Cloud Walkers: Overcoming Challenges to Reach New Heights

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There’s a special group of heroes living among us here in San Antonio. They call themselves the Cloud Walkers, and in the last couple of weeks, they did just that: walked among the clouds. For the last year, this group of men and one woman have trained for one of the most difficult challenges in the world: reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. Reaching the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is a feat hard for any of us. What makes this even more impressive for this group is that its members share one common characteristic: The Cloud Walkers are all amputees.

Most of the members have lost one limb, either an arm or a leg. When people see them, they assume they are war veterans. However, none of the Cloud Walkers’ injuries is due to military service. For one member, bone cancer was the culprit. For another, a sports injury to his foot. And for another, a work-related accident. The only woman on the team—the “Mama Bear,” as she is lovingly referred to—was the victim of a car accident over a decade ago. The Cloud Walkers came together naturally. They found a friendship with others who share something only they understand.

This team has a special place in my heart. You see, my husband, Ian, is one of team members. He is the only bilateral amputee on the team, meaning he is missing both of his legs. He is also the only member missing all of his fingers. Ian had a serious condition almost four years ago that almost took his life. His missing limbs are a daily reminder that God wasn’t done with him yet. We are so grateful for that. When Ian was asked to go on the adventure to Kilimanjaro, he gladly accepted the challenge.

Accepting this challenge meant a real commitment for these guys. Mona, the Mama Bear, encouraged everyone to be physically fit and encouraged them to keep each other accountable by sharing their workouts with one another. “Six-mile run today,” Ian would post on their Facebook group. “Forty-five-minute cardio and push-ups,” another would answer. “Anyone up for a hike today?” they would post on days when none were planned. They had monthly hikes to attend, including the big hike to Taos, which was to be the big test before going to Kilimanjaro. Meetings were held often to discuss and plan logistics of the trip.

No one could believe it when the day arrived. After a year of training and talking about it, the Cloud Walkers set off for their adventure on December 27. They arrived in Kilimanjaro excited and ready to walk among the clouds. For six days they hiked seven to eight hours each day, leaving little to no down time. They slept in tents only to get up and do it all over again the following morning. Their prosthetic legs took a beating on the rocky terrain. Their bodies acclimated to the altitude and lower oxygen levels. Sadly, one of the member’s oxygen levels were so low he had to be taken back down.

After a few days, they did indeed reach the clouds. Would you believe they rose above them? Leaving them below, they continued to climb. The goal was not the clouds; it was the top.

The night before reaching the summit was especially challenging. To reach the summit at sunrise they started their hike at 11:00 P.M. the night before. For hours they climbed in the dark, seeing only the shoes of the person in front of them with their headlamps. The wind was strong enough to knock them off balance at times. It was so cold, my husband wore all the clothes he had packed—five layers in all.

At last, on the morning of Day #7, they reached the top! They reached the summit at 19,341 feet! For a few brief moments, they stood at the top of the tallest freestanding mountain in Africa. I can only imagine the emotions. After anticipating the moment for so long, they were finally there. They reached their goal. Their hard work had paid off.

So, what can we learn from the Cloud Walkers? Well, for one thing, these amputees are just like you and me. They set a goal they knew would be hard. The 42-mile trek in eight days wasn’t easy. Despite any fear of failure, they set their minds and hearts to accomplish the climb. They followed through by training and succeeded.

I learned something interesting as the trip was approaching. Their reasons for climbing Kilimanjaro were surprisingly the same. In one way or another, these guys and gal did the big hike for someone else. It was a selfless act. They wanted to reach the summit as a way to thank the people around them for their support, to show their loved ones they could do it. Some of them—Ian, for example—just wanted to make their kids proud. When it got hard up there, the thought of coming home and having to tell their loved ones they didn’t reach the top was the fuel they needed to keep going.

What can you take away from the Cloud Walkers’ journey? Well, if these amputees can hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, you and I can overcome our mountains, too. We can do anything we set our minds to. I’m not saying we should all go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but what I am saying is, we can do things that are hard. We can set our minds and hearts to accomplish anything. Whatever that looks like for you—whether it means losing weight, starting a business, or going back to school, for example—know you can accomplish it. Maybe your mountain is being a single mom while your husband is deployed. Or maybe you or your child have been diagnosed with a medical condition. It will be hard. But not impossible. You can do it!

Welcome home, Cloud Walkers! We are proud of you! Thank you for inspiring us to reach our goals, too!

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