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Featured Everest Expedition: Team Everest '03
Mt. Everest Expedition: Big Days with more ahead!

Mar. 15 Matt Standridge departs / Photo by D. RogersAt last, the big day! TE '03 members departed from Austin and various cities across the US for the long journey to Nepal's bustling capital city, Kathmandu.
TE '03 / CTD project director Dennis Borel was at the Austin airport, along with dozens of supporters, to see the team off.

"Today is a tribute to every team member making this journey of profound importance to raise public awareness of the potential of people with disabilities. The energy of this group is something you can physically feel. I encourage everyone follow the team's progress as they make their way to the top of the world." How you can support the team.

Mar. 16 Hello everyone! After an early Saturday departure and a thirty-six hour journey, members of Team Everest 03 arrived safely into Kathmandu on Sunday afternoon. From their base near Boudhanath Stupa, team leader Gary Guller writes: "We all made it without any major complications - everyone is tired for sure, but happy and healthy. Looking forward to a good night's rest!"

Videographer Andy Cockrum reports: "Tonight, I'm ready for sleep as I survived for the last 24 hours only on kat naps, kit kats and bad plane food (or plain bad food). The sun is going down and a nearly full moon is in the sky."

Team member Christine Kane and Mark Gobble, having arrived a few days earlier note: "Everyone is sooooo friendly here. We met Uma, the deaf woman who lives here in Kathmandu, and have learned tons!"

And team member Riley Woods observes: "I'm beginning to realize that this trip is really going to put my disability in perspective and make my day to day life seem so much easier upon my return."

As the team gets settled in and prepared to depart for Lukla on Thursday, we'll continue to send reports about their stay in Nepal's capital city. More pictures will be posted soon. As always, we thank you for your support!

Mar. 17 LEE HANCOCK of The Dallas Morning News writes: More than 40 hours and a world away from home, a Texas-based group of people with disabilities finished the first long stretch of a journey to the top of the world Monday.

It was a trip as exhausting as it was exhilarating, as members of the Team Everest 03 Challenge Trek crossed the Pacific Ocean and hopscotched across half of Asia before arriving in the Himalayan kingdom. "The adventure has begun,” Steve Bernstein, 59, of Morrison, Colo., announced as three Sherpa men hoisted Mark Ezell from his wheelchair into a waiting bus.

“This is an adventure!” replied Mr. Ezell, 39, a state legislative liaison from Raleigh, N.C., grinning as he peering out at the sea of touts, taxi drivers, cane-wielding security men and families milling outside Tribhuwan Airport. Like the rest of the bleary-eyed Americans, each of the men wore elaborate malas – eyepopping garlands of fresh marigolds, daisies, red swatches of cloth and tinsel — brought by the Sherpa guides to welcome them to Katmandu.

Ten people with disabilities – including five in wheelchairs – have come to Nepal along with Austin leader Gary Guller, a team doctor and 13 helpers and climbers to make the grueling high-altitude trek to the base of Mount Everest. Mr. Guller then hopes to climb to the top of the mountain along with a team of four climbers, a feat that would make him the first person with one arm to make it to the summit.

Mr. Guller, 36, spent the past 18 months organizing the expedition with the Austin-based Texas Coalition of Disabilities. It is aimed at shattering stereotypes about limits, abilities and possibilities for people who live with deafness, paralysis, pain and other physical conditions. Most of the group began traveling from Austin Saturday morning after tearful early-morning goodbyes at the airport with friends, family and supporters. They met up with other group members in Los Angeles for the 13 1/2-hour leg to Taipei.

“Just getting on the plane is a huge step for some of these people – a huge step,’’ Mr. Guller said. “And this isn’t even the beginning. This isn’t even the start of it.” For many, the first leg of the flight was something of a shakedown cruise.

Dinesh Rasinghe, 26, a computer web designer from San Antonio, began the trip on a new prosthetic leg a San Antonio company had donated specially for the trip – a model rigged for cold weather and rough terrain. He wasn’t out of the Austin airport before his daypack rubbed against a switch in the leg’s hip that controls the bend in the knee, sending him tumbling. “It’s taken a little getting used to,” he said.

