A paraplegic recalls his achievements as a disabled athlete and mountain climber.
Climbing such peaks as Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney, and Mount Kilimanjaro is a tough enough challenge for the able-bodied. In this part-memoir, part-travelogue, Pagels chronicles his attempts to summit those mountains as a paraplegic, never letting his physical limitations get in the way of his pursuit of outdoor adventure. Medical research has proven “the value of the outdoors to improve physical, mental and social health,” he writes. “This is especially true for those of us with the label ‘disabled.’ ” A competitive swimmer in college, Pagels suffered a life-changing accident in 1984, at age 34, when a tree he had been helping to cut down fell on him, severing his spinal cord. After competing as a wheelchair athlete in basketball, road-racing and skiing—he won two cross-country skiing gold medals at the 1992 Winter Paralympics and three silvers in 1994—he set his sights on mountain climbing “because it would be a higher level of competition between me and myself. I did not have to beat anyone to achieve success. And even if the mountain beat me, it was ok because I took the journey.” The author vividly describes the preparation for, and process of, scaling peaks in a customized sit ski called the Summiter, using 200 feet of climbing rope to haul himself inch by inch up slopes. He also captures the anguish of having to give up the ascent of Kilimanjaro when the wheels of his three-wheeled hand cycle became buried up to the hubs in mushy “scree.” “The goal was to get as high as we could and that is what we did,” he recalls. But much of the book reads like an infodump, with little attention to context or self-reflection. Pagels misses opportunities to take readers inside the psyche of a disabled person and convey how his feats of endurance have changed him.
Captures the agony and ecstasy of climbing feats but misses opportunities for self-reflection and insight.