A Toronto climber has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in 20,000 steps, nearly all of them on his hands. With no legs and endless grit, 31-year-old Spencer West raised over $500,000 for Free the Children’s Redefine Possible initiative. The money will support clean-water projects in East Africa.
West has redefined what is possible since birth, when he was diagnosed with sacral agenesis. The rare genetic disorder causes abnormalities in the lower spine. At age five doctors amputated both of his legs below the pelvis. Here’s how West describes their prognosis in a video for Free the Children:
They said I would never walk, that I wouldn’t be a functioning member of society, that the odds would always be against me. But I refused to listen then, and I refuse to listen now.
In an interview with Colin Perkel for Canadian Press, West said a meeting with an 8-year-old Kenyan girl inspired him to train for the grueling climb. She told him “she didn’t know white people could lose their legs.” He added:
That one phrase changed the entire course of my life and helped me recognize how I could use my story to inspire people to overcome obstacles.
Severe drought in East Africa prompted West and his best friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers, to launch the “Redefine Possible” campaign. Their goal was to raise $750,000 for water projects.
Next: Success and Impact
After a year of training, West and a crew of friends and documentary filmmakers set out on the climb. In a special to The Calgary Herald, Craig and Marc Kielburger, co-founders of Free the Children, wrote that West made 80 percent of the climb on his own. The rest he maneuvered with his custom-built wheelchair or while strapped to the backs of friends or porters.
West blogged the arduous journey to Mount Kilimanjaro’s 18,640-ft. summit. He chronicled the fatigue, the altitude sickness, and the unfailing cameraderie. After reaching the mountain’s peak, he wrote:
There we were: me and my two best friends in the entire world, sitting together at the top of Africa, the continent that had taught us so much about compassion, humility and the power of we.
David Maris wrote about interviewing West in Tanzania, after he finished the climb. His piece in Forbes sums up the effect this young man has on people:
The more and more I reflected on it, and after watching some videos of the climb as well as some of his other speeches, I realized that while the physical feat he accomplished is impressive, it is how he accomplished it and the message behind it that is inspirational. West’s approach of building a team of reciprocal trust and support, creating major change though small steps, and tying goals to social impact has direct applicability for companies and individuals alike.
And I think the evidence is clear that West is on to something: unlock greatness by redefining possible.
West still intends to reach his goal of $750,000 for the water projects. Donations can be made at Redefine Possible.
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Photos from Spencer West's Facebook page