Young Climber Takes On the Odds, and Kilimanjaro Michele Norris talks to Nicolai Calabria, 13, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this summer. He climbed the 19,000-foot mountain on crutches, braving arctic temperatures. Calabria was born without a right leg; in his climb, he relied on his upper-body strength to battle the mountain.
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Young Climber Takes On the Odds, and Kilimanjaro

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Young Climber Takes On the Odds, and Kilimanjaro

Young Climber Takes On the Odds, and Kilimanjaro

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is no small feat, not at 19,000-plus feet. But try doing it on crutches, battling arctic temperatures, when you're only 13 and born without a right leg. That's exactly what Nicolai Calabria did last month to raise money for the charity, the Free Wheelchair Mission.

We read about Nico in the Boston Globe today. He's a seventh grader from Concord, Massachusetts. The donations from his Kilimanjaro trek will help provide more than 1,000 wheelchairs to the people of Tanzania.

Nico Calabria says the first time he saw the mountain in all its glory, he was a little freaked out.

NICOLAI CALABRIA: I got to be crazy. I was pretty scared when I first saw it because we got a great view from a little hill above the trees in a neighboring town. It was just huge. None of the pictures can describe what it actually looks like. And it's just much different to actually see it.

NORRIS: Tell me about your climb. It must have been, by about the second or third day, you really started to feel the difference in the altitude.

CALABRIA: Yeah. About the second day I definitely felt shortness of breath and a little headache in the back of my mind that wouldn't go away for a while. Yeah, it just kept getting worse the higher up we went.

NORRIS: I have to ask you. You walk with crutches, is that correct?

CALABRIA: Yeah. Wrist crutches.

NORRIS: How were you physically able to make that ascent?

CALABRIA: Well, Kilimanjaro isn't a very technically difficult mountain. It doesn't require me to, like, rope up. But it's just a really long, steep walk. And I play soccer, and I guess I'm in shape.

NORRIS: You did face some major obstacles. I understand that you fell at one point, a bad fall.

CALABRIA: When I was coming down from my acclimatization walk, I slipped on a rock and hurt my arm.

NORRIS: Any second thoughts after that happened?

CALABRIA: No. I fall a lot.

NORRIS: So you just got right back up?


NORRIS: My goodness. Now, at one point, your father, who climbed along with you, and we should say that he's a professional climber, quite accomplished, he couldn't go on. What happened?

CALABRIA: Well, he got a severe case of acute mountain sickness, and he was ordered off the mountain by our guides.

NORRIS: Did you think about leaving with him?

CALABRIA: Oh, yeah. I actually really wanted to go with him. But he said that he wanted me to summit for both of us.

NORRIS: You know, when you were in the last stages of that climb, I understand those are the most difficult, how did you overcome your fears?

CALABRIA: I guess I had to tell myself that I have gone so far and I just have so little left, and that everyone at home is supporting me. It's that thought that made me want to keep going every time I wanted to stop.

NORRIS: Tell me what it was like when you reached the summit.

CALABRIA: I felt like a weight had been lifted. It felt great not to have to, have to keep going. It was just, I could go down now. And the weight, the weight was gone.

NORRIS: What inspired you to take that on?

CALABRIA: Oh, I was inspired by a movie called "Emmanuel's Gift." Emmanuel kind of did what I did. He was born in Ghana with a limb deficiency, and he asked for a bike from a Challenged Athletes organization or association. And he rode his bike across Ghana to raise money and awareness with the same company that I'm using. So he kind of inspired me to pass on the message.

NORRIS: And how much money did you actually raise?

CALABRIA: I was able to raise $53,000.

NORRIS: And remind us again what that will be used for.

CALABRIA: That will be able to buy 1,100 wheelchairs. A little bit more now. But I have to make a $75,000 if I want to get 550 more. But I've surpassed my goal of $25,000. And I'm just so thankful that everyone's been supporting me.

NORRIS: That's Nico Calabria. He's 13. He recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on crutches. And in doing so, became the youngest disabled person to reach the summit. Thanks, Nico.

CALABRIA: Thank you.

NORRIS: And if you want to know more about the Free Wheelchair Mission, go to our Web site,

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