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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The three American veterans from three different wars had only one good leg among them. But that didn’t stop them from summiting Africa’s highest mountain.
The three soldiers — veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam — scrambled, clawed and plodded to the top of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, hiking up the mountain’s scree-filled paths on one human leg and five prosthetics.
They skidded. They fell. They removed their legs to adjust their shoes. And after six days of climbing they stood at 19,340 feet (5,895 meters) — Africa’s highest point.
“The message we’re trying to send back to the USA is no matter what disability you have you can be active,” said Kirk Bauer, the executive director of Disabled Sports USA and a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran who lost his leg in 1969. .
The youngest, 26-year-old Neil Duncan, lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2005. The group took six days to ascend, instead of four, and a special permit for the disabled allowed them to spend the night in tents at 19,000 feet. Last Saturday morning they made it to the top.
The third veteran, Dan Nevins, a 37-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., who lost his legs in Iraq, developed a pressure boil on one of his leg’s stumps, which may have lead to his developing of a high fever, coughing and congestion. After reaching the summit and descending to 15,000 feet, Nevins was evacuated down on a wheeled stretcher. That illustrated just one of the challenges the amputees faced. On Day 5, the group hiked 12-hours, which left everyone struggling to breathe.
Going down — the part many climbers say is the hardest — was no easier for the amputees. Duncan lost his footing and somersaulted. Bauer’s artificial leg fell off.
“The feeling was total exhaustion and total exhilaration,” Bauer said of his 45 minutes on the summit. “It was absolutely spectacular.”