Brian Reynolds is an endurance hiker and runner. He's hiked the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park and the Inca Trail in Peru. Brian climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Climb for Sight this summer. He's also a bilateral below the knee amputee. That's right, Brian is missing both of his legs and has used prosthetics since the age of 4 when he lost his legs to a rare complication of meningitis.
Fortunately for Brian and the many other athletic individuals who use prosthetics, there have been tremendous advancements in recent years in prosthetic technology to provide more durable and widely functioning equipment for amputees. In addition to his modern prosthetics Brian has ambition, determination, athletic training and experience which contributed to his successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in August.
Brian is a dedicated participant in many charity fundraisers and says that he most enjoys benefiting small charities that make big impacts. Like all climbers with Climb for Sight who raise the requisite $10,000 in exchange for their trip being cost-free, the impact of Brian's climb is extraordinary. Brian's funds were used exclusively to provide 32 children who are treated at our clinics in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, and at a partner clinic in Tanzania, with sight-saving surgeries. Without the surgeries, those children faced the possibility of a life without sight due to treatable conditions. One such case is this little girl (photo right) from a rural village in Guatemala. She has a congenital cataract in her right eye - the result of trauma to the eye from a stick that entered her eye while she was climbing a tree to pick oranges. Had she not received surgery to remove the cataract, she would never see out of that eye.
Brian raised the money for his trip mostly through standing outside of grocery stores and the occasional liquor store collecting donations. “Canning works for me. I just stand there in shorts and it naturally attracts people... it's kind of a cheat,” says Brian with a laugh.
The fact that Brian uses prosthetics does not seem to be for him a hinderance to his performance. In fact, Brian outpaced most climbers, summiting the volcano in 4 days rather than the 5 it takes most climbers to reach the peak on the Marangu route, which is the most
popular route on the mountain. Brian opted to bypass the acclimatization day, feeling he was moving at a fast enough clip, and was not being effected strongly by the altitude. This did, however, give him an additional day to descend the mountain.
I'm faster going uphill than downhill,” says Brian. “I lack the ankle motion. So I can move uphill pretty fast as most people move faster downhill.
While many climbers feel that the support and companionship of fellow hikers is an essential component to success on the mountain, Brian feels that having hiked solo was important for him. It allowed him the flexibility to go faster when he felt like pushing on and taking his time on the descent. He recommends that if climbers choose to climb in numbers, it would be preferable that all are in similar athletic shape, and know how their bodies react to altitude.
When asked about the day he summited the mountain, I can feel the smile on Brian's face through the speaker of my computer. He recalls being woken at 10:30 in the evening by his guide and peering out the window of his hut at the bobbing line of headlamp lights of fellow climbers making their way up the slope. In his characteristic swiftness, Brian passed the groups of hikers, making his summit at 3:30a.m. That's a whole 4 hours earlier than the proposed arrival time.
Brian doesn't recommend arriving that early. “You have to sit in the cold and wait for the sunrise,” he said. “I don't even think it was ten degrees, and the wind was pretty strong. I had heating packs, glove liners and zero degree mittens, and my hands were still freezing.”
So the moral of that story might be: Hike your own hike – as many of the hikers of the Appalachian Trail would advise. Or if you prefer, as the Tanzanian phrase goes: “Pole pole,” or “slowly, slowly,” in Kiswahili.
The funniest tale from Brian's Kilimanjaro trip?
I was running down the mountain, not knowing that my shoes were filling with gravel,” describes Brian. “I hit one of the switchbacks... and my feet just stuck to the trail and I kept going. My two prosthetics remained standing upright on the trail, and I landed ten feet further down.
Other than stomach cramps from a violent fit of laughter, Brian escaped the incident unscathed and hopes to track down a photo of the moment.