Hats off to all people who achieve their goals in the face of great adversity

We spend far too much time talking about able-bodied people on this website, and not nearly enough print on those less fortunate amongst us who, either from an accident, active duty or since birth, have a disability of some sort…

These sportsmen and adventurers put us to shame…

We have talked about Eric Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Everest. He did that on May 25, 2001. By August 20, 2008, he was standing on top of Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest peak in Austral-Asia, thus completing his quest to climb the Seven Summits – the highest peak on every continent.

Erik is now recognised as one of the premier motivational speakers in the world. He speaks to audiences on harnessing the power of adversity, the importance of a strong “rope team,” and the daily struggle to pursue your dreams. His accomplishments show that one does not have to have perfect eyesight to have extraordinary vision.

Erik at the Summit of Artesanraju, Peru.

Then there is Major Phil Packer, again given a fair amount of print space on this website. A 37-year-old, who suffered heart and spinal injuries and lost the use of his legs (thereby being classified as a paraplegic) while on active duty in Iraq. He completed the 2009 London Marathon in 14 days. Quite an achievement for a man who doctors said would never walk again. From that painful but deliberate march he headed across the ocean to California where he became the first paraplegic to conquer the fearsome El Capitan.

El Capitan - June 2009

His goal for the London Marathon 2010 was to set himself a challenge that he called 26: to run the 26 miles in 26 hours for 26 charities supported by 26 young people’ and he did it – in an amazing 25 hours and 55 minutes! 13 days ahead of his previous year’s record. An extraordinary man.

Chris Waddell is another awe-inspiring example. A 1988 skiing accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Determined to get back on the slopes, he began skiing on a monoski roughly one year later. A little more than two years later, Waddell was named to the US Disabled Ski Team. He is now the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history. On 30th September 2009 he successfully summited Mount Kilamanjaro – the highest peak in Africa at 19,340 feet and the tallest free standing mountain in the world.


Chris Waddell and the “Bomba”, a specialized one-of-a-kind 4 wheel handcycle created specifically for this expedition. It is propelled entirely be arm power. The unique handcycle steers 2 ways, via traditional hand bars and through a special pedal that sits under the chest. ©Mike Stoner

Whilst in Africa he and his team donated wheelchairs and handcycles to people in Tanzania hoping to help people take the first step. Also donated was a prosthetic leg to a former Kilimanjaro porter who lost his leg in a rock slide while working on the mountain. Tajiri climbed and summited with them becoming, they think, the first Tanzanian leg amputee to summit.

And then there’s David Shannon.

David Shannon became the first person in world history with quadriplegia and in a wheelchair to reach the North Pole. He, along with expedition co-leader and fellow Canadian, Chris Watkins, developed “Team Independence 09” to promote breaking barriers to accessibility and greater community inclusion. Upon reaching the Pole David said, “This sign represents all peoples who have faced challenges or adversity in their lives and have dreamed of overcoming them. If we as people, work together in our homes, our cities, our countries and in our global village, there is no dream that cannot be realized” .

I could go on for ever finding more and more remarkable people who achieve extreme goals in extreme adversity, but now I’ll concentrate a  few minutes on the team of disabled service men, all amputees, who are determined to reach the North Pole and who are currently in training in the Arctic.

They will try to reach the geographic North Pole from Siberia and hope to become the first amputees from the forces to reach this goal. Prince Harry, who is patron of the of the Walking with the Wounded charity organising the event, joked “let’s get an Army flag on the North Pole before my brother lands a helicopter there.” It is anticipated that the trek will take four weeks with the amputees hauling heavy sledges over 300 miles (483km) across the frozen Arctic Ocean in temperatures down to -50C.

Organisers say next year’s trek hopes to raise £1m in money to help rehabilitate wounded service personnel back into the workplace.

The team’s first Arctic ice training began this month, May. Rob Copsey, one of the four finalists from whom two will be picked, is hoping to participate in the expedition.The former serviceman, who lost his right leg below the knee in an anti-personnel mine during a humanitarian mission in Rwanda in 1994, has already completed three marathons. “I set myself a challenge early on after losing my leg, I wanted to prove to my friends and family that I was OK. Anybody can do it, half the battle is in your head and the other half is the physical side – you can overcome both, you just need to plan and be determined,” he said.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves oughtn’t we when looking at something and saying, “aw no, too difficult” !!!

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