mark inglis - on top of the world

Adventure - - Survival - Words by Steph Za­jkowski www.the­wordsz.com Im­ages com­pli­ments of Mark Inglis

Imag­ine, you are 23 years old, trapped in an ice cave for 14 days by a sub-zero bliz­zard on the sum­mit of New Zealand’s high­est peak.

You are starv­ing and freez­ing to death. You wake up in hospi­tal to find that you have lost both legs below the knees due to frost­bite. What do you do next? If you are Mark In­glis, you climb Mount Ever­est, of course.

The first ever dou­ble am­putee to scale Mt Ever­est says life is for him is all about par­tic­i­pa­tion and he be­lieves we are all here to make a dif­fer­ence. New Zealand’s Mark In­glis made his­tory when he reached the ‘roof of the world’ in May, 2006. While many would see this as the ‘pin­na­cle’ of achieve­ment, for In­glis, Ever­est is one of many ac­com­plish­ments in a life full of con­quests.

Born in Septem­ber 1959, Mark had a pas­sion and love of the out­doors since child­hood. In 1979, he be­gan work as a pro­fes­sional search and res­cue moun­taineer for Ao­raki/Mount Cook Na­tional Park. In Novem­ber 1982, Mark and his climb­ing part­ner Philip Doole be­came trapped near the sum­mit of Mt Cook in atro­cious weather, a storm that was to last 13-and-a-half days. The re­sult­ing stay in the ice cave - now known as Mid­dle Peak Ho­tel - re­sulted in both men's legs be­com­ing badly frost bit­ten. The res­cue of the two climbers was a ma­jor me­dia event in New Zealand, with the coun­try gripped by the dra­matic in­ci­dent. When res­cued, In­glis and Doole were near starved and close to death. Fol­low­ing the res­cue, both Mark’s legs were am­pu­tated below the knee. He was 23 years old.

We caught up with Mark to see how he has coped sur­viv­ing sur­vival...

Mt Cook - at what point did you re­al­ize you were in se­ri­ous trou­ble?

Pretty much as soon as we put our head over the sum­mit ridge at about 6pm in the evening. The scale of the storm meant that the only op­tion was to try and fight our way down to Porter Col but within me­tres, we knew we had to get out of the wind. It re­ally was like an evil thing try­ing to beat you to death. As we climbed into Mid­dle Peak 'Ho­tel' we were op­ti­mistic that the weather would clear, but with each pass­ing hour the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion in­creased.

Did you ever feel you wanted to give up?

In some ways - al­ways, but in oth­ers, never. It would have been so nice to have been spir­ited off the moun­tain, but then re­al­ity hits. It won't hap­pen, and ev­ery­thing next is all up to you.

What kept you go­ing?

Knowl­edge and faith – Knowl­edge, as in we were in a unique sit­u­a­tion be­ing SAR moun­taineers; we had seen, ex­pe­ri­enced and trained for this, so we could make the de­ci­sions that would al­low us to sur­vive, de­spite know­ing that we might at least lose a few toes. Faith, in that we knew we would be res­cued; it was just a mat­ter of when, not if. Hence our job, our fo­cus, es­pe­cially af­ter about day five when we rec­og­nized there was lit­tle like­li­hood of self res­cue, was sim­ply to sur­vive.

As the re­sult of the loss of his legs, Mark was forced to change his ca­reer. At the age of 25, he at­tended Lin­coln Univer­sity and grad­u­ated with a BSc Hons 1st Class de­gree in Bio­chem­istry in 1989. But the sport­ing arena still beck­oned and Mark rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity to com­pete at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level in Dis­abled Alpine Ski­ing, gain­ing one gold, two sil­vers and two bronze medals in 1990, 1991 and 1996. Mark also com­peted at an in­ter­na­tional level in Dis­abled Road Cy­cling, first rep­re­sent­ing New Zealand at the World Cham­pi­onships in Colorado Springs 1998 and ranked ninth in the World.

In 1999, he was named in the New Zealand team to the South­ern Cross Mul­tidis­abil­ity Games in Syd­ney, where he col­lected Bronze, Sil­ver and Gold medals for his ef­forts. At the 2000 Syd­ney Par­a­lympic Games, Mark rode to twelfth in the Road Race and a ca­reer high­light of Sil­ver in the Kilo (1000m in­di­vid­ual time trial), New Zealand's first ever Par­a­lympic Cy­cling medal and the first medal awarded at those Olympics.

How long was the re­cov­ery postam­pu­ta­tion? Is it a con­tin­u­ing process or just some­thing you need to come to terms with?

It’s been staged across the whole of my life since. Post-am­pu­ta­tion, by two months you should have legs and be walk­ing. Af­ter six months, you are pretty much sta­ble and 're­cov­ered', but it’s about eigh­teen months to two years be­fore your stumps are re­ally set­tled down enough to ex­plore what is truly pos­si­ble - and that’s far more than any­one thinks.

Men­tally, how did this ex­pe­ri­ence af­fect you? What are some of the chal­lenges?

