Paru le vendredi 6 novembre 2009 sur The Gazette
Little this amputee can’t do
Macdonald climbed Cradle Mountain “ by the seat of his pants.”
you’ve had it tough? Warren Macdonald climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro – without legs.
Macdonald had his legs amputated after a mountainclimbing accident in Australia 12 years ago. Ten months later, he managed to climb Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain with the help of a modified wheelchair, but mostly by the seat of his pants.
Six years ago, Macdonald became the first double abovethe-knee amputee to make it to the summit – 19,222 feet – of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. He used a modified pair of short prostheses and sawed-off crutches to scale the daunting rock and ice that is Kilimanjaro.
Macdonald was in Montreal yesterday to address the students of Bialik High School on overcoming life’s little obstacles. Like climbing mountains without the use of legs. And, in the case of his buddy who joined him in the Kilimanjaro ascent, without the use of arms.
The Australian-born Macdonald, who has appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, had little difficulty making his point in front of 800 enraptured pupils. As if his words weren’t effective enough, he also brought along dizzying video footage of his feats.
Macdonald’s visit was in conjunction with Bialik’s Sensitization Program. Every year, the school brings in motivational speakers, “people with disabilities who are people first.” The program is about “what people can do, not what they can’t do.”
As is the case with past guest Rick Hansen, there appears to be little that Macdonald can’t do.
Macdonald began his address on the subject of perception: “Some of you may think there is a disabled guy on stage. I’d like to set you straight. The only time I’m disabled is when I’m seeking a good parking spot. The rest of the time I’m not disabled.”
Or challenged in the chuckles department, either. Macdonald, 44, is as hip as he is humorous and has little difficulty relating to high-schoolers.
From page C1 Macdonald’s view is that almost anything is possible: “It’s a question of doing things differently, but still doing things.”
On that note, he announced that he could walk, run and ride bikes with the use of artificial legs. And that he could bloody well swim faster – without legs – than anyone, with or without.
It must be painful for him, but Macdonald, when not travelling the world and climbing mountains, spends his time on the speakers’ circuit constantly rehashing the incident that resulted in the loss of his legs.
Actually, the accident didn’t occur while he was climbing. He and a few buddies were camped out for the night midway up a mountain near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Macdonald had to relieve himself and ventured off to a remote spot. While bracing himself, a piece of rock wall broke off. Next thing he knew a one-ton boulder fell on his legs and he was helpless to move it.
Macdonald spent two days trapped under that boulder, until a team came to rescue him and airlift him by helicopter to hospital. He nearly died in the process.
“I cried myself to sleep in the hospital the night after my legs were amputated, but I woke up to a whole new world,” he recounted.
“Until then, I had never even known anyone in a wheelchair.”
While doctors were concerned about keeping him alive, Macdonald wanted to know when he could go back climbing mountains. Ten months, it turned out.
Admittedly, it took him two and a half days to scale Cradle Mountain, largely on his butt – as opposed to the five hours it took when he had use of his legs. But he had never felt better about achieving something in his life as he did then.
Macdonald’s story is as remarkable as it is inspirational. Small wonder that his book, A Test of Will, is a bestseller and that he is much in demand on the motivationalspeaking front.
“I am so in awe,” marvelled Jake Silverman, a Grade 10 student at Bialik. “Obviously, he has amazing outer strength, but it’s his inner strength that just blows me away. It makes me realize just how easy that most of us have it, yet we still complain.”
Allon Cohen, a Grade 8 student, is in a wheelchair. He severed a tendon – sliding down a banister at school. He also broke his wrist in the mishap. “I was actually feeling sorry for myself, because I was finding it so hard to get around,” he noted. “But at least I’ll be out of this chair in a month. I can’t imagine spending a whole life in a wheelchair. What that man has accomplished, with such an upbeat attitude, is just unbelievable.”
By upbeat, Cohen might well have been referring to Macdonald’s quip about sleepwalking: It used to be a concern for Macdonald while camping out at night on a mountain ledge. “But now I take my legs off before going to be bed – so it’s one less worry,” Macdonald cracked.
Grade 11 student Gloria Moriel was also captivated by Macdonald’s presentation. “Talk about courage. He has shown me that a person can accomplish just about anything they want in life. Most of us have so many facilities that we don’t take advantage of. He really managed to put everything in perspective.