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Featured Everest Expedition: Team Everest '03
Two Reports

Everest climbers head home: 30-day trek becomes a voyage of self-discovery By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News

KATMANDU, Nepal – Team Everest 03 ended its odyssey to Mount Everest on Monday, heading home after a 30-day trip that captured world attention.

"The fact that those of you have done this is extremely important and extremely impressive. It sends a message to the world," Robert Bozzs, the second-ranking diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Katmandu told the team of people with disabilities and their supporters in an emotional reception after their 23-day trek to the highest mountain on earth. "It tells not only about perseverance, but about character and courage in the face of danger."

Most of the team flew from Katmandu early Monday morning, two days after their return from the Himalayas. They are scheduled to be back in the United States on Tuesday morning.

As they left, many said they were just starting to grasp how profoundly their journey has altered their perceptions of themselves and their capabilities.

"I know I can handle tough challenges now. Before, there was a side of me that wasn't sure," said Dinesh Ranasinghe, 26, of San Antonio, one of seven trek members with disabilities who made it to Mount Everest's base camp.

"Now, if I can only convince one other person, one other kid to get up off the couch, to go do something," said Mr. Ranasinghe, who has used a prosthetic since his leg was amputated above the knee at age 10 because of cancer. "I was that couch potato a couple of years ago. Now, I know the possibilities are endless."

The group arrived in Nepal on March 17 and trekked for 17 days to Mount Everest, reaching base camp at 17,600 feet on April 6. Their trip, organized by the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, was aimed at challenging stereotypes about the limits and potential of people who live with physical challenges.

In the next month, trek leader Gary Guller of Austin will try to reach the summit along with a team of three other U.S. and Canadian climbers. If successful, he would be the first person with one arm to stand atop Everest.

Mr. Guller, 10 other Americans and two Nepali Sherpas with disabilities ranging from deafness to paralysis and chronic pain began the trek, and he and seven of those made it to base camp – a marked contrast to the one in 10 trekkers who usually complete the trip.

Climber Chris Watkins, 43, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, who was forced to abandon the trek when his life-threatening high-altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral edema were diagnosed, said Monday that he will try to return to the mountain this week with Mr. Guller and his summit teammates. Several physicians, including the team's doctor, have advised him that he could not safely climb at high altitude for a year.

The team flew to Katmandu, where they reveled in showers, flush toilets and other comforts after weeks of living in tents and frigid temperatures. They fanned out to shop and explore the ancient city, and even those in wheelchairs negotiated its gritty, traffic-clogged streets with aplomb after their travels in one of world's most inaccessible regions.

Many were already planning what to do next. Matt Standridge, 24, a paraplegic from San Angelo, outfitted himself with Nepalese sleeping bags, a pack and other camping gear.

"We made the impossible possible. We did what we came to do, and I've got a whole new outlook now," he said, adding that he is also already making plans with other team members to enter a road race, play wheelchair rugby and take a kayaking trip. "The activities I'm going to start doing, the way I look at life – it just makes you want to live your life to its fullest – go out and do everything you possibly can."

He and Riley Woods, 28, a paraplegic from Waco, learned in calls home that their families have gotten a stream of requests for them to speak to schools and other groups about their experience.

They did their first talk in Katmandu, going to visit 10 patients at a local spinal injury clinic.

Mr. Woods said it was an emotional and fitting end for their stay in Nepal. The clinic's medical director "wanted us to talk to them, to inspire them, and tell them they don't have to give up. Life isn't over," he said. "That's the whole point of this trip: don't let your disability get in your way. Instead of focusing on your disability focus on your abilities."

Namaste from Gary Guller in Kathmandu, Nepal (4,264ft)!: On April 6, history was made when the Team Everest '03 Challenge Trek Team ascended to an altitude higher than any point in the Rockies, becoming the largest cross disability group to ever reach Everest Base Camp.  To fill you in on the last few days, we woke on our last day at Mt. Everest Base Camp to an absolutely beautiful morning at over 17,000ft, still in awe of having finally made this dream a reality!  Everyone's spirits were in true Team Everest '03 form - upbeat and energetic. All of your well-wishes have been an extremely important part of the team's success and we have felt each and everyone of you with us there.
The high altitude climbing Sherpa had suggested that all Challenge Trek members have the opportunity to do some ice climbing on a safe area of the glacier below the Khumbu Ice Fall.  Of course, I totally agreed.  So the Sherpa showed up at 7:30am that day with all the necessary climbing gear - crampons, ropes, extra glasses, etc. We climbed and strolled into the glacier where the Sherpa had fixed the safety ropes onto short ice falls. Each face was approximately 20 meters high, giving everyone great insight into what climbing in the Nepal Himalaya is all about.  Everyone - both those using and not using wheelchairs - used the harness, ascenders and figure eight to climb and rappel up the ice faces, while their fellow team members cheered them on, pushing the boundaries yet again, and giving us all an enormous sense of accomplishment.
Climbing at these altitudes is hard for anyone, but imagine the sheer strength and determination required when a person is paralyzed from the waist down.  Strength comes from within at this point, and every member of this expedition has shown that special burning desire to succeed. This is something we can all draw energy from in every aspect of our lives, whether it's walking to the store instead of driving the car, being nicer to your neighbor, volunteering, or just stepping out of your normal life for a moment to do something different, physically or mentally.
Next day, we trekked down from Base Camp to Pheriche and on Friday, flew by helicopter back to Kathmandu. We had a couple of fun, full days in Kathmandu and the Challenge Trek team departed early this morning for home via Bangkok, Taipei and LA.
A special note:  We are lucky to have Christine Kane staying on as Base Camp manager for the duration of our climb - she'll be keeping things at Base Camp in good order and our dispatches going out so we can focus completely on the enormous task ahead of us - climbing Everest.  We'll be leaving Kathmandu and heading back up to Base Camp early tomorrow morning, and begin our climb soon after.  Camps 1 and 2 have already been successfully established.
A quick hello to all the students around the world who have been following the Challenge Trek team's progress to Base Camp.  And to two schools in particular - one in Texas and one in Latvia:  My good friend Chris Godwin and all of our supporters in Dripping Springs - Thank you and we'll be in touch soon; and Mrs. Tupesis and the 2nd grade class in Riga, Latvia - We thank you for your support and we will be contacting you again from Base Camp.
And to our sponsors: Special thanks to Paul Carrozza and the entire RunTex team; to my good friends Marv and Mary Weidner and all the folks at Weidner Consulting; to GSD&M, a company that rocks the marketing world; to our supporter and good friend Dan Steinborn and his team at PrintGlobe; and for the entire Presco team, your flags are at Camps 1 and 2, high on Mt. Everest, and all of the equipment and gear you supplied are already being put to use. Photos on the way!  Our Summit Team is preparing to make history again by carrying the message to the top of the world: the potential of people with disabilities is unlimited. We very much need your continued support to get there. Together we will get there. Thank you again for your support and prayers. Gary
Gary Guller, veteran expedition leader, Everest climbers, author and motivational speaker. To book Gary


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