The first thing Spencer West thought when he reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro on Tuesday, after he and his two best friends had just spent seven days hiking through some of Tanzania’s wildest terrain from snowfields to deserts, was that the summit sign was a mirage.
One other fact made the exhausted West’s arrival all the more bittersweet: He had done it using only his hands.
Born with a genetic disorder that forced his legs to be amputated when he was 5, West was told by doctors that he would never be a functioning member of society.
But instead of listening to them, the brave Canadian, now 31, set out to defy them for the rest of his life – and his recent scaling of Africa’s tallest peak is just another example of that determination.
“By the time I got to the top my hands were numb, my elbows were sore, my shoulders were sore – but there’s something to be said about determination and trying to reach your goal,” West told Canada’s CTV. “And for us, we wanted to be this symbol that anything is possible and that we could redefine what’s possible for ourselves and maybe for others.”
To prepare, West underwent rigorous upper-body workouts for a year so he would be capable of hoisting himself along the hike’s often-rocky terrain.
“The moment the summit was within sight,” he said, “it was incredible. We looked around and realized that, 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.”
With his feat, West, who says he is “humbled by everyone’s support,” raised nearly $500,000 – not for himself, but for others. He plans to donate the money to Free The Children, a charity that provides impoverished children with education, clean water, health care and sanitation.