Tom Whittaker is famously known as the first disabled person ever to climb Mount Everest. While not many people, regardless of their sound and fit bodies, have failed to climb Everest, it is mountaineers as courageous as Whittaker who have been defying the odds and proving to the world that nothing is impossible. He has not only been inspiring amputees but also those who have always considered themselves incapable of doing things that are rather said to be difficult to conquer. Whittaker has been renowned throughout the world for this and has won several accolades. Despite having lost a leg in a dangerous drunk-driver car accident, Tom always has thanked the woman who hit him for allowing him to find his path through and despite the fire road ahead of him.
Tom Whittaker has really lived a life that will motivate everyone to do what is perceived as impossible. Make sure to read till the end of this article to know more about him!
Who is Tom Whittaker?
Tom Whittaker is a differently abled mountaineer, a motivational speaker, a professional instructor at Prescott College, and a coach for professional mountaineers. He is an American. Whittaker was born in 1948 in York. He spent the majority of his childhood in America. He finished his education at Idaho State University. Unfortunately, life took bitter turns, and he had to lose a leg during a severe accident. The car accident took place in 1979. The now-mountaineer had a lot to experience and was still of a young age during that time in his life. Tom had to gather every courage in the world to restart his life, and he would do so, eventually, with the passing years and increased faith in himself.
Besides this, he is also the founder of the Cooperative Wilderness Handicapped Outdoor Group (C.W.HOG), which is situated in Pocatello, Idaho. This initiative helps people who are differently abled to push themselves beyond the norms and stereotypes that society has set for them. Not just having climbed Mount Everest himself, Whittaker also makes sure to keep encouraging people like himself to go above and beyond and push every limit possible. While he lived there, he was an active member of the Southeast Idaho climbing community.
With an achievement as big as having climbed Mount Everest despite his disability, Whittaker was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2006 during the announcement of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
About Tom Whittaker’s life-altering car accident
The Thanksgiving Day of 1979 in Pocatello, Idaho, changed the life of Tom Whittaker forever. He collided with a drunk driver on that day. Both his legs were shattered, and he had a severed foot. His knees were damaged to a great extent; he had to get a kneecap removed, and his right foot had to be amputated. Since Whittaker had always had a keen interest in mountaineering, he really could not digest the fact that the accident would make it impossible for him to climb mountains. In an interview, he recalled, “I was a bag of broken bones in a hospital bed, and people would sit beside me and weep. They had written me off. They figured I’d never climb again. I told them I’d climb the Outer Limits in Yosemite (Valley, Calif.) within two years. They figured, ‘He’s not only beaten up but delusional.’ I found I had to prove myself.”
While a lot of people were showing him sympathy and constantly reminding him of how he wouldn’t ever be able to climb, he chose to take this all as a challenge instead of giving up on his dreams. This was his final push to never give up until he was finally able to climb the tallest peak in the world, situated between Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest. Despite failed tries initially, his first being in 1995, he succeeded in climbing the peak on his third attempt in 1998. He really proved to the world that no amount of disability could ever stop a well-determined person from conquering what he has set his mind to.
One of his famous quotes includes,
“For me as a disabled person, climbing Mt. Everest was hugely more of a challenge and more important to me than it would have been if I was able-bodied.”
After the accident, Tom thought that he was expected to remain as a child, which needs to be taken care of by society. It is quite normal for a person who has been through such a terrible accident to be perceived that way. But, he only ever thought of himself as any other man or a woman. He would question people whether he is any different than another Caucasian man or woman attempting to aim for the same things as him.
Tom Whittaker’s Journey to Mount Everest
History was made when a disabled man climbed Mount Everest in 1998. Though there had been two initial failed attempts to climb the peak, Tom Whittaker did not want to give up on his dreams. And, what he did was truly what a lot in the mountaineering community would consider the actual “American Dream.”
