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Conquering your Everest - Talk by Mark Inglis, double amputee who scaled Everest’s heights

By Loh Jing Hong and Joyce Kay

“What kind of fall we experienced has made us what we are now.”

This quote is perhaps most representative of Mark Inglis’ life, and was a pertinent takeaway point in the exclusive sharing session SDSC had with the first double amputee who conquered Mt Everest. Organised by Discovery Channel in conjunction with the premiere of its new series Everest: Beyond the Limit, the session on May 13th provided otherwise unattainable insights into the psyche of the wonder that is Inglis.

The hiccup

He offers a firm handshake upon meeting, indicating his drive and ardour for life passions such as mountaineering. During the presentation, he brings us back to his childhood memories, where many fellow New Zealand children were aspiring to enter the national rugby team.

“I was really skinny when I was young,” he recounts, “so I couldn’t become the Captain of the All Blacks.” His good-natured humour really keeps one hanging on to his stories.

Later on, at the age of 12, a mountaineer mentored him and inspired him to conquer New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook. At that young age, Mark Inglis already had a burning passion for mountaineering.

Inglis then recounts the major hiccup in his life that occurred in 1982. Whilst he was scaling Mount Cook, he met with a blizzard and had to retreat into an ice cave for 13 days before being rescued. He suffered from severe frostbite and both his legs had to be amputated. He acknowledges that it was a major stumble in his life, but also reveals on how lucky he was to be still alive.

“It was on Christmas that my legs were to be amputated. I was just hoping they would just cut off my legs and get me out of here [the hospital].”

Following the operation, Inglis relied on morphine for pain relief. But he was determined not to depend on this drug that not only eliminated pain, but also took away his ability to think.

Witnessing others lead great independent lives following major setbacks really pushed Inglis to achieve his dreams. From his initial recovery process to the present, he still surprises with how well he faces reality, and how determined he was to get his life back on track.

Living a life beyond limits

“The challenge then was not how to walk again but rather, how to think again,” Inglis shares. Physical barriers did not matter to Inglis; mental ones mattered more. Instead of seeing himself as disadvantaged, Inglis learned to embrace the new changes he would face in his life and career. Inglis was fitted with prosthetic limbs and began training for mountain scaling.

“Prosthetic legs don’t make up for what you have lost, but there are also advantages. For a mountaineer with no calf muscles, I wouldn’t suffer from frostbite on my legs anymore,” Inglis acknowledges good-naturedly. His positive outlook on life, coupled with the strong will to live life the way he wants, has enabled him to recover from his hiccup, and embark on a new life of endless possibilities.

Inglis then reveals his experience of scaling Mount Everest. Faced with harsh weather conditions that were ever-changing and difficult to acclimatise, the physical strength required for the expedition took a toll on Inglis. Low oxygen levels at high altitudes forced the mountain-climbers to continually scale and descend in order to allow their bodies to adapt and to recover. Ascending the steep and rocky ice-cliffs posed a great challenge as well. Inglis was, however, determined to achieve this feat and finally reached the ‘roof of the world’ on May 15, 2006.

Descending the mountain would prove to be more demanding, as each downhill step jolted his overstressed knee stumps. Upon his (mostly) safe return, Inglis had to endure a further few centimeters shaved off his knees, together with four-and-a-half fingers amputated due to frostbite.

In light of the impossible odds Inglis faced, what was the motivating force that propelled him to take each grueling step? “I was looking forward to coming back to the family and the many responsibilities I had,” says Inglis, revealing his soft side as a dedicated family man.

There isn’t such thing as ‘can’t’; it actually means ‘won’t’ when you say it.
Instead of taking the ‘why should I do this’ attitude in life, you should ask yourself, “Why not?”

This serves as a personal encouragement for Inglis, fuelling him to take part in other sporting activities, such as the Paralympics in 2000 and attaining a silver award in racing. In addition, Inglis is also involved in the Nepal S.I.R.C. ‘Limbs 4 all’ project, which distributes hand-cycles and wheelchairs suited to endure rough terrains to physically challenged individuals.

“I get bored easily, so I need to find a new passion, and to get refreshed with more variety in life,” admits Inglis, as he shares about factors that drive him to attempt and achieve many things in different fields. His Paralympic medal and his Everest feat aside, Inglis also holds a first class honours degree in human biochemistry, and is a seasoned winemaker. That Inglis’ motivation in life is so simple, yet so powerful as to allow him to achieve what some would never expect of him, is a marvel in itself.

Takeaway points

Continually pushing forward with personal challenges, Inglis’ goal in life is to scale his true Everest – making a real difference. Everyone has an Everest – coping with challenges and relationships with people, and being able to bounce back and get on with life when one encounters obstacles – to scale. And Inglis’ life lessons and experience are something everyone can learn from to scale their own seemingly impossible heights.

One walks out of the room, having a really different outlook on life. What one takes away is more than just simple advice on keeping life going; but an intense motivation to excel and conquer our very own Everest.
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