We did it! The most incredible sports event for me ever. The entire team completed the trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro—the highest free standing mountain in the world.
The athletes participating were more than world class—three had only leg; one had no legs and only one arm; one had no arms and two had only one functional arm following traumatic injuries. Yet their spirit, sense of humor, determination, persistence and incredible physical and mental strength was evident throughout!
We spent five days slowly acclimatizing while sleeping in tents on lava stones and in sleeping bags—with no toilet facilities, running water or opportunities to bathe. The day of the summit we started out in pitch darkness at 4:30 a.m. It took 11 hours to reach the summit with a spectacular view of Kenya and the distant Serengeti plain. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) was our mantra from 14,000 to 19,000 feet, one step at a time and then a breath because of the hypoxia—half the amount of oxygen in the air compared to sea level.
But the joy and satisfaction of reaching the summit with the most incredible team with which I’ve ever been associated was overwhelming and worth the sacrifices. Truly they demonstrated that one’s altitude figuratively and literally is determined by one’s attitude.
Dr. Joseph C. Maroon, M.D., is a UPMC neurosurgeon, professor and vice chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and longtime team neurosurgeon to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last month, he served as the medical director for a group that included 10 people with disabilities and almost a dozen others climbing Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s tallest peaks and noted as the globe’s highest free-standing mountain.