Disability Group Reaches Great Heights

Friends of Access Israel reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Friends of Access Israel reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with a few bumps on the trail.

The only thing about the trip that went as planned for Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) was that it took just over seven days to get to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro’s 19,341 feet. Two of the 27 climbers did not finish the trek and one other finished with an illness, making this a chaotic trip that ended at the peak.

While a medical emergency caused him not to finish the trek, FAISR President James Lassner was proud of the group and says he would gladly try again one day if given the chance.

However, according to Lassner, the hike was not what the team was expecting in terms of difficulty.

“I could not be prouder of this team, what an amazing group of people,” Lassner says. “Kilimanjaro is not a walk in the park and that is by everybody’s account, we all feel a bit accomplished, but we are all surprised at how hard it was.”

Former Ms. Wheelchair Montana and thrill-seeker Starla Hilliard-Barnes, 32 also made it to the top but not without some difficulty on two separate occasions.

The first kink came when her original trekking wheelchair broke on the first day in the heavy rain of the rainforest stage of the mountain. She had to be carried up by her husband, her best friend’s husband and eight porters until Paratrek, the partnering company responsible for wheelchairs, could bring a new trekking wheelchair up to the next stage of Kilimanjaro.

Starla Hilliard-Barnes’ Wheelchair Broke and she had to be carried up the mountain. (PHOTO CREDIT: Starla Hilliard-Barnes)

“Due to the altitude, my 98-pound frame felt like 300 pounds,” Hilliard-Barnes says. “They would change carriers every quarter-hour so after one was done, the next person would run up and switch off. They did this for about five hours.”

The second bump in the road was a little harder to deal with for Hilliard-Barnes.

“I got a kidney infection on the mountain,” Hilliard-Barnes says. “The last day I was [in pain], but I just tried to smile and didn’t really let anyone know. I just tried to stay positive. That was me, happy and smiling the whole time.”

Hilliard-Barnes is now home and healing from the infection with medication, but she says she learned a lot about herself on the trip, besides just discovering the physical demands she can put on her body.

“While on Kilimanjaro, I was taught about love, spirit, humility, determination and sheer will power,” Hilliard-Barnes says. “However, the true test is when it is time to bring the lessons home. Our real journey is to bring these life lessons home.”

Victory for FAISR at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. (PHOTO CREDIT James Lassner)
Victory for FAISR at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. (PHOTO CREDIT James Lassner)

Marcela Marañon, 38, the first Latino and Peruvian woman in a wheelchair to reach the top of Kilimanjaro had some fright on her way up to the top.

“For me it was very hard,” Marañon says. “It was so steep. Thirty minutes before we got to the summit, you could just look down and see all the way down. It was so scary.”

Even though the Marangu route (aka the Coca-Cola route) is known to climbers as the easiest to conquer, the group needed everyone it brought along to help make the quest easier including: one Kilimanjaro park ranger, three cooks, 21 guides and 70 porters.

There is one consensus from the group if you are going to climb a mountain like Kilimanjaro according to Marañon.

“You have to be very strong and you cannot be afraid of altitude,” she says.

The breakdown of people who went up Mount Kilimanjaro:

  • Arnold John (Tanzania)
  • Marcela Marañon (Texas)
  • Omer Zur, Rowee Benbenishty and Arnon Amit (Israel)
  • Shannon Barnes, Starla Hilliard-Barnes, Emily & Josiah Baer (Montana)
  • Amy Verschleiser; Ari Storch; Benay Vynerib; Deborah Shapiro; Dr. Barry Stein; Geri & Dr. Aaron, Gindea; Gina Paoloni & Joseph Grunfeld; Howard Blas; Joseph Sokol; Lilly Weitzner Icikson & David Icikson and James Lassner & Mara Lassner (New York)
  • Aaron Muller (Pennsylvania)
  • David Muller (New Jersey)
  • Jonathan Vierra (Aruba)

You can learn more about the Mount Kilimanjaro trip by visiting Friends of Access Israel at faisr.org.

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