Mind over matter. Sheer will and determination. Because it was there.
All of the typical clichés could easily described one man’s journey to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
But none of them fit Chris Waddell’s story as told in the documentary 1 Revolution shown during the opening night of the 2015 Best of Fest Film Festival Mesquite on Monday, Oct. 6 at the Eureka Grand Canyon Ballroom.
After a downhill snow skiing accident left him a paraplegic at age 20, Waddell participated in Paralympic Games becoming a 13-time downhill skiing medalist. Then he decided to take on one of the world’s tallest mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, standing 19,341 feet high.
His documentary film records how he used a specially made hand-powered cart to climb the mountain on his own. While he had assistance from friends and others along the upward path, he made the ascension on his own power.
“It took me six and a half days to reach the top and a day and a half to come back down,” Waddell told the Mesquite Local News in a one-on-one interview.
Perhaps battling the mountain’s altitude was an easier accomplishment than battling attitudes he’s faced towards wheelchair-bound people. “I’ve faced many condescending attitudes since I’ve been in a wheelchair. I’ve faced the very best in people because of the chair and I’ve faced the very worst. Frankly, there’s not a lot in between.”
Waddell says that his physical state is a reminder to people of their own fears. “Often times I end up apologizing for other people’s fears of what they could lose. I attack, push and allay their fears all at the same time. It’s easy for people to give up their dreams even if they aren’t disabled. I make people realize they can still fulfill those dreams no matter what.”
Carrier and Greg Lee, Owner of the Eureka Casino Resort, had met Waddell in an earlier time and learned of his story. They helped provide financial support for Waddell’s mountain climb. They also sponsored his visit to Mesquite for the opening celebration of the Film Festival. “There aren’t a lot of people who put themselves and their financial well-being behind good ideas other people have,” Waddell said of Carrier and Lee. “Their help got us to the bottom of the mountain which then got us to the top of the mountain.”
Waddell spends much of his time now visiting schools, including the four schools in Mesquite, and educating students about all the good possibilities in life. “We want to turn the perception of disabilities upside down.”
“I didn’t know there were dissenters about my quest to climb Mount Kilimanjaro until after the movie was made,” he commented about his documentary film. “In the movie, they asked my father what he thought about my idea to make the climb. He said he didn’t know what to make of most of my ideas. ‘I wish he would get a job and then I wouldn’t have to worry about him,’” Waddell recounted of his father’s comments.
“You have to make your own peace with something like this,” he explained about the accident 27 years ago that changed his life completely. “These experiences are so subjective that the significance of it is what we take from it as an individual. It made me unique. It has given me a platform and made me an educator. I became a portal to people understanding other people in a wheelchair. I have become a story people tell their kids to help them understand.”
“It was more difficult for me when I retired from competitive sports than it was when I broke my back,” Waddell related. “When I left the Paralympic sports world I felt like I lost my voice. Making the movie helped me regain my voice and begin educating people again.”
“Yes, it’s a lot easier to go down mountains than it is to go up them,” he joked about the transition from being a downhill skier to a mountain climber. “But for me, going up the mountain was the battle I needed to wage at that point. It became a matter of whether I could meet a long-term goal that has significant meaning. The mountain is the metaphor for all of our challenges.”
He says the idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro literally popped into his head one day. He did some research and decided it was a viable thing for him to do. “I was looking for a purpose. I was looking for a reason. The idea was just another mountain for me to climb,” Waddell explained about his trek in 2009.
When asked how long he trained for the mountain ascension he said “my whole life. Climbing a mountain is all about everything that’s gone wrong in your life and figuring out how to move forward from that. You start developing callouses as you go through life.”
He spent two years actually training on his cycle for the momentous challenge. “I began with two minutes a day and went up to nine hours a day in training.”
Waddell has moved on to more mountain climbing, metaphorically speaking, including writing his memoirs and two children’s books. “I do school tours every year in the Northeast. I’m also headed to Spain to do a fundraising marathon for my foundation, 1Revolution.org.”
Regardless of whatever mountain Waddell chooses to tackle, one thing is for sure – he will always reach the peak on his own two wheels.