I am Cindy Whittaker, 44, All Abilities Trek Coordinator, C.W.HOG volunteer, with 15 years experience working in the outdoors and also with disabled people. I have traveled to Everest Basecamp in 1989 and 1995. With my family I did the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek in 1995. I have spent 6 months in Nepal and am an outdoor adventurer with multiple skills as well as a fulltime mother.
The best thing about trekking with this group of disabled people was that they would never say die! Every morning Steve DeRoche would yell out "Cindy, are we still in Nepal?" and I'd yell back "You bet we are." Then he'd say "Alllllright!" Then our day would begin.
There were virtually no complaints about being sick or uncomfortable or things not being accessible and every one got along. We talked about things and I would give them honest answers which they would then consider and most times agree with. We would sit down with the maps and the itinerary and talk about where we were and where we had to go and come to mutual decisions that would work for the health and comfort of all. There was never any expressed doubt about all of the trekkers arriving in Everest Basecamp. We only talked about when we would get there and what that would be like. I know there were fears but, those people kept them to themselves and didn't burden the group with their negative energy. Negative energy is the downfall of a lot of things that could otherwise succeed. But as you know, when you are dealing with heros, they are very brave and have gone to hero school so they know how to act!
If someone seemed a little out of sorts, I would decide we needed group beers and order up a bunch to help change attitudes which always worked. Sometimes you just needed to be able to relax and dance. The Sherpa have Parties that can last into the wee hours of the night. The Sherpa loved dancing with Kyle on his knees and little Cindy who isn't much bigger than Kyle on his knees and then Steve would get out there and Ike and then we'd all be out on the floor of some lodge just partying to beat the band. We would buy barrels of Chang for our Sherpa and Porters and they would show us how to have fun in the Khumbu! We really did have a lot of fun. Trekking to Everest is suppose to be hard work, but it never seemed so with this group. Always after a party we were rejuvenated.
This trip was their Everest and they put themselves into a toughness of mind so they would succeed and they did. My husbandTom always say's that "It isn't whether you arrive at your goal that is important, but how you arrive there." We overcame considerable odds to achieve our dream, and we did it with love and courage. We all found the hero's within ourselves.
One mountaineer from another expedition has a son, who broke his neck in a collegiate wrestling match, and is now quadriplegic. He came to visit the HOGS and stood there with tears brimming in his eyes as he shared his resolve to make this journey a reality for his boy. Let us never forget that when we embrace a harder and higher standard that our actions do impact other people in positive ways.
I loved it when Kyle arrived in basecamp encrusted with ice and snow and before he even thawed out he told Gareth Richards, "Well we're here now so you guys can go and climb the mountain and we'll take care of things from here." I know Kyle Packer came to Everest basecamp to overcome his own fears, but he was also there for me and Tom and Lizzie. No one has done something so big for us ever before. The disabled trekkers who came on the All Abilities Trek were my family members for the 14 years that I lived in Pocatello, Idaho and they didn't let me down, they were there for us all. These friends were the hero's - the rest of us were just along for the ride.
Ike Gayfield called me up a couple months ago and said" You know, any guy who can go to Everest Basecamp, does not need to be sitting around in a wheelchair!" And you know, he isn't. He is back up and walking to the best of his ability!
Liza Findley who produced the CBS Special with Bryant Gumble called one day and said "I hope you won't be disappointed in the show, because I'm not sure we're going to be able to put as much of the Trek in as we originally wanted to, there are just to many different characters to develop and they are all so great, but we need to be realistic." I asked her to take out Lizzie and myself and just develop the disabled people, which she did. I guess what I'm saying is that the trek was bigger than us all because even though Liza didn't do as much as she wanted to for the All Abilities Trekker's they still took up more than half of the show. They were still larger than life and we will never know how many people's lives have been impacted by the courage of these people.