|Sudarshan Gautam, originally from Nepal but now a Calgarian of four years, has a sip of water at home on Friday, May 7. (LYLE ASPINALL/QMI Agency)
CALGARY -- To Sudarshan Gautam, scaling Mt. Everest is not the highest peak he’s had to climb.
The Nepalese-born Mount Royal University student, who is taking aim at conquering the world’s highest mountain in 2012, has been overcoming the odds for most of his 29 years.
And while more than 4,000 have summitted the unforgiving spire that scrapes the clouds at an intimidating 8,840 metres, Gautam will try the climb without an advantage shared by every one of those who made the attempt before him.
Gautam has no arms.
But even faced with the enormity of the challenge, which would make him the only amputee to attempt the peak without the use of prosthetic limbs, Gautam merely shrugs.
“When I tell people I want to summit Mt. Everest, most people don’t believe me,” he said.
“But I’ve never felt as though I don’t have both arms — there’s nothing that I believe I can’t do.”
Gautam grew up in the rural Ramecchap district of Nepal with dreams of going into politics before his life took a major detour in June 1994.
As a 14 year old, he went to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu on vacation and was flying a kite from a rooftop when it became entangled in some overhead power lines.
Believing the wire was insulated, he tried to free the trapped kite with an iron stick and instead was jolted by the 11,000-volt line, knocking him to the ground unconscious.
Rushed to hospital, doctors had no choice but to remove his badly damaged limbs.
“They amputated both of my arms and I had to do something for my life,” he said.
“I started to do some writing and some eating using my feet while I was in the hospital bed — I would sometimes spend 12 or 13 hours a day practising.”
For nine months, Gautam lay in the Nepal Army Hospital in Kathmandu, recovering from his life-changing accident and trying to find ways to adapt. Using his feet, he would practise writing numbers and the alphabet to train appendages normally reserved for mobility to become as dextrous and precise as his now-missing hands.
Despite his triumph over tragedy, Gautam found that upon returning to his village, he soon learned that people viewed him differently with his disability, dubbing him the “poor boy” while shunning him.
Undaunted, he continued his education, earning a bachelor’s degree in management and commerce from the Nepal Commerce Campus in Kathmandu in 2005 while advocating for the rights of the disabled.
While Gautam had mastered most everyday tasks without the use of arms — including driving a car, using a computer and playing cards — he longed for a new challenge.
That desire to push his limits took him to Mt. Yala, just north of Kathmandu in the fall of 2005.
With a team of sherpas, Gautam scaled the 5,732-metre peak in 13 days, without the use of artificial limbs or oxygen, using his teeth and feet to climb ropes while relying on help from his expedition team for some of the most challenging sections.
“I felt that if you use artificial arms, that’s not natural,” he said.
“I learned how to balance my body by doing some rock climbing but climbing a mountain was a bit different.”
Gautam claimed his victory for disabled people around the world, calling it at the time, “Just a ladder to Everest.”
Hoping for a better life with his wife, Ambika, Gautam came to Calgary in 2006 where he enrolled at Mount Royal, taking English classes with the ultimate goal of taking social work classes.
In Canada he welcomed his first child, his now two-year-old son Aarshin.
But still restless and aiming to continue his push to raise awareness and hope for the disabled, he was still focused on taking aim at Everest, the world’s largest mountain, which has claimed the lives of 216 able-bodied climbers by the end of 2009.
To date, only one disabled person has made the climb.
In 1998, Tom Whittaker of Wales scaled the mountain with the use of an artificial leg on his third attempt.
Gautam admitted he dreams of being the first amputee to summit Everest without the use of prosthetics, but wants it to benefit those who, like him, have struggled to deal with their disabilities.
“This is for charity, this is not for myself,” Gautam said, noting he’s hoping to raise $1 million for disabled people and orphans in Nepal, as well as potentially building a school for the disabled in his home country.
“It’s a very difficult life there if one is disabled — you are not able to get good jobs and you don’t make a lot of money.”
Gautam is training for the expedition by working on his stamina and running, but said he is confident enough in his climbing skills to make the ascent with little extra training prior to his March 2012 attempt, dubbed the “Hidden Star” expedition.
He notes he will use several more sherpas than would normal in the expedition and hopes to enlist between nine to 11 to help with the monumental task.
Gautam said his goal is simple: Infuse disabled people, particularly those in poorer countries like his native Nepal, with hope and the belief that they can accomplish anything that they set their minds to.
“If you want to change the world, you have to change yourself first,” he said.
“This is the first step in something I hope will change the human experience.
To find out more about Gautam, visit www.sudarshangautam.com