For legless climber, summiting Kilimanjaro proof that anything is possible
(CBS NEWS) We met an extraordinary man over the weekend on a trip to Kenya in East Africa. Thirty-one-year-old Spencer West recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. That's an accomplishment for anyone, but when you see Spencer West, you wonder how it could have been possible.
And when you hear Spencer West, you realize most anything's possible.
"The first half of the climb there were lots of times like 'I don't know if I'm gonna make this, if I -- this is actually -- if we're gonna finish it,'" West told CBS News.
West finished on top in June. At nearly 20,000 feet, the Kilimanjaro volcano, in Tanzania, is the world's tallest stand alone mountain. West is as full of adventure as any man we've met, but take a step back, and you see that the climber has no legs.
"My family and I were told by the doctors that I would never sit up by myself, that I would never walk by myself, and that I probably wouldn't be a functioning member of society," he said.
They didn't know what the possibilities could be.
A genetic defect at birth made his legs useless. The doctors amputated at the hip. But that didn't break his spirit nor his stride. A few years ago, bored with his office job, West joined a charity called Free the Children. He leads kids from North America to Africa to build schools.
And on one trip, an African kid had a question.
"A young girl raised her hand and she said to me that she didn't know something like this -- meaning the loss of my legs -- could happen to white people, too," West recalled. "When that girl said that to me -- everything sort of made sense in that moment. I never realized that there was value to my story. What she said that by sharing my story I showed her that she wasn't the only person with a struggle, That even people in North America and everybody around the world has challenges."
He challenged Kilimanjaro to raise money for Free the Children.
There were times he thought about giving it up.
West recalled that as his group neared the top, his two best friends were "literally destroyed with altitude sickness ... walking and vomiting and then walking and vomiting."
"And to be really, really candid with you, it was one of the first moments of my entire life where I was, like, 'I wish I had legs today. Today's one of those days that I wish I had legs because I would -- I would literally carry my friends to the top."
It was seven days to the summit. Part way, he was carried, but mostly he used a wheelchair and walked on his hands.
Along the path to Kilimanjaro, there's these little statues, and they call them cairns," West said. "We learned that cairns are a symbol for when you are lost. If you see a cairn, they signify where the trail is again.
"That's where I first saw myself and thought maybe I'm a cairn. Maybe I'm a symbol for other people when they feel lost or when they feel like a challenge is too big. And, I can be that cairn to be like, 'It's okay. If I can -- if I can overcome this, here's the path. And you can overcome it, too.'"
People donated half a million dollars to the charity in support of Spencer West's climb.
We asked if he plans to climb another mountain. He told us, "Maybe just the metaphorical kind."
- Couple's steamy romance e-books save their home
- Colo. senator who pushed for gun control may lose job
- Couple reeling from recession rewrites story, publishes romance novels
- SCOTUS: States can't require voters to prove citizenship; Couple reeling from recession publishes novels
- Innovative Ariz. class turns students' dreams into reality
- Iran's new president-elect seen as bridge-builder
- David Coleman Headley: Terror sleeper agent foiled by NSA
- 6/18: Officials say NSA stopped over 50 potential terror attacks; Hi-tech giant creates next generation of Edisons
- Parents of mentally ill child may have averted mass shooting
- Ghost army: How a group of artists helped win WWII
- Snowden: "U.S. Government is not going to be able to cover this up"
- Colo. Black Forest fire has died down, yet danger remains
- Syria tensions make for chilly meeting between Obama, Putin
- Okla. tornado survivor finds dog buried alive under rubble
- SCOTUS: States can't require voters to prove citizenship
- Officials say NSA programs stopped over 50 potential terror attacks