In 2012 I was approached by Stan Andrews, a trans-tibial amputee, to join him in climbing Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
I agreed to Stan’s request and had the idea to use this opportunity to raise funds for Pathways School for Children with Disabilities. One month before the big climb I decided to become the first person ever to ascend and descend Kilimanjaro completely barefoot. This allowed for individuals and companies to sponsor me for each day I managed to walk barefoot on Kilimanjaro. The basic rule was that NO foot protection of any kind may have been used.
Stan, who had his right leg amputated at the age of seven and who had the urge to become more active, approached me in 2010. He was initially referred to me by a colleague. At that time he indicated that his current prosthesis held him back because of an unsatisfactory fit. We supplied Stan with a custom-made silicone liner, a comfortable prosthetic fit and reliable prosthetic components. Stan was soon on his way to becoming more active.
Approaching D-Day, we decided to manufacture a spare prosthesis in the event that Stan’s prosthesis failed him on Kilimanjaro. Fortunately, Stan did not need this additional prosthesis and managed to do the whole trip with his primary prosthesis.
One day before we started our seven-day hike, we met our guide. He was surprised by Stan’s ability and the fact that an amputee wanted to reach the top of Africa. What’s more, he was utterly dismayed that I intended to do the climb barefoot!
Our guide walked us to a rural area with hot tarred and uneven gravel and sharp, rocky roads. In hindsight, we knew he did it to test if we were capable of withstanding the challenging terrain awaiting us on Kilimanjaro.
It took us four days to reach the point where we would summit Kilimanjaro the next morning. The plan was that we, as a group, would start our ascent at four o’ clock the next morning. At that time the guide informed me that he would not allow me to summit barefooted due to the risk of frostbite and injury. It took some convincing from my side to persuade him otherwise. We agreed that the rest of the team would start the climb the next morning at four o’clock and I would wait for sunrise at around six.
I started just after six o’clock, treading as softly as I could with my bare feet over the sharp lava rocks leading to the top of Kilimanjaro. About 50 metres from the first summit point I caught up with Stan and the rest of the group which enabled us to share the joy of reaching the top.
All of us were ecstatic with our individual accomplishments. Stan proved to himself that he is capable, as an amputee, to reach goals he never previously dreamed of. After Kilimanjaro, Stan became even more active. He started with athletics, to be more precise, with triathlons. He worked hard at this goal, starting with a modest 80 metre run from his house down the street, but soon upped his performance to become one of the top 20 para-triathletes in the world. He has represented South Africa on numerous occasions, winning many international events.