In June 2012, a team of five U.S. veterans began their journey to climb to the highest point in North America, Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley. With Denali’s extreme temperatures and 20,320’ summit, this would be a feat for any adventurer. However, these team members had more in common than their service record; they were all seriously wounded in a foreign war. The group included two double leg amputees, two single above knee amputees, and an individual with severe muscle damage in the legs.
Their quest to climb Denali benefited Warfighter Sports, a program of Disabled Sports USA that provides sport rehabilitation for wounded warriors.
Prior to their journey, they made sure they had an Iridium® 9555 satellite phone so that they could communicate with those outside of their team.
The team began their climb on June 11 from Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200’ and routinely faced intense sun, cold weather and snow each day of their climb. After eight days of resting at 14,000’ due to weather, they reached an elevation of 15,500’ before having to return to camp at 14,000’ due to more severe weather and an avalanche that occurred further up the mountain. Twenty-two days after beginning their ascent, the team returned home. While they did not reach the summit, in no way do they consider the climb unsuccessful. Team Warfighter raised $26,000 for their cause through their efforts, surpassing their initial goal of $25,000.
“All of us feel the adventure was a success,” said Sgt. Kirk Bauer. “In the big picture, what we were trying to do is inspire and motivate others with disabilities, in particular the young wounded warriors coming back from Afghanistan.”
Team Warfighter consisted of:
- Army Capt. Jesse Acosta (Ret.) – Acosta was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq with permanent damage to his hip, leg, back and arm. He scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2011 and twice completed a 100-mile bicycle ride and the Capital of Texas Triathlon. He is a West Point graduate currently working on Wall Street.
- Army Sgt. Kirk M. Bauer, JD (Ret.) – As a disabled Vietnam veteran (left above knee amputee) and the Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA for the past 29 years, at age 64, Bauer still leads an active sports life participating with wounded warriors, youth and others in sports such as skiing, biking, hiking and golf. In 2010, he led a team of amputee veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on a successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
- Marine Capt. David Borden (Active Duty) – After losing his leg above the knee to a suicide bomb in Iraq in 2008, Captain Borden returned to combat in Afghanistan in 2011. Borden has golfed, skied and run the Army Ten Miler through Disabled Sports USA’s military program.
- Army Sgt. Neil Duncan (Ret.) – Duncan was severely wounded in Afghanistan in 2005 by an IED, resulting in amputation of both his legs. In 2010, he scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro alongside Kirk Bauer and continues to stay active in sports.
- Army Cpl. Steve Martin (Ret.) – Martin served in the Army and Army National Guard for 8 years, including assignment in Korea. He sustained significant injuries when he was hit by an IED while on operations as a State Department contractor with Joint U.S. Forces Provincial Mentoring Team in Afghanistan. Martin lost both legs below the knees as a result of his injuries. After his amputations, he completed the Bataan Memorial Death March in 2011, a 26-mile march in White Sands, NM. Steve golfs, bikes, swims and runs and has competed in triathlons.
“When our team left for Denali, my son was still waiting to find out if he had been accepted into college,” said Army Cpl. Steve Martin (Ret.). “While we were sitting delayed at 14,000 feet, I called my son and he told me was accepted into college! Since we had been unable to climb for several days at this point due to severe storms, this was news that fueled me and boosted my spirits. I would have obviously found out when we came down off the mountain, but it was even better to hear that news when I was enjoying a beautiful view of the Alaska range. I thank Iridium for keeping me connected to my family!”
For more information about Warfighter Sports, visit www.WarfighterSports.org.