“[The disabled community] is, in a lot of ways, the final minority,” said Chris Waddell, the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history. Last Wednesday, Waddell came to the Salt Lake Community College Taylorsville Redwood campus to educate students about 15 percent of the world’s most invisible population – those with disabilities.
Waddell had a skiing accident when he was twenty years old, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Many people would have given up, but Waddell used his new circumstances to open up doors to possibilities he’d never imagined.
“It was a big change,” said Waddell, “I was able to turn a hobby into a profession really.”
When Waddell had his accident, he realized it was his job to educate people around him about how to react to those with disabilities. “When I went back to college and most of my friends, I was the first person in a wheelchair that they’d ever experienced,” Waddell explained, “I’d become an advocate for this group of people I’d had no desire to join.”
As children we are taught not to stare at people who look different, “well you know what? If you never get a chance to stare, if you never get a chance to ask any questions,” Waddell said, “then those people don’t exist.”
It is Waddell’s goal to bring hope and inspiration to the disabled community, and to also open people’s eyes to a person’s potential instead of their limitations.
“As an athlete, you’re representing some of the possibilities there for people with disabilities, hopefully forcing people to look at things a little bit differently,” said Waddell.
In order to do this, Waddell has started a non-profit foundation called One Revolution. He and his crew are also working on a documentary that shares the name.
For the documentary, Waddell became the first “para” to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. At 19,340 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest mountain in Africa, but also the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It has 5 different climate zones, starting in the rain forest and finishing on a glacier.
“Leaving the rainforest was like leaving a building,” reminisced Waddell, “it was pretty amazing.”
The journey was not an easy one. Waddell used a custom made four-wheel handcycle called the Bomba, developed by Dave Penney.
“It kind of looks like a mars rover,” described Waddell, “we took some existing stuff and tweaked it.”
In addition to the Bomba, Waddell had a team of eight people to guide him up the mountain. He also used a sailing wench (a fixed rope that allowed Waddell to pull himself up on the more steep parts of the climb) and boards to create traction over loose rocks and sand.
The documentary started out at Waddell’s feeling that they could do more to help the disabled community. “[The film] is really aimed at [changing public perception]. So this was an opportunity to try and figure out how to get to the top of the mountain, but also how to break down some of those obstacles.”
It took the crew six and a half days to get to the top of the mountain. “Seeing the shadow of the mountain in the valley was sort of awe inspiring,” described Waddell, “it gives you the sense of how far you’ve gone.”
The One Revolution foundation is also donating wheelchairs to people in Tanzania around Mt. Kilomangaro. “We have a big goal and we’re sort of closing in on that goal hopefully at this point.”
Waddell has been an inspiration to many. During the course of this interview, people came up to him just to shake his hand saying that he has been an inspiration.
If he could, Waddell said he would not change a thing. “I don’t think what happens to you is nearly as significant as what you do with what happens to you,” said Waddell, “I think this is it.”