelvis, will begin a journey to the peak of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
West was born with a severe deformity of the spine that resulted in his legs being completely amputated. Spencer learned to walk on his hands and has since overcome every challenge life has thrown at him. He’s been a cheerleader and high school actor, has helped build schools in Kenya, and travels the globe as a motivational speaker.
Now he’s going to take on a mountain.
In 2011, West made his sixth visit to Kenya to volunteer on development projects. While there, he witnessed the toll the recent drought has taken upon the region.
“I saw the failed crops, what once were lush green maize fields now sat dried brown and brittle. I saw the emaciation of the livestock of many of the community members.”
Ever since his first visit in 2002, West says he has felt a connection to Africa, and Kenya in particular. “People who I would consider family are struggling. I wanted to give back to the continent that helped me find my heart.”
West was looking for a way to help, and a friend suggested he try climbing a mountain to raise awareness and funds.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro does not require technical skills and experience like rock climbing. It is, however, extremely demanding physically and the high altitude and thin air can present serious – potentially fatal – risks to those who are not prepared and in good shape.
West is also concerned about the particular risks he will face. To climb the mountain, West will travel sometimes in a wheelchair, sometimes by simply “walking” on his hands. The climb will put an above average strain on joints that were never meant to take that kind of abuse.
“Arms aren’t meant to be walked on, especially to climb a mountain,” West notes.
In 2000, West tore a rotator cuff in his shoulder and was unable to walk for two months. An injury like that on Kilimanjaro would end his journey immediately, and possibly affect his mobility for the rest of his life.
To ensure his joints and muscles are up to the task, a personal trainer has had West on a regime, lifting weights two to three times a week. West tells us he can now bench press 125 pounds, even though he himself weighs only 80 pounds!
West’s training regime includes intense running and cardio workouts. In his wheelchair, West can “run” four kilometres in 20 minutes — 12 kilometres an hour, not that much slower than the average 19 kph speed of the current record holder in the Boston Marathon.
He and his friends David and Alex, who will be climbing with him, are also practicing by ascending steep hills around Toronto where he lives.
On the mountain, when West is not making the ascent on his hands, he’ll travel in a wheelchair that is being custom-designed and donated for him by Sunrise Medical. The chair will be built for durability, with massive, all-terrain wheels. West is working with Sunrise to explore a couple of different options to install gear systems on the main wheels that will reduce the strain on West’s arms, and possibly have a locking system that prevents the chair from rolling backwards.
The wheelchair will go right to the summit, and when he is traveling on his hands the chair will be carried by the porters who will accompany the team.
West admits there may be times where the terrain becomes too difficult to travel in the chair or on his hands. He says he has a backup plan for that.
“There will be parts where David or Alex may have to physically carry me, and I’m totally cool with that. We keep joking that there may be parts I have to carry them. We will just assess and adapt as we are faced with the challenge.”
Meanwhile, the fundraising part of the challenge is, if anything, proving even more successful than the training. Donations have poured in from corporations like KPMG and The Keg Spirit Foundation, from schools, and from private donors. A seven-year-old Toronto girl raised over $1,000 by holding a rock climbing party for her birthday and asking for donations instead of gifts.
West has now surpassed his original fundraising goal of $500,000 and set a new goal of $750,000, which will provide three wells for three communities in Kenya, bringing clean water to more than 18,500 people.
With his climb, West hopes to send a powerful message: “We have the capacity to redefine the limits of our own potential. There is no can’t or won’t, only how. I was told I wouldn’t be a contributing member of society, but now I’m going to climb Africa’s highest mountain.”
When West completes his journey in June, we’ll speak with him again and bring you the final chapter of his adventure.
For more information about the Summit Murder Mystery series and the upcoming release of Murder on Kilimanjaro, CLICK HERE!
Source: The Chronicle Herald