Mobility for All: What prosthetic care, volcanoes, and the ADA have in common

What does mobility mean to you? Take a minute and really think about it. Is there a time you can remember where your mobility was limited or completely stripped away? Maybe you were injured? Sick? Or depressed? Maybe all three? Even if it was just a few days, being immobile can have drastic negative impacts on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization, almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life (WHO, Disability).

Our mobility is something that is not necessarily on the forefront of our mind; we often take it for granted. We may take 10,000 steps in a day and never once think about how precious each one is. More often than not, we fail to realize how much we value it, until it’s gone.

The Range of Motion Project, also well-known by the acronym “ROMP”, is a non-profit organization focused on ensuring access to high quality prosthetic care for underserved amputees, improving mobility and independence. ROMP recognizes the dual hardships of living in poverty with a disability and stands in solidarity with those who suffer from unequal access. ROMP believes in mobility for all and equitable access to healthcare, mobility, and the outdoors.

A child wearing an orange shirt holding a prosthetic running leg while standing under a ROMP sign Patient William outside of our ROMP Guatemala clinic holding his new running leg and wearing his first prosthesis. Photo credit: Santino Martirano

When ROMP started clinical care in 2005, David Krupa—an amputee from a young age—met a 10 year old girl in Guatemala, Telma, who was born with the same congenital limb deficiency as himself. Though they were born with the same condition, the difference in their experience accessing healthcare and technology meant that their quality of life was vastly different. 

David, born in Chicago, had undergone an amputation at just 18 months old and received his first prosthesis at 2. He grew up with access to prosthetic care and was able to participate fully in school, sports, and other activities. Telma, on the other hand, was still living with a non-functioning foot, confined to crutches for most of her life. David knew that Telma was a great candidate for amputation and a prosthetic leg. Inspired by this young woman’s story, ROMP was founded in Guatemala. David made a commitment to Telma that after amputation, he would build her a functional prosthesis. Telma was ROMP’s first official patient, a number that has now grown to over 4,800 people helped by ROMP since 2005. 

A man sitting with a younger girl who is sitting on a medical table getting fitted for a prosthetic leg. David with Telma during a follow up visit in 2008 after her amputation and receiving a prosthesis. Photo courtesy of ROMP.

My story starts here. In 2005, ROMP became a non-profit and I graduated high school. I was set on a career in engineering and I had an interest in international work. After a lot of school, I went on to work in developing communities on water and sanitation projects, from Africa to rural Alaska. What sticks out in my mind from my engineering career is this: access to essential services and infrastructure could be the difference between a functioning, healthy community and extreme poverty. I became keenly aware of the perception of disability globally and how simple infrastructure and assistive devices could determine whether someone was seen as disabled or not. It was about access

My career as an engineer was short-lived and I moved back to CO to teach skiing to people with disabilities. Working for an adaptive ski program I quickly saw how every individual was so unique; their adaptive equipment, their communication style, and their goals. I got to witness them experience things and places that they never thought possible. I saw firsthand that a simple piece of adaptive equipment was the only barrier keeping them from experiencing the mountain! It was about access

Three people on a ski hill - two people on adaptive ski gear LP on adaptive ski lessons. Photos courtesy of LP

I met David in 2013 serendipitously in Ecuador and it all became so clear to me: technology was a key to accessing the world for so many people. I was sold. Watching someone crutch or literally crawl into ROMP’s clinic and walk out was so powerful. It was then I learned that for every 1 person walking out of our clinic, statistically there were 9 others around the world that could not access care at all. I knew I had to be a part of it changing that. It was about access

A woman sitting on a stool on the ground fitting a young boy with a prosthetic LP with Ezekiel in Ecuador Feb 2023 - during Festival. Photo courtesy of ROMP

A woman hugging a young girl wearing a prosthetic leg standing with her foot on a soccer ball. LP with Genesis ROMP Patient in Guatemala Clinic: Photo courtesy of ROMP

A woman smiling and standing between two sets of metal bars with a prosthetic leg, with folks standing around supporting her. ROMP Patient Ana in Guatemala Clinic: Photo credit LP

In July 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was celebrating its 25th anniversary and our campaign “Climbing for ROMP”(Opens in a new window) was born as a way to raise global awareness of this momentous ADA anniversary and raise funds for direct patient care. Each year, as part of Climbing for ROMP, our signature climb is on a ~19,000ft glacier covered volcano in Ecuador - we invite adaptive athletes and disability rights advocates to come together and show the world the power of mobility. Some of these climbers are patients of ours - proving that when you have access to the right tools, you can reach your summits. It is about access

We use the word "climb" as a symbol of our ongoing fight for mobility. As an avid mountaineer, the idea that we can climb mountains to help ROMP patients take their first steps towards their own summits is a beautiful translation of mobility in real time: vertical feet for prosthetic feet. We are all experiencing our own mountains and Climbing for ROMP has always been about honoring and celebrating where each person is on their “climb”. Our hashtag #WhatsYourMountain is a metaphor for the emotional, physical, and mental challenges that are unique to each of us but not unique to the human experience.

A woman standing in cold-weather gear atop a snow-covered mountain holding a ROMP flag with names and signatures covering it LP on top of Cotopaxi. Photo credit Silverline Films

Two people in mountaineering gear climbing a snow-covered mountain LP and Dave descending from the summit of Cotopaxi. Photo credit Silverline Films

What my work with ROMP has shown me over the years is how fragile our bodies can be, yet how resilient the human spirit is. Life is hard.  But isn't it a beautiful thing to be alive and to be climbing?

So what do prosthetic care, volcanoes, and the ADA have in common? ROMP celebrates the ADA anniversary by climbing volcanoes to provide prosthetic care to amputees in need. It is about access and you can climb with us. 

What’s Your Mountain?

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Climbing for ROMP(Opens in a new window) is the Range of Motion Project’s largest global campaign and fundraising event each year. The goal is to raise money to help people with amputation get prosthetic care and increase awareness around the unequal distribution of assistive devices globally. Since 2015, the initiative has raised over $670,000 to continue ROMP’s mission of providing high quality prosthetic care to those who cannot access it.

Learn more(Opens in a new window) about how you can support this year's climb, meet the 2023 team, and follow along on their journeys!