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April 2003:

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Apr. 5

Dinesh makes a snow angel    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsHello from Gorak Shep, We're now two days at 17,000 feet due to a dumping of snow that made it unwise to move our expedition on to the Khumbu glacier toward base camp. We've had to say good-bye to a few of our team members: Our great friend and supporter, Gene Rodgers along with his brother Robert Rodgers, who was acting as his assistant; Kim Smith, Lakpa Dorjee Sherpa and Tenzing Sherpa unfortunately could not shake their headaches and made the decision to descend and wait at lower altitudes.

For such a large team to be this high and to have the majority still pushing onward and upward shows the determination and the strength of the human spirit to achieve goals beyond the "norm".

We've enjoyed the day of rest here. The sun eventually came out around noon and all the team broke out their Frisbees. We have all tried to improve our accuracy - at these altitudes, one really likes to be able to throw and/or catch the Frisbee without moving a whole lot, because even a few steps and you tend to lose your breath.

The team feels exceptionally tight - we've been cutting jokes and laughing at the wonderful ways we've had to overcome the challenges that have been so nicely presented to us over the last three weeks. I've never seen such a determined team, both focused and fully understanding the historic event that is about to take place. Thank you for your continued support. - Gary

Inspirational trekker forced to turn back
'It's important to go out there and try,' he says

By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News

Gene with Janis and Sherpa    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsGORAK SHEP, Nepal – A medical condition forced Gene Rodgers, an Austin man whose love of travel inspired Team Everest 03, to leave the Himalayas for Katmandu on Friday – the day the group had hoped to reach Mount Everest.

Mr. Rodgers, 47, became ill Thursday night with what team doctor Janis Tupesis described as a bowel obstruction, a potentially serious twisting of the intestines that required his hospitalization.

He was evacuated by helicopter Friday to undergo treatment in Katmandu.

"Things can go wrong almost any time, and when you're so close to the final prize, it's particularly tough," Mr. Rodgers said. "But the important thing is to go out there and follow your dreams. It's important to go out there and try."

Snow was falling as he departed for a one-hour trip by doko, or porter-carried basket, to meet a helicopter at the village of Lobuche.

Helicopter landing    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsThe difficulty of takeoffs at high altitude forced the helicopter to make two trips to pick up Mr. Rodgers, his brother and their gear. It flew Mr. Rodgers to a medical aid post at Pheriche, about 2,400 feet down the mountains, before returning for the rest and taking the entire party from Pheriche to Katmandu.

Mr. Rodgers is the third of 10 U.S. team members with disabilities to turn back since the 23-day trek began. An Austin teacher who is deaf left on March 24 because of homesickness, and Kim Smith, a Dorchester, Texas, woman with fibromyalgia, stopped this week in Dugla after being delayed earlier by stomach and altitude sickness.

Two Sherpas with disabilities on the trek, Lapka Dorje Sherpa and Tenzing Sherpa, also descended Friday because of altitude sickness. They will wait with Mrs. Smith at Pheriche, where the team will fly by helicopter to Katmandu in about a week.

Spiritual journey

The two Sherpas joined the trek to bring attention to people with disabilities in Nepal. Lapka Dorje Sherpa made a pilgrimage before the trek to Lumbini, the Nepali city where the Buddha was born, to pray for the expedition's success. He and Tenzing Sherpa said the trek was a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey to honor the deities whom Sherpas and other Tibetan Buddhists believe reside in the world's highest mountains.

Leaving Gorak Shep on snowy, icy trail    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsThe team had hoped to reach base camp Friday but stayed in Gorak Shep because of icy trail conditions from morning snow showers.

Mr. Rodgers, unable to move below his neck since a fall from a cliff at 17, was among the first people to sign up for the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek when it was announced more than a year ago by a Texas-based disability advocacy group.

The Texas Coalition for the Disabled organized the trek to Mount Everest base camp, along with Austin climber Gary Guller, to shatter stereotypes about capabilities of people with disabilities. After the trekkers reach Everest, Mr. Guller and three climbers will try to reach the summit by mid-May. If successful, Mr. Guller would be the first person with one arm atop the world's highest peak.

Mr. Rodgers posed a challenge to organizers, who said they were initially unsure how to transport someone with such physical limitations on the steep, rocky trek.

But Mr. Rodgers explained how he trekked in Nepal a decade before in a modified doko – the bamboo basket that porters use to haul goods in the largely roadless mountain kingdom.

Mr. Guller and Sherpas working with him began planning to carry anyone with mobility problems in dokos over rough parts of the trek, and five people who use wheelchairs – including two paraplegics, a quadriplegic with limited use of his arms and a man born with spina bifida – eventually joined the team.

Mr. Rodgers' brother, Robert Rodgers of Parma Heights, Ohio, decided to come along to help, and the two became known for their slapstick banter.

Other team members using wheelchairs sometimes chafed at being in dokos, but Mr. Rodgers joked about his transport – daily announcing his obligation to "break trail" for the team and set up high camps for the summit team climbing Everest.

Helicopter landing    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsUnexpected reunion

When the group arrived at the Himalayas, Mr. Rodgers was unexpectedly reunited with the Sherpa guide who led his first Nepali trek. Mr. Rodgers said seeing Tsering Sherpa was a highlight of the Everest trek, and the Sherpa became his constant companion.

"If it had ended in the first few days, it would've all been worthwhile, especially being reunited with Tsering Sherpa," Mr. Rodgers said Friday.

Tsering Sherpa was among the Sherpas and porters who accompanied Mr. Rodgers and his brother, the team doctor, and team co-leader, Gary Scott of Colorado Springs, Colo., down the trail to Lobuche.

Mr. Rodgers said he was disappointed at not seeing base camp but happy to have reached 17,000 feet. His last night in the Himalayas was spent where the expedition that included Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay – the first two men to climb Mount Everest – set up its base camp 50 years ago.

"There wasn't any discussion about not going. We both knew," Mr. Rodgers said after a sleepless night in which Dr. Tupesis held him for hours as he worried about the severity of his condition. "This isn't going to stop me, though. There'll be other places, other times."

Gene boards helicopter    Photo by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning NewsBefore leaving, he asked teammates to take a bagel he'd brought from Katz's Deli and Bar in Austin to photograph at base camp, and an American flag sewn by his mother for the team's base-camp portrait. He also left a bottle of Austin-made vodka, which he'd hoped to offer at the group's base-camp puja or Buddhist ceremony honoring Everest.

Before a porter hoisted his doko in the pelting snow, Mr. Rodgers asked someone to open his coat hood so he could see the scenery.

"He wants to take everything in," his brother said.


*** Update: We received word that Gene arrived safely in Kathmandu, is feeling much better and resting comfortably in the hospital. His and Robert's wonderful humor are keeping the hospital staff hopping, we're sure! We'll keep you posted on his progress.

Contact Dennis Borel at (512) 478-3366 or dborel@cotwd.org for a media kit, sponsorship opportunities and to learn more about TE '03 and the advocacy work of CTD.

Messages and questions for the team

Slide show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities is dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy equal opportunities to live, work, play, and participate fully in the community of their choice. CTD has consistently delivered important results for persons with disabilities for the past 24 years, and needs your support to fight the discrimination that faces individuals with disabilities in almost every aspect of their lives.



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