A man who lost his legs is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for charity. We asked him what it means to redefine possible in our everyday lives.
Spencer West was born to stand out. Not only is he a motivational speaker for Me to We and author of Standing Tall, but he lost his legs just below the pelvis at age five due to a disorder called sacral agenesis — an abnormal development of the spine — and has never let it stop him. Now, at 31, he’s about to embark on his toughest endeavour yet: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, in eight days. Spencer’s goal is to raise $750,000 for Free the Children, bringing sustainable clean water programming to 18,500 Kenyans, who last year experienced the region’s worst drought in 60 years. These 20,000 or so steps to the summit will show the world that you can do anything you put your mind to, and that you can make a difference in the world. We asked Spencer about growing up different, how he’s preparing for the gruelling trek ahead, and how we can help him redefine possible.
Q: What inspired you to choose climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro over any other initiative?
A: It started in 2008 when Reed Cowan, a good friend I met a few years prior, convinced me to go on a volunteer adventure to Kenya with Me to We to help build a school. I have always heard that Africa has a way of calling you back to yourself. That was made especially clear to me on this trip: Kenya changed everything.
Shortly after I arrived in the country, I visited a Free the Children school in a community called Emori Joi. As soon as I got there, I was swarmed by students and young people who asked me every question under the sun, including “Where are your legs?” To this day, it is this experience and one particular moment that stands out for me. A little girl told me, “I didn’t know this could happen to white people too.” That’s when it hit me: there is a greater purpose for me in life. I can use my story to show young people obstacles can be overcome and help them understand that we all need a helping and can lend a helping hand — no matter who we are, where we are from or what colour our skin is.
That trip is why I chose to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
Q: How have you been preparing for such a difficult and gruesome trek?
A: I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my two best friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers. We are so excited but also scared out of our minds! During the past several months, we have been both mentally and physically preparing with our trainer, Andre. We’re following a strict physical workout regime, including cardio and weight training, to ensure we are fully prepared — for anything. Thanks to their generous support, we’ve been training at the YMCA gym in Toronto.
Although we have mapped out our route up the mountain with our guide and team, we will need to adapt along the way. Some of the way up I will use my wheelchair, and other times I’ll walk on my hands or with the assistance of David and Alex.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is my greatest and toughest challenge yet, but I know that by helping and supporting each other, my best friends and I will tackle the climb — together.
Read on to see how you can redefine possible in your community>>