Double amputee climbs Africa's highest mountain using just hands

PHOTO: Double amputee climbs Africa's highest mountain using just hands

Climbing a mountain, especially Africa's highest mountain, is already hard enough for normal people. But what if you have no legs?

Spencer West, who lost his legs at the age of five, has truly proven that nothing is impossible.

He has redefined his boundaries by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands and in his wheelchair - all while raising funds for international charity and youth empowerment organization Free The Children.

All his life the 31-year-old has proven his detractors wrong.

When both his legs were amputated, his doctors said he would never be a functioning member of society.

He was born with sacral agenesis, which is a genetic disorder that left his lower spine poorly developed and his legs permanently crossed.

At first he lost his legs below the knee when he was three, then when he was five, he lost what was left when they were amputated below his pelvis.

Defying expectations, West went on to lead not just a normal life, but an extraordinary one - accomplishing feats beyond what an ordinary member of society could imagine.

He graduated from college and got a well-paying job as an operations manager for a salon and spa. Determined to be self reliant, he had a car specially designed that allowed him to control it with just his hands.

He had a house and a good life, but he wanted more. That was when it struck him that his life could be an inspiration to others.

"I set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro not only to redefine what's possible for me, but to inspire others to overcome obstacles and challenges of their own, and to give back to communities, that need our help," said the American.

Only 50 per cent succeed

Only 50 per cent succeed

He told ABC News that he did not want a job that just paid well, but one that made the world a better place. He then decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise US$750,000 (S$958,166) for the Kenyans who had helped him "find (his) passion".

The money would go towards building three boreholes to provide clean water to hundreds of thousands of Kenyans suffering from Africa's worst drought in 60 years.

West, along with his two best friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers, began the eight-day trek on June 12, after training for a year to climb Africa's highest peak.

According to the Daily Mail UK, only 50 per cent of people who attempt to make it to the top succeed.

It took West 20,000 "steps" to reach the top - 80 per cent of which he climbed using his hands to propel his torso forward, one hand after another.

While climbing, he kept supporters informed through daily updates, video messages and photos on the Redefine Possible blog.

Supporters, including celebrities such as Nelly Furtado and Nina Dobrev, posted words of encouragement and messages on Twitter and Free The Children's We Day Facebook Page.

The day he saw the peak was one of the most memorable moments of his life, he said.

"After seven grueling days of relentless climbing, after 20,000 feet of our blood, sweat and tears (and, let's face it, vomit) we had actually made it. We were at the top," he wrote on his blog during the ascent.

All worth it

All worth it

"The bleeding fingers and blisters were all worth it," he said.

Although reaching the peak was the most mentally and physically challenging thing he has ever done, West believes that it reinforces the powerful message of believing in yourself and believing in others.

"So many people made this journey possible for me and I am so humbled by everyone's support," he said.

The incredible journey has raised more than US$500,000 (S$638,777) and counting for Free The Children, bringing sustainable clean water programming to thousands of Kenyans who are suffering from the drought poisoning their waters and killing their lifestock.

Free The Children is the world's largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million youth involved in education and development programs in 45 countries.

Individuals can visit to donate and support Spencer West's Redefine Possible mission.

Special thanks was extended to sponsors, including Mountain Equipment Co-op, KPMG, The Keg Steakhouse & Bar and Research In Motion (RIM).