We are far more capable than we think….
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro the tallest free standing mountain in the world and 4th tallest of the 7 Summits as a group of four 30 somethings and in good health and good fitness…we should be able to climb Kilimanjaro…right? Well, that’s what we thought when we started this trek. I want to be clear the 7 day climb to the Summit is probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. I’ve run 3 marathons and countless endurance races and none of them compare to this level of difficulty. For me it was not only the hiking, the altitude, cold weather but the time away from home and the comforts associated. It was grueling. With all that said our group of 4 with the exception of one who impressively did the climb while managing his Type 1 diabetes should have handled all these challenges well and we did by Summiting Kilimanjaro without injury on January 5th, 2016. We accomplished our mission and dedicated our efforts to the Angelman Syndrome Community. However, the lesson that I learned along the way had little to do with Madden’s Crew physical sacrifice but the lessons came from the others we met along the way. Not just the hikers in good physical condition but all of those that had physical challenges making this climb even harder than it already is. Which for someone that just did it….is hard to believe.
The day we started on the Lemosho Trail towards the Summit of Kilimanjaro there was another group of 15 setting off the same day. This large team of climbers weren’t your typical Kili hikers. This group of men and woman of mixed ages and fitness levels all shared one common characteristic. They were all missing at least 1 limb. Most were lower amputees and one gentleman was a double below the knee amputee. Initially meeting this group was a bit intimidating….it was intimidating because here we were a group of 4 guys that are physically fit yet we’re still nervous about making it to the summit. We had no excuses after meeting this group of disabled hikers.
I don’t point this out to minimize what we accomplished…that’s wrong entirely. After making the trek I realized how hard and demanding this is regardless of who you are. But watching this group and hearing the stories of others with physicial challenges that should make this climb impossible it was inspiring to hear on the final day of the climb that all but one of them had made it to the top. They were always the last ones into camp, “pole pole” (slowly in Swahili), beat up and battered by the steep accents and rocky terrain but day after day they kept showing up in camp overcoming the days climbing challenges.
As the week progressed and the days got longer and the altitudes got higher I had my doubts I would make it. There were a couple times I felt very sick but I kept pushing knowing that I could do so much more than my mind was telling me. If I had never met the group of amputees during the climb and one of them approached me after I completed the climb looking for advice for their own assent I fear I would have stressed the difficulty of the trek to a degree that might have inavertindly kept them from moving forward with the climb up Kilimanajaro. Because in the back of my mind I would have had serious doubt any one with a physical disability like an amputee could ever make this assent to the top of Kilimanjaro. Thank god I never was given that opportunity to minimize what others think they might be capable of.
My son Madden is 2.5 years old and I read about what children with Angelman will be capable of and can’t help but think about how the people writing many of these books don’t have children with AS and really don’t know what they might be capable of. Only someone that is raising a child with AS can see that they are capable of so much more than what might be suggested. In my preparation I read about many limiting factors that would prevent someone from making it to the top of Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet. I spent thousand of dollars on treking gear that was quickly shown to be a “nice to have” and far from a necessity. Many of our porters were making this climb with old tennis shoes, jeans and light gloves. The climb provides them a very good wage but those dollars go towards food and shelter not the latest NorthFace down coat or Gortex gloves. Many on the mountain, including our team, are fitted with the latest in warm weather technology and expensive boots. It’s ironic the only ones that complain about the cold are those with the best gear and nicest boots. It’s also worth mentioning the under dressed porters also outpaced us on a daily basis. We often have more than we need we just don’t realize it because someone told us otherwise. Again, without seeing how the porters flourish on the mountain without all of the gear I fear I would have reinforced the need for some much gear. The porters helped us realize that we often have plenty to accomplish our goals and overcome challenges.
I’m so thankful for the lesson that the group of disabled hikers taught me. If I didn’t make the climb with them and hear their stories of how they conquered all of the physical challenges I would have certainly doubted their ability to climb Kili. This lesson of human ability is such a valuable one….our capabilities are so much greater than we think. Until we are given the opportunity to do more than what is said to be possible we aren’t able to redefine those lines and create a new set of capabilities so we can challenge those too. I will remember this lesson to help push anyone that might not have ever actually climbed a mountain with our kids that it’s possible for them to do so much more. Even though their physical and neurological challenges are real and significant their abilities are far greater than we even know.
Climbing Kilimanjaro taught me that our children with AS can and will accoplish so much more than we even think. They have all of the “gear” needed to accomplish any goals set out in front of them. They just need the opportunity to Climb something. Given the opportunity they will flourish and continue to surprise us.
I will keep pushing Madden and all of his care givers to understand what I know now and keep striving to climb and conquer the highest Summits in the world for my son and the Angelman Community.
Summit 4 Angelman and Madden’s Crew