If you have ever been guilty of making an excuse not to get out there and try something new or to challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone, this story is especially for you. This is a true story about a group of people, who had much, much bigger excuses than you or I to say “I can’t”, but instead they said, “I can and I will”! And then they went to conquer a mighty mountain against all odds and touched the roof of Africa.
It began with an idea from Guts2Glory, a local organisation that supports disabled athletes, taken up by renowned triple amputee Rajesh Durbal. A leadership and motivational expert based in the USA, he is passionate about living freely without limits. Rajesh wanted to take on a challenge that seemed impossible for a person with both legs amputated below the knee and only a partially developed right arm. He wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.
The attempt to climb the 5 895m high mountain that has got the better of many able-bodied athletes was not just for the physical challenge, but also to help raise funds to provide prostheses to 1000 South African amputee children. Disabled athletes in South Africa were challenged to get involved to help raise funds and the ‘No Limits Freedom Tour’ was born.
“I was asked if I would take up the Kilimanjaro challenge and captain the team,” says professional athlete and Biogen No Excuses ambassador Heugene Murray. “I said of course! I was proud to represent my country and I accepted because I want to make a big difference in South Africa, especially in disability awareness.”
An athlete from a young age, Murray was passionate about body building and wanted to become a professional body builder. After a bad sporting injury, the 38-year-old Murray, sadly had his left leg amputated above the knee in 2008. “I had to deal with a lot of trauma and I had to make decisions, which changed my life around by 360 degrees. I decided to stand up and make the best of my situation,” says Murray. Since then, he has been involved in disabled athletics and has represented South Africa and competed locally and internationally.
Apart from Heugene and Rajesh, the team was made up of South Africans Zizipho Ndlwana, (athlete and amputee below the knee), Kevin Waller (athlete and amputee below the knee), Dylan da Silva (who is physically challenged with no hands and short arms), Irish Matcheke (with a disabled arm) and Biogen / No Excuses Ambassador Nicolene Mostert (supported athlete sports therapist). From the USA Rajesh was accompanied by Dr Joe Maroon (Doctor) and Isabella Maroon (as a supporting athlete).
The ultimate goal of the challenge was to create awareness that disabled people can do anything that able bodied people can do. The team met up in Johannesburg and their first stop was to visit a number of local schools for children with disabilities to tell them all about the challenge.
“It was such a beautiful experience seeing the children light up when they saw the team and heard what they were taking on,” recalls Nicolene Mostert. “Going up Mount Kilimanjaro is such an achievement and was on my bucket list as well as each member of the team. To be able to share the hope that nothing is impossible, no matter what your disability (or different ability as I like to call it is) with these children was a privilege.”
The team received an overwhelming response. “People were so amazed at our determination and the reality of disabled individuals tackling the world’s highest free standing mountain. It was amazing to see the support and response,” says Heugene.
Freedom to climb
The No Limits Freedom Tour then travelled to Tanzania and embarked on the momentous climb that took five days to ascend to the famous Uhuru Peak at the top of Mount Kilimajaro at an elevation of 19 340 feet (5 895 metres). Disabled and able bodied alike battled with altitude, tough climbing conditions, extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation and the individual challenges that many of the disabled team members had to conquer. The team walked over 63 kilometres and spent eight days on the mountain in total. It was the toughest challenge that many of the team members had ever faced and was life changing for all.
Heugene reflects on what he learned from this incredible challenge: “We worked and trained so hard for this expedition. All of us are top athletes from different parts of the world. I thought I was physically prepared but it was still tough. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The teamwork between us was an incredible motivation. Reaching the summit was so emotional for everyone; there wasn’t one person that did not cry. I have learned so much and showed myself that anything is possible!
“It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve trained or who you are, there are many obstacles and challenges in your life that could stop you from reaching your goal. You can decide to stop or carry on. If you choose to carry on and are ready for all the obstacles and challenges they will hit you hard but you can overcome them by giving it all you’ve got and believing in yourself. The day you reach that goal you will look back and smile.”
After completing this incredible feat Nicolene firmly believes that there is really no limit to the human spirit on fire. “The limits we place on our lives are simply in our minds. Each of these team members had the opportunity to become real life heroes inspiring people that no matter your physical limitations there is no excuse for not striving to reach your goals.”
Just over a week after the team had summited Kilimanjaro, incredibly some athletes were lined up at the starting line of the Cape Argus Cycling tour and competed in the 100km cycle ride. The athletes that participated in this leg of the No Limits tour were Rajesh Durbal, Dylan Da Silva, Paracyclist Kevin Waller, Irish Matcheke and Lesibana Masela.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done – former statesman Nelson Mandela”
Inspired by his own road to recovery after major heart surgery at age 28, Biogen Brand Manager Brandon Fairweather, developed a new found respect for people who have much more permanent injuries and disabilities to live with.
The concept of ‘living without excuses’, is the idea that any person can achieve the extraordinary, and that all things are possible despite any and all forms of adversity. Apart from being a very popular hash tag and motivational talking point on social media, ‘#NoExcuses’, it is a decision… one that combines self-belief with action.
This exciting initiative, powered by Biogen recognizes individuals around the world who have achieved relative levels of success and achievement, in the face of physical, mental or circumstantial limitations and obstacles. Through this project, and with the help of our partners including Dis-Chem Pharmacies, ambassadors and supporters, we hope to continue raising awareness and support for some really astonishing individuals and in doing so provide motivation and inspiration.
Stay tuned: Go to www.noexcuses.co.za to find out how you can get more involved in the #NoExcuses Revolution. We are also on www.Facebook.com/NoExcusesSA as well as Twitter: @NoExcusesSA – We look forward to engaging with you!