Conquering Kilimanjaro for Clean Water

If you would have told me when I was a young boy, with no legs from the pelvis down due to genetic disease, that I would climb the largest mountain in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, on my hands and in my wheelchair I would have said, "No way." Yet four years ago I did just that with my two best friends, David and Alex, and we raised over half a million dollars for clean water. How did this all come about, you might ask?

Looking for the Right Fit

Most people might assume that losing my legs, or even climbing Kilimanjaro would be the biggest challenge I have faced in my life. Not true. My biggest challenge was finding a job that not only pays well, but also makes the world a better place. After years of struggling and working in corporate America, a good friend invited me to go on a volunteer trip to Kenya with an organization called WE.org, a movement that empowers people to change the world. I took him up on the offer and this one trip changed my life. Cliché I know, but it's true. On this trip I fell in love with Kenya and I found my passion for development work and a calling to be a motivational speaker. A few months after the trip I returned home and quit my job, packed up my life and moved to Toronto, Canada to work for WE as a motivational speaker and ambassador.

Spencer West in Africa

At WE, I use my story and experiences to empower other people to do the same in their own lives. Yet, halfway through my journey I was feeling guilty because I was telling audiences around the world that "you need to make a difference on the things you care about." But I realized that I was only talking about it without actually doing it myself.

Redefining Possible

So four years ago with the help of my two best friends and WE, we created a campaign called Redefine Possible. Our goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro while raising half a million dollars for East Africa. At the time, Africa was facing one of the largest droughts it had seen in over 60 years. Thanks to Sunrise Medical and Quickie, they hooked me up with a specially designed wheelchair to help aid me in conquering my climb up the mountain in June of 2012.

My hope was that I would do half on my hands and half in my chair, but when we got to Kilimanjaro it became very clear that I had to rely heavily on my hands. My two buddies, Alex and Dave, provided me with amazing support throughout the journey and at times, literally carried me, or pushed me in my chair when the terrain allowed. They were also my own personal cheerleaders as they offered encouraging words when I struggled.

Spencer West with friends climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Yet on the day of the summit, the roles were reversed. Around 18,000 feet, both of my friends experienced altitude sickness and I watched my support system crumble to their knees before me. I was one of the lucky few who didn't feel the effects at all. Truthfully, it was the first time in my entire life that I wished I had legs, so I could be the one to physically carry my friends like they had carried me. But I don't have legs, so I did what my parents taught me and I focused on the things I could do. Alex and Dave kept saying to me, "It's really inspiring to watch you walk," so I thought if that's all I could do, then I would do it to the best of my ability.

Hand over hand and foot over foot we walked, stopping frequently for my friends to regain their balance because they were so dizzy. Slowly but surely we made it to the top! We collapsed and cried happy tears as we celebrated because not only did we make it to the top but we had surpassed our fundraising goal and were able to provide clean water to 12,500 people in Kenya.

Spencer West with friends at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Although I'm extremely proud of what we did, and many have said how I inspired others by our climb, my goal has never been to be an inspiration. I want to use myself as an example to others to show that regardless of who you are, or where you come from, we all have the ability and responsibility to lend a helping hand to someone who needs it.

About the Author

Spencer West

As a featured speaker and co-host of WE Day, Spencer West has graced over 60 WE Day stages across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has spoken alongside luminaries and performers such as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Prince Harry, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Mia Farrow, Martin Luther King III, Jennifer Hudson and Natalie Portman, to name a few.

The life lessons Spencer has learned on his personal journey speak profoundly to audiences facing their own challenges. Spencer’s inspiring words have reached millions of listeners around the world, including corporations, students, educators, faith-based groups and families.

Infused with humor and humility, Spencer’s talks offer take-home tips and life lessons on how to find opportunity in every challenge, while instilling hope and empowering leaders to motivate others to create positive change.

Most of the stories here on RideQuickie.com were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 11/7/2016 12:00:00 AM


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