By Angela McLean
Spencer West is living proof that obstacles can be overcome. At the age of five, Spencer’s legs were removed and doctors told him he would never be able to sit up, walk, or be a functioning member of society. Despite this diagnosis, Spencer made a huge negative into a MASSIVE POSITIVE and has since been inspiring millions. He is a Me to We motivational speaker, author and change maker. In June 2012, he is embarking on his greatest challenge yet: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa!
THE MAGAZINE had the chance to speak with Spencer about his role with Free the Children and Me to We and his upcoming climb.
How did you get involved with Free the Children and Me to We?
I found out about Me to We through a good friend of mine, Reed Cowan, who, in 2008, convinced me to go on a volunteer adventure to Kenya with Me to We to help build a school. That trip to Kenya changed everything for me.
In Kenya, I visited a Free The Children school in a community called Emori Joi. As soon as I got there, I was swarmed by young people who asked me every question under the sun, including “Where are your legs?” One particular moment stood out for me: a little girl told me, “I didn't know that things like this (meaning the loss of my legs) could happen to white people, too.” That’s when I knew there was a greater purpose for me in life. I can use my story to show young people that obstacles can be overcome and help them understand that we all need and can lend a helping hand—no matter who we are, where we are from or what colour our skin is.
With or without any obstacles, climbing a mountain is not an easy or common task. What inspired you to want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?
This past summer while leading a trip with 30 students I started to see the effects of one of the largest droughts East Africa has seen in over 60 years. This trip inspired me to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and launch my campaign to Redefine Possible. I want to give back to the community that has given me so much and helped me find my true passion and calling in life.
How can people support you and how will their donations help support Free the Children?
Everyone can visit www.freethechildren.com/redefinepossible to follow my journey through my interactive blog, updates and videos, and show their support by donating $10, sponsoring one step in my near 20,000-step journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro!
My goal is to raise $750,000 for Free The Children, bringing sustainable clean water programming to 18,500 Kenyans who, last year, experienced the region’s worst drought in 60 years. Clean water and sanitation is a part of Free The Children’s long-term sustainable development model called Adopt a Village. The clean water component of our Adopt a Village model provides communities with localized clean water sources and sanitation facilities; that helps to reduce the spread of waterborne diseases and rid children of their daily treks to collect water, freeing them to attend school.
You are doing this climb with two friends. How did you get them on board and how will they be helping you?
I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with my two best friends, David Johnson and Alex Meers, both of whom I met at Free The Children and Me to We. These guys aren't just my friends, they've become my brothers. So, once I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, I knew I couldn’t think of any two people I’d rather share this experience with. So, I asked them to do it and they both said of course!
Whether I’m climbing in my wheelchair, on my hands or with the help of my friends, I know David, Alex and I will be there to support each other.
You wrote a book called “STANDING TALL: MY JOURNEY”. What message do you hope readers take away from it?
I wrote my autobiography, STANDING TALL, to not only share my story and the challenges I’ve faced throughout my life with the world, but also to inspire others. I want to show the world that it doesn't matter what your abilities are or where you come from. If you work hard, never give up and laugh a lot, you can achieve anything. I’m living proof!
How can youth ‘redefine possible’?
With my Redefine Possible mission, in addition to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and fundraising for Free The Children, I’m calling on individuals around the world to join me and redefine their possible in their own way. Redefining possible means something different to everyone – it could be a small project or challenge like learning how to swim, playing a new sport, or taking music lessons. Redefining possible can also mean challenging yourself by going on an international volunteer trip to a new country or volunteering at your local food bank/community centre. I’m encouraging youth to step outside of their comfort zone and get involved in whatever issue–local or global–they’re passionate about.
How do you plan on continuing to ‘redefine possible’ after your climb?
After my climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, I will be staying in Kenya to facilitate and lead a Me to We Trip. These are unique international volunteer adventures that allow participants to immerse themselves in a new culture, explore social and environmental issues and volunteer alongside. Right now my focus is on the climb and tackling that challenge, but who knows what the future has in store for me!
Thank you, Spencer and best of luck on your climb!