SAN ANTONIO – The cheers and tears of emotion at San Antonio International Airport from dozens of friends and family could only be eclipsed by memories of reaching the 19,341 foot high summit of Mount Kilimanjaro over the New Year’s holiday by the eight amputees that climbed the mountain.
The group, better known as the Cloudwalkers, is part of the San Antonio Amputee Foundation.
“It was probably the most physically and mentally challenging thing we've ever done,” said Mona Patel, executive director of the San Antonio Amputee Foundation and organizer of the trip. “So worth every ache and pain, it was fun (and) very bonding. We're brothers and sisters for life.”
“It was really kind of an overwhelming moment after all this work and all this time and sacrificing things here and there to kind of get to this point and to really realize that it'd happened, that we'd done it,” said Cory Torres, who lost his right leg below the knee to cancer four years ago.
The climb was the culmination of a year of training for nine amputees, one of whom had to end his attempt two days in because of a medical condition.
“Day in and day out I was putting on a 50-lb rucksack and trail running 10 miles a day and I could do that all day long at sea level,” said Scott Wilson, who lost his left arm in an oil field accident 13 years ago. “When I got up above the 15,000-foot mark, my heart rate was really high, I could barely get enough oxygen in.”
Like everyone else who attempts the climb, the thin air was one of the biggest challenges they faced. Challenged with even more obstacles, the climbers served as an inspiration to themselves and others.
“Anything is possible if you set your goals right and with the right mental attitude anything is possible and that's why we did this mission,” said Patel. “Anyone that comes across us now, we can share a story of inspiration and let them know that if we climbed a mountain, we're here to help you climb yours.”
“There were a lot of climbers that were inspired just climbing next to us as we were going up the mountain and cheering us on,” said Wilson.
“It's not always easy and you have to overcome some things,” added Cory Torres. “Whether you're able to achieve that or not, you don't give up until you know you've given everything.”
“It helps us to think about those moments and find a way to go on and push through whenever we need to,” said Tricia Torres, Cory’s wife. “It's also meant something to the kids too because if daddy can do this there are no excuses.”