A skiing accident two decades before had left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down. But because of a hand-cranked wheelchair, he was able to achieve what many assumed was impossible, becoming the first person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film “One Revolution.”
His face was inches from the ground, coated in volcanic ash and he was suffering exhaustion and drained from the previous days of climbing the varied terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa yet he was compelled and said to himself, “There was a mountain that needed to be climbed.” So he turned the crank on his handcycle one revolution, and then another, and then one thousand more times until he reached camp for the day.
After his accident, Waddell said, he refused to focus on what he could no longer do, and tells everyone that the accident was the best thing that has ever happened to him. “I felt like a transformed person,” he said. “I felt, in a lot of ways, like the person that I’d always thought I was, like the best form of myself.”
And after competing and winning several competitions he had this thought just he said just popped into his head, ‘Well, I should just climb Mount Kilimanjaro.” And went on to say, “I had no idea if it was possible, but I felt like we had to tell the story.”
After two years of training, Waddell and his team began the climb in September 2009. On the first day, he climbed 3,000 feet of elevation, arriving at camp ahead of schedule. He defied expectations as he cranked through miles of difficult terrain with the help of porters, who placed boards under his wheels to make the trails passable.
Spectators watched as they wondered if he would make it to the top. Especially, when the terrain near the top became tremendously rocky. But for Waddell, making it to the top meant more than just defining himself as superhuman or proving something to spectators or himself, for that matter. It meant changing the perceptions of disabled people, a message he shares through his One Revolution Foundation and Nametagsprograms.
“One Revolution is the idea that something small, that one turn of the crank, can lead to something big,” he said. “Hopefully, it can lead to something else, to this idea of change in how we see ourselves.
Waddell hopes that his accomplishments will make an impact on perceptions of the disabled community and says “I want to change the way that the world sees people with disabilities,” and states “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.” We can all learn a lesson from that.
I love the end of the movie where he sees he still has a ways to go and the terrain is so rocky he cannot get any farther. Something beautiful happened – when he could go no farther, those who were with him picked him up and carried him the remainder of the way. I must admit, that at this point in the story I’m balling my eyes out.
This is such a metaphor for life: We’re all climbing a mountain. Sometimes along the way, we need the help of others to make it past the obstacles and hard times which can be critical along our journey. We may feel at times like we are alone on this path and we become accustomed to doing everything “solo.”
But we must not forget that we weren’t meant to climb this mountain alone.
Here is a clip from his climb.
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