Mount Everest’s dream would never have come to him had he never felt like a vegetable in his disabled state. He had a young daughter to look after despite having had such a terrible accident. Nothing came easily for Tom. His daughter Georgia, or Lizzie, was taken with him for training for his climb to the Everest. He would carry his young daughter on his back while he trained. The 25-pound heavy toddler would accompany her father and be a motivation to him without her own knowledge while he trained as much as he could. Training at Little Granite Mountain became a norm for the two. With Lizzie on his back, Whittaker had it easy to train better for strength. Treadmills and free weights were common practices in the gym as well. Likewise, he excessively trained to build muscle mass while also taking great care of what he ate. Acclimatization to survive in a place with the thinnest air on earth was also practiced greatly.
He would consider himself a mountaineer first before he called himself a disabled person. This was a great encouragement for him. Though the car accident had taken his right foot away from him, he had always thought of his one good leg as a “god’s gift” with which he had been able to, literally, conquer mountains. A lot of people were encouraging him to do what had been thought impossible, while the others remained skeptical. He wanted to climb the tallest peak in the world for both the types of people and, most necessarily, for himself. While their bodily conditions differed from those of other mountaineers, the goal was just the same.
Finally, on a random day on May 27th, 1998, Whittaker defied all the odds and became the first disabled person to climb Mount Everest. Tom also had a lot to thank for his wife Cindy’s contribution during his climb, as she was the one to lead the expedition to the Everest base camp. California-based Flex-Foot designed a special metal plate that played the role of his leg during the climb. The prosthetic cost him $3800. A perk for him using the false leg was that he would not suffer from ankle pain or calf fatigue like other climbers. Likewise, he was able to flex the leg any way he wanted without suffering from any sort of pain while at it.
Tom basically went from getting into an accident that would change his life forever, losing his job, and becoming homeless to climbing the tallest mountain in the world and kissing the Queen’s ring.
Difficulties of climbing the Mount Everest for Tom Whittaker
Climbing the Mount Everest had never always been easy for Tom Whittaker. He would have to face illnesses and difficulties in climbing bad enough to make him go home from the mountain not once but twice. He suffered from an intestinal bug. The mountaineer had to run from the mountain because of a sudden blow of a Himalayan storm that was unseen and unpredicted previously.
Another problem during his climb to the mountain was the commercialization of the mountains. The difficulty of climbing only increased with the fear of not getting in return all the amount of money that had been invested, leading to no avail. Tom had talked several times about the way bodies of even the pressurized guides were left, ruthlessly, behind in the mountains despite there being the fact that they could be found. At this height, a lot of mountaineers cannot think about anyone but themselves. Likewise, the commercialization of mountaineering activities has also pushed guides to serve their clients who are sometimes, necessarily, at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Queen’s Award for Tom Whittaker at Buckingham’s Palace
Tom received the Queen’s award during an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. It was not only his achievement as the first disabled person to climb the tallest mountain in the world but also his contribution to the disabled community who were fighting to be considered as relevant in outdoor and extreme activities as any other people. While this is possibly one of the greatest honors in the life of the hardworking mountaineer, he almost tripped on his way to the queen. During a heartwarming recalling, Whittaker remembers how he had to step away from the queen and be careful not to fall down on his face in front of her majesty. Further, he had to keep in mind not to keep his back, in any way or form, turned slightly even to the queen.
Where is Tom Whittaker now?
Tom Whittaker is living his life as a mountaineer and a motivational speaker as of now. Tom lives in Prescott, Arizona, with his daughter Georgia (Lizzie). And they still share a very close bond with one another. Also, Whittaker has made up the mind to climb as many wild mountains in this lifetime as he can, including every renowned peak in the seven continents.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Has any disabled person climbed Everest?
Yes, many below-the-knee amputees and even blind people have climbed Mount Everest, the first one being Tom Whittaker.
What did Tom Whittaker do?
Tom Whittaker became famous all around the world when he climbed Mount Everest for the first time as a disabled person.
How old is Tom Whittaker now?
Tom Whittaker is 75 years old as of 2023.
What is the book written by Tom Whittaker called?
The book written by Tom Whittaker is Higher Purpose: The Heroic Story of the First Disabled Man to Conquer Everest.
Is Tom Whittaker British?
No, Tom Whittaker is an American who was born in the United Kingdom.