Redefining Possible

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Spencer West climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, on his hands

Spencer West atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

Spencer West atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

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When Spencer West was 5 years old, he lost his legs to a rare genetic disease. “My family was told I would never sit up by myself, I would never be able to walk on my own, I would never have a normal life,” he said. Yet West went on to disprove those grim predictions. Not only can he sit upright—he turned cartwheels in cheerleading competitions when he was in high school. Not only can he walk on his own—in 2012 he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on his hands. And while it’s true that West is not leading what many would consider a normal life, that’s because “normal” lives don’t generally include traveling the world on behalf of a global nonprofit, sharing the stage with the Dalai Lama, or being featured in major news media across the world.

West shared his story with a crowded Gaiser Student Center on March 7. He had been invited to speak by the Associated Students of Clark College. West, a motivational speaker who works for the global charity Me to We, raised a half million dollars through his mountain climb last year for clean-water projects in drought-stricken Kenya. He said he wanted to share some of the lessons he learned through that experience with students at Clark.

West talking with Clark students

West talking with Clark students

One of those lessons was the importance of asking for help. West didn’t climb Mt. Kilimanjaro himself—two of his good friends came with him and helped keep him going as he climbed 17,200 feet primarily on his own hands. In turn, he was able to help them when, near the summit, they became weakened by altitude sickness; West, it turned out, was one of those uncommon individuals not affected by altitude sickness, so he had the energy to encourage his friends during the final ascent.

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