Everest '03 needs your financial support
to get the message to the top of the world that the potential
of people with disabilities is unlimited. Please spread the
word to friends and colleagues to donate so that we can accomplish
our goals. Thanks to all! - Gary Guller
Disabled trekkers inspire
awe muscling way through Himalayas
By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News
Nepal Gary Guller stared at the wheelchair tracks snaking
down the narrow mountain trail and slowly shook his head.
Ahead, Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek members grunted and
huffed as they muscled their wheelchairs forward, pushing
up 40-degree inclines and edging along 1,000-foot drop-offs
to the Dudh Khosi River.
"That's the first time anyone's seen that here before,"
said Mr. Guller, 36, of Austin, a veteran climber and Nepal
trekking guide leading a Texas-based team of people with disabilities
to Mount Everest.
"This is too much, too, too much. It's hard to keep
it together, watching this. To see such human spirit and all
of these people doing this together," he said. "Just
one time, everybody should be able to experience this. It's
like a dream."
Mr. Guller's group, sponsored by the Austin-based Coalition
for Texans with Disabilities, is going to one of the world's
highest, most hostile and inaccessible places to call attention
to the abilities and potential of people with physical challenges.
The team's nine Americans with disabilities include five
who use wheelchairs one is paralyzed from the shoulders
down and others with severe hearing loss, lost or damaged
legs and chronic pain. The Americans have been joined by two
Sherpas with disabilities and more than a dozen volunteers
from the United States and Canada.
A 10th team member, a deaf teacher from Austin, left the
group to return to the United States earlier this week.
At the end of their trek to Everest base camp 17,388 feet,
Mr. Guller hopes to lead three U.S. and Canadian climbers
to the mountain's summit at 29,035 feet. If successful, he
would be the first person with one arm atop the highest place
the sixth morning of their trek, the team climbed the barren
slope above the Sherpa trading village of Namche Bazaar and
headed down a winding trail rimmed by some of the world's
most formidable peaks.
Clouds shrouded Everest, but other snow-capped behemoths
glimmered in dazzling sunlight, framed by a brilliant blue
For the group and those who encountered them, the jaw-dropping
scenery was rivaled by what was happening on the trail.
Four members who use wheelchairs pushed themselves during
much of the five-hour trip to a terraced village campsite,
accomplishing what they had hoped to do since arriving in
the Himalayas nearly a week ago.
Nepali porters had carried them in woven bamboo baskets called
dokos for most of the group's previous journey because the
terrain was too rough and rocky for wheelchairs.
On their own
But after two days of resting and adjusting to the altitude
at 11,000 feet in Namche Bazaar, Mr. Guller announced that
the trail ahead was passable enough to allow the men who could
push their wheelchairs to try it on their own.
"This is what we've been waiting for," said Riley
Woods of Waco, a 28-year-old paraplegic. "So much has
been taken away from you that normally you would do on your
own, you take pride in what you can do."
Moving up the trail, they popped onto rear wheels to maneuver
around boulders and over rocks. They slogged through thick
mud and pools of snowmelt. And they dodged dozens of yaks,
the principal means of transport for trekking equipment and
commercial goods in the remote, roadless region.
One of the men, Mark Ezell of Raleigh, N.C., only managed
a short ride before a faulty front wheel on his wheelchair
collapsed and he had to return to a doko. But the others pushed
themselves for hours, waving off Sherpas who tried to help
even as their arms ached and they gasped in the thin air.
"It's a good burn. Uhn. Uhn. Sleepin' good tonight!"
grunted Matt Standridge of San Marcos, leaning forward with
a sweaty Houston Astros hat perched backward on his head.
grin widened as he strained, hopped and bounced his chair.
"Who's your daddy!" the 24-year-old paraplegic called
Mr. Woods also rocked his chair to clear small rocks and
popped wheelies to get past bigger ones.
"I'm lovin' it!" he said. "This chair, I'll
probably never use it again. I'll retire it and put it in
my Everest hall of fame."
Barry Muth of San Antonio, a 44-year-old quadriplegic who
has limited use of his arms, tilted back and pushed while
a porter pulled him from the front with a makeshift rope harness.
"This is what I needed," he said.
He occasionally fell forward in his chair, and once tipped
over, sending a scrum of alarmed Sherpas diving to right his
chair. But he laughed off the tumble, declaring it part of
"The porters are letting me work," he said. "They're
getting good at letting me do what I can."
Other team members gathered at the crest of a particularly
steep 30-foot stretch to cheer the men on as they wrestled
their chairs to the top.
"It's so great to see my friends push really,
really strive," said Dinesh Ranasinghe, 26, of San Antonio,
who also struggled over parts of the trail because his prosthetic
leg has worn sores in his upper thigh.
"They are so happy," added Christine Kane, 29,
a teacher at the Texas State School for the Deaf in Austin.
"Every single muscle they're using, they appreciate
every drop of sweat. They don't care if it's hard. They don't
care if it's slow."
of Sherpas and porters occasionally hoisted the wheelchairs
over large boulders and steps and then hovered nervously as
the men began pushing again.
Mingma Sherpa, one of 15 Sherpas and 80 Nepalese porters
assisting the expedition, repeatedly tried to coax Mr. Woods
back into a doko.
"The trail is not so good," he said. "But
he says, 'my wheelchair is very strong.' He keeps going, going.
I never see anything like this in my entire life."
The sight of the men themselves rolling up precarious paths
and skirting thousand-foot drop-offs left their teammates
and other trekkers in awe.
"Usually you turn a corner here and get goose bumps
because you see these beautiful, beautiful mountains. Here,
I'm turning the corner, and I see these guys, and I get even
more goose bumps," said Dr. Janis Tupesis, 28, of Chicago,
the team's physician.
"An Australian couple who passed us on the trail just
threw up their hands in disbelief," he said. "They're
on their way back [from Everest], and this rivals anything
show by Erich Schlegel / The Dallas Morning News
Dose of reality
Five Indian contestants traveling to Everest base camp for
Mission Everest, a National Geographic-India Channel reality
TV show, stopped by the Team Everest 03 camp to meet the group
before team members set out Wednesday morning and then watched
in amazement as the members moved up the trail.
The five Indians, chosen from 30,000 applicants in a national
competition that included a stint for finalists in an Indian
Army mountaineering boot camp, said seeing the Texas-based
group was among their most memorable experiences in Nepal.
"When we saw them for the first time, we said, 'Oh my
God,' said one woman who asked that her name not be used because
the network is keeping winners' names secret until the show
airs in April. "Whenever we are tired, and we see these
people, we realize we can't be tired.
"We knew we'd be meeting great people because this is
the 50th year [since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were
the first to reach the top of Everest], but we never knew
we'd be meeting people like this."
of the five TV show winners said seeing people with such physical
challenges accomplishing such extraordinary things "is
a beautiful concept, really."
"You start questioning limits. It's very easy for all
of us to say something is not possible. We see something like
this, and we realize that anything is possible," he said.
"So I say what disability? They're doing it, and they're
doing it quite nicely" he said. "These guys definitely
Questions / comments
for the team
CTD's current legislative work:
"The money follows the person"
Divided into several bills, this innovative
legislation allows a Medicaid-eligible person with a disability
to leave an institution and take
their funding for services into the community setting. Without
this, a person who wants to leave an institution must
go to the bottom of a lengthy waiting list, which is a huge
and scary disincentive to transitioning into the community.
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. Contact Dennis at email@example.com
to learn more about CTD's advocacy work.