Local and national media attended a panel discussion and
press conference in Austin with eight of the returning Challenge
Trek members: Mark Ezzell, Sandra Murgia, Barry Muth, Dinesh
Ranasinghe, Kim Smith, Matt Standridge, Christine White and
Riley Woods. The following AP story appeared in newspapers
Everest trekkers return with new insight
Lessons from the top of the world
18, 2003 AUSTIN For Riley Woods, life will never be
as hard again. Paralyzed in a snow skiing accident six years
ago, Mr. Woods was one of eight disabled Americans who climbed
to Mount Everest's base camp at 17,600 feet earlier this month.
After negotiating craggy trails, crossing rickety bridges
and slippery ice in an extraordinary adventure, members of
the group said Thursday after returning to Austin, where many
of them started their trip, that the climb proved the disabled
can overcome many obstacles, even those that might seem impossible.
"You want to talk about the most inaccessible,
wheelchair-unfriendly place in the world," said Mr. Woods,
28. "If we did it there, the rest of life will be a breeze."
Organized by one-armed mountain climber Gary Guller
with the help of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities,
the group spent 18 days scaling the mountain alongside Nepalese
Sherpas, the Himalayas' renowned mountaineers. Mr. Guller,
36, is an experienced climber who plans to try to reach the
summit of the world's highest peak at 29,035 feet this summer.
group started at Lukla, a town about 9,180 feet above sea
level. From there, they made their way up the mountain along
stony trails sometimes wide enough for only one person. On
one trail, the team was heading up when a pack of yaks
was heading down.
Sandra Murgia, 43, has arthritis and leg paralysis,
and uses a cane. She was in the Navy when her leg was crushed
while loading bombs onto a ship before the first Gulf War.
For her, the confrontation with the yaks was a scary
moment. "My footing is not so good," she said.
Those on the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek who use
wheelchairs pushed themselves when they could. The Sherpas
carried them on their backs when the climb was too steep or
meant trusting the Sherpas completely when a false step or
fall could send them plummeting hundreds of feet.
"I had my life in their hands," said
Matt Standridge, 24, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle crash.
The trip wasn't without setbacks. Several members
had to turn back for various reasons, including altitude sickness.
Biting cold, lack of a familiar diet and difficulty
with simple tasks, such as getting in and out of a
sleeping bag, compounded the hardship. The group
reached base camp on April 5. More than 1,200 people
have climbed the mountain, many
helped by Sherpas. Nearly 200 have died on its slopes.
Barry Muth, 44, a quadriplegic since a vehicle
roll-over accident ended his Army career four years
ago, said he nearly quit the expedition. Mr. Muth, who cannot
dress himself, said he got depressed when the attendant making
the trip with him had to leave. [Barry's attendant did not
leave, but Gene Rodgers' attendant assisted Barry in his daily
living activities after Gene had to leave the trek for medical
reasons.] That's when the other members of the group encouraged
him to go on with help from other attendants [other
"I was ready to turn around," Mr. Muth said. "I
was in tears. But because of everyone else, I was not going