“I looked up at the screen and it was about a Marine—single amputee—that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I said ‘well, ha, if a Marine can do it, an Army guy can definitely do it, and I’m going to beat him because I’m a double amputee,’” West laughed. “So that was just always in the back of my head.”
Between recovery, rehab and the other challenges West faced over the years following his service, that dream may have remained just that, a dream and nothing more. In fact, even after becoming Outdoor Adventure Coordinator at Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, a nonprofit specializing in serving military veterans and first responders, that particular achievement eluded him.
West had even brought up the idea with SDIA Founder Lance Nutt and a few other colleagues before. Enthusiastically, they had gone down the path of planning a private Kilimanjaro trip together, but the price tag was too high, and it was dropped.
Still, West hung onto the idea in the back of his mind until, in 2019, he was invited as a special guest to the Honoring of Heroes Veterans Gala, hosted by a local business owner and Army combat veteran, Joe Donaldson.
The event was organized as a fundraiser benefitting SDIA alongside two other veteran support organizations. During the event, West was asked to speak and, while sharing his story, mentioned his desire to conquer Kilimanjaro someday.
Something about it struck Donaldson, and shortly afterward he approached SDIA with an idea.
“He came to [Nutt] and myself and said, ‘I would like to sponsor 10 veterans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro,’” West remembers. “And, of course, I’m almost in tears.”
To be offered the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, without taking on the financial burden to do so, felt like a godsend to West. It was an incredible gift to be given, and the SDIA team began working with Donaldson on a plan for a 2020 trip.
Of course, COVID19 was in full swing by the time they were meant to travel, so, optimistically they marked their calendars for 2021. The added time turned out to be a blessing, offering up more time to plan and train. As the year carried on, Donaldson decided he wanted to have more of an impact and offered up five more slots on the expedition.
“You hear people talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk very often,” said Nutt. “Well, Joe is that guy. You knew if he said he’d make it happen, he was going to do whatever he could. And he did.”