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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Warren Macdonald: Finding Opportunity In Adversity , Onward and upward.

First of All, The Accident

The one-minute snapshot of the accident is that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was on a hike with one other person on a remote island in Australia, and we set up camp on the side of the mountain. I had to go to the bathroom and I needed to do so away from our water supply, so I started scrambling up this steep rock wall. I got to no more than a few feet off the ground when a piece of the wall broke loose. That’s when life changed big time for me, because that rock slammed me back down into the creek bed.  Geert and I couldn’t move it. I spent all night underneath it. We decided that Geert would have to hike out and then organize a rescue. While he did that, I spent two days trapped underneath that one-ton piece of rock. Finally a helicopter came in with a rescue team. They lifted the rock off and got me to the hospital, the surgeon explained to me that he would have to amputate both legs above the knees.

I think you set yourself up for a fall if you live life really safely instead of working with fear. Fear gets me focused. I’m scared of heights, so rock climbing for me is an exercise in control. I get really engaged with what I’m doing, because if I panic, I will probably die. I can’t close my eyes and will myself to the ground, so I just have to overcome the fear and take control. It’s almost like a meditation. A lot of climbers, including my partner, started climbing because it was the only time they felt they could live fully in the moment.
In a way, I’d been preparing my whole life for what happened on Hinchinbrook Island. My partner pointed out to me that I was the “ideal” person for this to happen to. One of my mottos, which I didn’t really put into words until after the accident, has always been “Don’t freak out and never give up.” Staying calm was what really helped me get through it. If I had freaked out and spooked Geert, and then he had had his own accident rushing down the mountain to get help, well, that wouldn’t have helped anybody.


In April 1997 Warren Macdonald was climbing on Hinchinbrook Island, Northern Australia when a giant boulder fell on his legs. Warren survived the accident thanks to Geert van Keulen, a Dutch traveller Warren had met the day before, who raced down the mountain for help.He spent two days out in the open and both his legs were amputated at the thigh.
Ten months later, Warren climbed Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, Australia using a modified wheelchair and the seat of his pants. A year later he climbed Federation Peak in Tasmania, Australia. In February 2003 he became the first double-above knee amputee to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa's tallest peak while using specialty climbing prostheses developed by Hanger prosthetists Kevin Carroll and Chad Simpson. More recently Warren climbed El Capitan in Sierra Nevada, California, United States and the Weeping Wall in Alberta, Canada.

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