Activist shares story of conquering physical, social obstacles

Paraplegic athlete Chris Waddell detailed his journey up Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair while screening his new documentary at the Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday night. Freddo Lin | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Matthew Reiber.

Paraplegic activist Chris Waddell recounted his inspirational tale of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair to a full house Wednesday night at the Jack Morton Auditorium.

The new film “One Revolution” chronicles the journey of Waddell and a group of dedicated friends, family, trainers and porters who climb the highest mountain in Africa together in an effort to make a point about the abilities of the approximately 1.1 billion disabled individuals worldwide.

“As we were going up the mountain, we passed a lot of people coming down saying it was the hardest thing they had ever done,” said Waddell. “For some reason they got pretty quiet when they saw me.”

Waddell was left paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident at Middlebury College in 1988. He went on to become the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history, winning 12 medals in four games, and spending 11 years on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.

The documentary delves into his desire to increase disability awareness through the work of educational group Nametags, which refers to often self-created labels and limitations.

“Sometimes the more visible mountains are easier to climb than the ones you can’t see,” Waddell said. “The idea behind the foundation is to change the way the world views people with disabilities, and the way people with disabilities view themselves.”

Once the plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro was hatched, Waddell and his friends Scott Gilman and Dave Penney worked to create a feasible means of transport and method for ascending the mountain.

Despite their precautions, the team met obstacles, such as volcanic dust and equipment failures, that took their toll on their timeline as well as group morale.

The trek took the team through five different environments, from jungles to mountains, and through high altitudes.

While initially intended to make Waddell the first paraplegic man to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, the journey developed deeper meaning as the team worked through the climb. After an incredibly powerful scene in which the dream of unassisted ascent must be abandoned, Waddell finds a bigger dream to follow up the mountain.

“As I was being carried up, I initially had this feeling of failure,” he said. “But I realized I was trying to eliminate this separation [for disabled people], and if I didn’t need anybody, then I would be separated.”

Waddell will continue to screen the film in a fall tour aimed at raising awareness for the Nametags program.

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