Published September 13, 2010
Steve Wampler has spent the past year training to climb El Capitan -- a 3,000-foot mountain located in Yosemite National Park.
Climbing El Capitan is considered a standard challenge in the world of rock climbing, but when Wampler climbs the mountain this week, it will test his endurance more than it would the average rock climber. Wampler, who has cerebral palsy and is severely disabled, has been using a wheelchair all of his life. But he has never let that define him, or get in his way.
"I can do this," said Wampler, 42, who lives in Coronado, Calif. "It was the biggest challenge I could think of."
Wampler is hoping he'll raise $2 million by climbing El Capitan; by raising that much money, he can endow the Wampler Foundation, which aids disabled children around the country. The foundation enables disabled children to spend time at a summer camp and experience outdoor activities (waterskiing, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, etc.) that they might not get to otherwise experience. An environmental engineer by profession, Wampler and his wife have devoted their lives to the foundation.
El Capitan is taller than the tallest building in the world, which is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. In comparison, the Burj Khalifa stands 2,717 feet tall; El Capitan is 3,000 feet of vertical rock. In order to climb it, Wampler will have to sit in a specially-designed chair, hold on to handles that he lifts above his head then pull down to his chest, and propel up the mountain on a rope. Every time he pulls down on the handles, he'll be moving up 4 to 6 inches. He hopes to do 10,000 to 15,000 pull-ups over a six-day period.
"I've always thought I could do anything, I never thought I had a disability," Wampler said. "I don't know what the big deal is."
Wampler's wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, Charlotte and Joseph, will be at the bottom of El Capitan, waiting for him when he descends.
"If you had told me I was going to marry a guy with CP, I would have said, 'no way,'" Elizabeth said. "But, it's been a fantastic marriage, and I'm not his nurse, I'm not his caregiver and we're trying to give people that glimpse, so that they are not scared of people with disabilities."
Elizabeth admitted when she married Wampler 15 years ago, she was afraid she would be giving up her social life -- but it was just the opposite. Wampler attracts people wherever he goes, and 400 people showed up at their house for a send-off party before he departed on his climb.
The Wamplers met through a friend, and it definitely was not love at first sight for Elizabeth.
"I was scared to death of him, I didn't want to talk to him," Elizabeth said. "But as I got to know him, I could watch from the periphery and learn that he's fabulous and very bright and very 'normal.' That took me a long time to realize, and I accidentally fell in love with him."
The six-day climb was initially scheduled for May, but was postponed because of inclement weather, which he could still face.
And he'll have to be careful not to become dehydrated or let his muscles cramp, said his trainer, Scott Markey, head strength and conditioning trainer at Family Gym Coronado.
"His arms and chest muscles, those will pull him through it," Markey said. "He's going to lose a lot of weight, and he's light to begin with. He's put on a lot of muscle. Your mind is stronger than your body, and for Steve, nothing is going to stop him."
Markey said he will be calling Wampler periodically to check on his electrolyte levels and telling Wampler what to eat.
"Steve is different than my other clients -- everyone wants to lose fat and keep muscle, but with Steve, he is one of the leanest guys in the gym, so I had to put actual fat on him," Markey said. "In his case, it was an endurance challenge; he could lose up to a third of his body mass index, because he's expanding so many calories."
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