July 6, 2012
After reaching 15,500 feet, 50+ MPH gusts, severe snowstorms and avalanches force five wounded warriors, including two double-leg amputees, to end effort to tackle 20,320-foot climb to raise awareness, inspire others with disabilities, and support Disabled Sports USA
Rockville, MD. -- Disabled Sports USA announces that Team Warfighter Sports concluded its 21 day climb of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America due to severe weather.
The team included five climbers, with only four "good legs" between them, from three wars and two generations: Retired Army
Sgt. Neil Duncan, 29, a double-leg amputee injured in Afghanistan; Marine Capt. David Borden, 31, who, after losing his leg above the knee to a suicide bomb in Iraq in 2008, returned to combat in Afghanistan in 2011; retired Army Cpl. Steve Martin, 42, a double-leg amputee injured in Afghanistan; retired Army Capt. Jesse Acosta, 34, who suffered permanent damage to hip, leg and back in Iraq; and retired Army Sgt. Kirk Bauer, JD, 64, an above-knee amputee injured in Vietnam and the Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA for the past 29 years.
Despite reaching 14,200 feet and camping for nine days waiting for the weather to improve, the team was unable to proceed. Eighteen days into the climb, on June 28, one final attempt was made to continue to ascend, but at 15,500 feet, a severe snowstorm forced the team back to camp at 14,200 feet.
"This season has proven to be very challenging for the Denali expedition teams," said Dave Weber, Denali Mountaineer Ranger. "We have seen expedition teams turn around at camp 1, 2, and 3 but the fact that Team Warfighter Sports made it to camp 4 at 11,200 feet speaks to their resilience and fortitude; they were a model expedition team. Having this group of wounded warriors on the mountain was truly inspirational to the rangers and the other expedition teams."
"The team gave it a strong effort, working hard for weeks as they made their way up the slopes of Denali, but ultimately, weather conditions just didn't cooperate. The loose snow made footing especially difficult and increased the risk of avalanches. With more time and better weather, I am confident Team Warfighter Sports would have reached the summit," stated Drew Ludwig, the expedition's lead guide from Mountain Trip.
"I am very proud of what Team Warfighter Sports' accomplished. Although we didn't reach the summit, if the weather had cooperated, we would have prevailed. Every wounded warrior and person with disability faces setbacks, often out of their control, and each one must make a choice to either let setbacks defeat them or drive them forward. This experience will drive us forward and we hope our decision to climb will inspire other wounded and disabled to do so as well," said Bauer. "The 21 day Warfighter Sports Denali Challenge was the most incredible experience I have had. We could not have done it without the outstanding guides from Mountain Trip, sponsors and supporters nationwide who believe in our capabilities."
Even though the team did not reach the summit of Mt. McKinley, team members gave it their all and were grateful for the tremendous guides from Mountain Trip and the support they received from their family and friends, general public and the climb's sponsors, including: Chartis, Tee it up for the Troops, Team Semper Fi, American Airlines, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and Leonidas International, a foundation started by climber Acosta. The team provided updates to their supporters through a satellite phone generously supplied by Iridium.
"It was the experience of a lifetime and I plan to return to conquer that mountain" Martin said.
"The guide team was fantastic and a critical element to this climb. We were prepared, had the right equipment, trained hard, planned well and were steam-rolled by something uncontrollable and unpredictable - the weather," Duncan said.
"The entire climb challenged us physically, mentally and spiritually. Each of us gave the mountain all we had. We are disappointed we did not reach the summit due to severe weather, but very proud of our accomplishment none the less. It was an adventure of a lifetime. I am looking forward to going back and reaching the summit," Borden said. "Personally, I would like to thank Warfighter Sports and Team Semper Fi for making this experience possible."
"When I reflect on our Warfighter Sports Denali Challenge, I truly believe that those emotionally or physically wounded veterans
who witnessed our efforts on the mountain would likely be that much more compelled to attempt an activity they might otherwise have thought impossible. So, regardless of how high we ultimately climbed, we would have achieved our objective in reaching out to and influencing this population. Ironically, I would be remiss not to say there's a growing desire to return to the mountain and finish what we started," Acosta said.
The Denali climb benefits Warfighter Sports, a program of Disabled Sports USA, which offers free sports rehabilitation for severely wounded warriors in military hospitals and communities across the U.S. Over 5,600 wounded warriors and families have been served since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Warfighter Sports rebuilds lives through sports by improving self-confidence, promoting independence and uniting families through shared healthy activities.
About Warfighter Sports
Warfighter Sports, a program of Disabled Sports USA, offers sports rehabilitation for severely wounded warriors in military hospitals and communities across the U.S. through a nationwide network of over 100 community-based chapters. Since 1967, Disabled Sports USA has proudly served wounded warriors, including those injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, offering over 30 winter and summer sports at more than 100 events each year.
Warfighter Sports rebuilds lives through sports by improving self-confidence, promoting independence and uniting families through shared healthy activities. Contributions cover all expenses for participation, including individualized adaptive instruction, adaptive sports equipment, transportation, lodging and meals for the warrior and a family member. Since 2003, more than 5,600 of the most severely wounded and their families have been served, including those with amputations, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, visual impairments, and significant nerve and muscle damage. For more information, visit www.warfightersports.org