Adventure is hard – in fact, it should be hard. That's part of what makes it adventure! But for the outdoor heroes below, there's an added difficulty – like not having the use of hands, feet, or eyesight. Nevertheless, these individuals define the term 'willpower' by taking on challenges most averagely-abled people would consider impressive! Read on to meet six athletes whose accomplishments are only outclassed by their grit and determination.
Running a race blind
Athlete: Vladmi Virgilio Moreira dos Santos
Sport: Endurance running
Major accomplishment: Completing the Atacama Desert Crossing
The Atacama Desert stretches hundreds of kilometres across South America, and despite its 'desert' designation, requires negotiating creeks, rock and of course, endless expanses of sand to traverse. What some would call the hardest footrace in the world the adventure was all the more difficult for Vladmi Virgilio Moreira dos Santos, who ran it blind, with the help of fellow racer Alex Silva de Lima. de Lima used a small rope to lead dos Santos across the desert as the pair completed the race in about two days of (very hot) racing.
Skateboarding a road race
Major accomplishment: Wings for Life World Run
Jesse Walley lives an adventure at the skate park every day – where the paralysis on his left side doesn't stop him from skating. Using 'shoves' on his hands to propel himself on his skateboard, he was able to compete in last year's Wings for Life World Run. His biggest disadvantage – and advantage? Hills. “The one thing that messes me up on skating is going up the hills. I mean I literally go so slow that people can walk past me sometimes,” says Jesse. “But then the pay off is when I go downhill – hey, I get a rest!”
Athlete: Karen Darke
Sport: Climbing, ski touring, adventure
Challenge: Paralyzed from the waist down
Major accomplishment: Himalayan Expeditions
Karen Darke has always lived a life of adventure – and when an accident at the age of 21 took away the use of her legs, it only slowed her down temporarily. Since then, she's continued to climb, race on handbikes, and explore big mountain ranges – including a traverse of the Himalayan range by handbike. It was a 1,400 kilometre trip from Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan on the Karakoram Highway – one of the most scenic routes in the world. When she's not tackling major mountain ranges by handbike, she's still climbing and planning new adventures. Find her at karendarke.com.
Flying the Alps with a wheelchair
Athlete: Vincent Delepeleire
Sport: X-country paragliding
Challenge: Doing the Red Bull X-Alps course – in reverse
Major accomplishment: Being a truly impressive Red Bull X-Alps 'finisher!'
Crossing the Alps isn't an easy task, any way you try do it. But it's safe to say Vincent Delepeleire gets the toughness award. Why? He did it without the use of his legs. Delepeleire, who lost the use of his legs in a work accident in 2011, took on the cross-Alps adventure this past summer with the help of three friends. Sporting an 'all-for-one' mentality, they were all riding hand bikes. The group made it from Salzburg to Monaco in 22 days.
Climbing like a rockstar
Athlete: Philippe Ribiére
Challenge: Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome
Major accomplishment: Kicking ass at life
Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome – the closest disease to what doctors believe Philippe Ribiére was born with – affects muscle and bone growth and development. But it didn't stop him from becoming a professional climber. "Day after day, I free myself from my handicap, says Ribiére. “It’s wonderful, and thanks to climbing the results have been amazing.”
The adopted Ribiére began climbing after doctors and his adopted parents encouraged him to get into the sport. The athlete is now the subject of new documentary 'The Wild One' which documents his journey through sport, and his quest to find his real parents. Watch the trailer here.
Setting a kiteboarding speed record
Athlete: Chris Ballois
Challenge: Prosthetic right arm
Major accomplishment: Reaching 40-knot speeds on a kiteboard
While you need your feet to steer a surfboard, your feet can't steer a kite – fortunately, that's not a problem for Chris Ballois, who was born without his left hand. The wind sports addict recently set the world speed record for disabled athletes in Luderitz, Namibia, propelling himself to almost 43 knots (80 kph) across the water. Of all the surfing sports Ballois practices, speed kiting is among his favourite. “It's a mix of adrenaline, control, and technology!”
Athlete: Jamie Andrew
Sport: Climbing, alpine ascents
Challenge: Climbing without hands and feet
Major accomplishment: Multiple alpine ascents
Jamie Andrew lost both hands and feet on a mountaineering expedition in 1999. He continues to climb and explore to this day.
Of course, it's not easy. Says Jamie: “I was one time trekking in Spain. There was a loud 'crack', and I nearly fell over, but stopped myself on my poles. I couldn't seem to get up. Then I realised I snapped my foot clean off! It was lying there like a dead animal. I hobbled back to the car. We found a carpenter who made me a wooden foot, and I kept trekking around northern Spain on a wooden leg!”
His big remaining project? The Matterhorn. “That's for me way harder than anything else I climb. It's a challenge for most able-bodied climbers! Last year, we were 250m from the top and just ran out of time. It's a big climb – 1,400m – a serious mountain. None of the climbing is all that difficult for me – but there's no let up. For me, having to make every step without hands and feet is just exhausting, logistically desperate and if even the smallest thing goes wrong then plan goes awry. The actual climbing is all quite doable. It's the sustained time, distance, and altitude.”
However, if Jamie's persistent attitude over the last decade and a half is any indication, we're sure he's going to get this one in the bag soon. Follow Jamie on his website here.
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