Chris Waddell Interview

Exhausted and sitting on the roof of Africa, Chris Waddell had conquered the impossible. He had summited Mount Kilimanjaro, climbing all 19,341 feet on a hand cycle, almost entirely unassisted.

A 1988 skiing accident had left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down. The accident ended his skiing career. But Waddell was far from finished; he longed to overcome other hurdles. Instead of focusing on what he could no longer do, he saw and sought new opportunities.

“I realized a goal I hadn’t allowed myself to have when I was younger. It opened up new doors and different doors. I feel like I did things that I probably wouldn’t have done before,” said Waddell.

After representing the USA in seven different Paralympic events, Waddell won twelve medals in mono skiing and one in wheelchair racing. After the Sydney Paralympics in 2004, he had become the most decorated paralympian in history. However, Waddell still felt something was missing from among his gleaming accomplishments.

“I felt that all of the stuff I had done was happening in the background, people didn’t get a chance to see us. As someone with a disability, I joined a group I didn’t really want to join where I felt a lot of people saw the limitations that were put on me as opposed to who I was as an individual and what I might be able to do.”

Waddell felt frustrated by the fact that the Paralympics was not widely available for the world to see. What’s more, he sought to change the image of disabilities instead of simply conforming to it. Kilimanjaro became the perfect opportunity.

“Kilimanjaro to me was an opportunity to take on a challenge that would potentially flip people’s perception of disabilities,” said Waddell.

Taking on the task of climbing Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain and the tallest in Africa, is a daunting task for anyone, let alone for someone paralyzed from the waist down. Fully cognizant of this, but unfazed by the possibility of failure, Waddell became the first paraplegic to summit the mountain essentially unaided.

“There was no guarantee of success, but that was the exciting part about it,” he said.

Since his climb Chris has appeared in countless articles in magazines such as Outside Magazine, Skiing Ski, National Geographic Explorer, and was named The 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People Magazine. He has also appeared on multiple shows like Oprah and Dateline. Right now Chris works with the Paralympics committee and as a motivational speaker.

“Find something you love. Find something that will make you get up in the morning and make yourself better,” he said.

To learn more about Waddell and his journey, visit the website or watch the film about his climb, One Revolution.