On the sur­face, you keep smil­ing and push­ing the lim­its, but that masks the real ‘day by day’, ‘hour by hour’, hard slog. It’s about keep­ing con­stantly positive while hit­ting a mul­ti­tude of stum­bling blocks. I’ve bat­tled oth­ers’ per­cep­tions (other am­putees and the gen­eral com­mu­nity) of what is pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially around tech­nol­ogy. Ar­ti­fi­cial limb tech­nol­ogy isn’t a lot dif­fer­ent from the 1960s or 70s - it’s re­ally just com­fort and ma­te­rial changes. So while my ‘nor­mal’ walk­ing legs let me do 99% of ev­ery­thing, I love be­ing in that 1% space; hence I’ve ex­plored de­sign and built spe­cial­ist legs. With these mas­sive sport­ing achieve­ments spurring him on, Mark’s fo­cus again turned to his first love, moun­taineer­ing. De­ter­mined to over­come the ‘hic­cup’ of los­ing his legs, he re­turned to Mt. Cook in 2002 and tri­umphantly reached the sum­mit (3759m) suc­cess­fully on 7 Jan­uary of that year, af­ter a pre­vi­ous at­tempt was thwarted by dam­age to his stumps. The climb was as much a test for Mark's newly-de­signed tech­ni­cal climb­ing legs as a test of him­self. The sum­mit as­sault and its build-up was doc­u­mented by the film No Mean Feat: The Mark In­glis Story, which won best doc­u­men­tary at the 2003 NZ TV Awards. On the 27th of Septem­ber 2004, Mark stood on the sum­mit of Cho Oyu, at 8201m the world's sixth high­est moun­tain, and looked di­rectly across at Ever­est, only about 650m higher, and knew that he was see­ing his next chal­lenge.

"Ev­ery­one has it - they just don't know it, or haven’t been put in a po­si­tion to call upon it. Grow­ing up as a moun­taineer was by far the big­gest fac­tor; it gives you a com­pletely dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of what is pos­si­ble and the con­se­quences of your de­ci­sions. "

In May 2006, Mark set off for the sum­mit in per­fect weather, and be­came the first dou­ble am­putee to con­quer the world’s high­est peak, Mt Ever­est. Mark com­pleted his climb on two car­bon-fi­bre ar­ti­fi­cial legs es­pe­cially adapted for climb­ing. De­spite snap­ping one of them early on in the climb, with the help of his climb­ing col­leagues he was able to re­pair it and con­tinue the as­cent. Over 20 years af­ter los­ing his limbs, he stood on the roof of the world.

Where do you think the ‘will to sur­vive’ comes from, specif­i­cally your own?

Ev­ery­one has it - they just don't know it, or haven’t been put in a po­si­tion to call upon it. Grow­ing up as a moun­taineer was by far the big­gest fac­tor; it gives you a com­pletely dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of what is pos­si­ble and the con­se­quences of your de­ci­sions. Not one to rest on his lau­rels, Mark’s life con­tin­ues to be mo­ti­vated by achieve­ment. He is the au­thor of five books No Mean Feat, Off the Front Foot, To The Max, Legs on Ever­est and High Tech Legs On Ever­est. In 2002, he was made an Of­fi­cer of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for ser­vices to per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties at the Queen's Birth­day Hon­our Awards. Mark is the found­ing trustee for Limb­s4All Char­i­ta­ble Trust, which is com­mit­ted to help­ing some of the 400 mil­lion dis­abled peo­ple in the world to ex­press their po­ten­tial by sup­port­ing projects and in­di­vid­u­als both within New Zealand and world­wide, and is also an am­bas­sador for Out­ward Bound amongst var­i­ous other projects and char­i­ties. Mark is also a highly sought-af­ter lead­ing In­ter­na­tional Mo­ti­va­tor, and has pre­sented to over 200,000 peo­ple across the world, en­cour­ag­ing them to em­brace chal­lenge and de­velop the at­ti­tude to ex­cel. These talks and tours are an op­por­tu­nity for Mark to share his ex­pe­ri­ence and phi­los­o­phy with world lead­ers.

How do you go from trapped on Mt Cook to mo­ti­va­tional speaker?

I’m just shar­ing my truth - knowl­edge is ev­ery­thing, it is the an­ti­dote to fear. This down-to-earth New Zealan­der con­sults to top ex­ec­u­tives, lead­ing dis­cus­sion on change, chal­lenge and the role of at­ti­tude in busi­ness. With an undy­ing love of the moun­tains, Mark still climbs and leads treks to Nepal each year to raise funds and aware­ness for Limb­s4All projects in Nepal and Cam­bo­dia. As the only dou­ble am­putee who has stood on the sum­mit of Mt Ever­est, who else can truly de­fine the of­ten used say­ing, “At­ti­tude de­ter­mines your Al­ti­tude”.

What does the fu­ture hold?

Prob­a­bly lucky I don't have a crys­tal ball, as I love the sur­prises that life de­liv­ers. My path is shar­ing those things that I trea­sure; the moun­tains, climb­ing, cy­cling - ex­pe­ri­ences and places where no other hu­man has been. I’ll con­tinue to en­cour­age con­fi­dence and at­ti­tude, en­abling peo­ple to step be­yond that edge. One thing I have learned, it is very easy to sit back, but es­sen­tial that you don't.

ABOVE LEFT: Mark's feet Xmas Eve 1982 | ABOVE RIGHT: Carv­ing at the Re­mark­ables RIGHT: Mark on Ever­est

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