Mr. Ezell, who uses a wheelchair because he was born with spina bifida, was tooling around on a titanium wheelchair rented for the trip. But a plastic coupling for one of its front legs seemed precariously wobbly, and Mr. Ezell worried it might not even survive the series of flights to Katmandu. “I’m not too sure how this is going to make it,” he said, boosting himself from his chair to the floor to tinker with it repeatedly.

Within two hours after leaving Los Angeles, Barry Muth was already feeling effects of the long ride. A quadriplegic since a 1997 wreck in Saudia Arabia ended his career as an Army officer, he can still feel a deep burning sensation on his backside when he sits too long. For a temporary respite, he and some of the others in wheelchairs occasionally drew themselves up on their arms to relieve discomfort. “I may just get up and walk around,” he declared with a snort to Ted Holmes, a friend from Colorado who volunteered to help him on the trek. And then, he added quietly, “I wish.”

By the time the flight left from Taipei for Bangkok, the group had been traveling almost 24 hours, and the long stretch of trying to catch sleep in narrow economy seats began to tell. Riley Woods, 28, a law student from Waco, emerged from the Taipei-to-Bangkok flight with news that someone who had helped him onto the plane in Taiwan had taken his wheelchair with his day pack slung over its back. Reunited with his wheelchair, his pack was nowhere to be seen. “It has a lot of things — all my money, medicine I need,” he said.

Mr. Woods’ bag showed up at the Bangkok baggage claim, and he was so elated that he headed out into the night to explore downtown Bangkok with a group that included Mr. Rasinghe and Matt Standridge, 24, of San Marcos, another Challenge trek member in a wheelchair.

They returned just after dawn with tales of seeing one of the king’s palaces and an odd assortment of souvenirs found at the only store they could find open at 3.a.m., a Thai version of 7-11. They had picked up some “Fish-O” fish-flavored snacks, a Thai language newspaper, and neon-colored condoms. “Yeah, one night in Bangkok,” someone laughed.

Mr. Standridge mused that the trip was already special because it was with people ``I can relate to, who know how it is to get the look because you’re in a wheelchair.’’ By midmorning Mr. Woods was eating sushi “for the second time in my life,” cruising the Bangkok airport’s vast rows of duty-free shops and declaring, “I’ve got to travel more. This is great!”

Everyone except the late-night Bangkok crew got several hours sleep in an airport hotel, and Mr. Ezzell even found a friendly Thai handyman there who managed to stabilize the wobbly front wheel of his chair. “We managed to communicate, using the universal language of guys: fixing things,” he said.

Just after noon Monday, many in the group got the first glimpse of what they hope to stand on in a few weeks. As the Thai Airways jet cruised at 30,000 feet, the pilot pointed out the dark sharks-tooth peak of Mount Everest parallel on the horizon, its distinctive plume of clouds trailing to one side.

Within a few hours more, the group was winding by bus through the smog-choked city of Katmandu, staring up at buildings festooned with bright Buddhist prayer flags and then back down to dusty, crowded streets where every fourth or fifth man – and virtually every young boy — had faces and much of their shirts stained bright red.

Two team members who had come early to Katmandu to visit schools for the deaf, Austin teachers Mark Gobble and Christine Kane, walked into the group’s hotel soon after to explain that the red faces honored a Hindu festival known as Fagun Purnima, or Holi. The principal means of celebration – chucking water and paint balloons from rooftops onto the heads of passerby — was particularly appealing for Katmandu’s young boys, and the two teachers already had been easy targets several times that day.

Sipping lime-spiked tea from a hotel balcony overlooking the ancient, flag-decked Boudhanath, one of the largest the Buddhist shrines, or stupas, in the world, the group laughed at the teachers’ tales of friendly assaults and other adventures in the gritty Asian city. And then someone asked for a toast. “To the largest group of disabilities going up Everest,” responded Gene Rodgers, 47, a quadriplegic from Austin. “It won’t be the last.”


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