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Chris Waddell’s journey: On a roll

Chris Waddell and his crew summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in September with the help of local porters. (Photo by Mike Stoner)
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A picture is worth 1,000 words. In some cases, it’s worth 19,340 feet.

On Thursday, May 27, the Kimball Art Center will present an inspiring art talk with local Paralympian Chris Waddell and the team that made his latest feat – summiting the world’s tallest freestanding mountain – possible.

Waddell and Mike Stoner, one of the cameramen/photographers who documented his journey up Mount Kilimanjaro, will show slides from the climb and share the story – from the base of the mountain, through the difficulties of failed equipment, adverse conditions and heartbreak, to the epiphany of faded dreams and the summit.

They’ll also talk about how summiting the "roof of Africa" is just the beginning of a long uphill battle.

"Summiting Kilimanjaro: Chris Waddell’s Historic Climb" starts at 6 p.m. at the Kimball. The event in sponsored in part by Summit Sotheby’s International Realty. Stoner’s photographs will be on display and available for order.

Waddell and Stoner met many years ago while Waddell was in training for the Paralympics and Stoner was training an adaptive ski team. "He and I became fast friends," Stoner says. "It was a natural dovetailing for him to contact me when he started thinking about [his foundation,] One Revolution."

The concept of One Revolution is multifold: the climb and the documentary are the central components, but the bigger picture involves launching an educational program and donating wheelchairs/handcycles to help spread the mobility revolution in developing countries.

"The documentary is the vehicle for sharing the journey," Waddell explains. "The worst thing would be to do the climb and then nobody ever sees it. The photos really tell the story."

Editors are currently in the process of whittling down more than 200 hours of footage into about an hour-and-a-half-long film. The team plans to submit the finished project to various film festivals, including Sundance. An educational tour is also in the works.

When Waddell approached Stoner about documenting his attempt to become the first paraplegic to complete the Kilimanjaro ascent unassisted, the photographer was quick to jump on board. "My immediate reaction was, ‘Let’s go.’ I was excited."

Waddell used a four-wheeled, arm-powered handcycle to tackle the climb. "Filming a guy climbing a mountain wasn’t that interesting in itself, but filming a guy climbing Kilimanjaro on a handcycle was altogether different," says Stoner.

Kilimanjaro encompasses all five of the earth’s major eco-zones – rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and glaciers. It lies three degrees south of the equator, yet its peak remains coated with snow year-round.

The unique challenges of Waddell’s climb included positioning boards for traction in slick areas, keeping the omnipresent dust particles off the camera equipment, and maneuvering the handcycle over VW bus-sized boulders near the summit.

The team – Waddell, Stoner, cameraman Pat Reddish, director Amanda Stoddard, audio coordinator Ryan Gass and expedition leader Dave Penney – was accompanied at all times by a group of local porters, or guides.

"It was a physically demanding shoot," Stoner says. He and Reddish leapfrogged up the mountain, positioning themselves ahead of Waddell in order to capture footage at all stages. He estimates that he and Reddish each climbed the mountain two and a half times.

Waddell reached the summit in seven days. Although he doesn’t consider his climb completely "unassisted" because he had to be hoisted over some of the boulders, he acknowledges that wasn’t the most important goal of the journey.

"You set a goal like this to learn about yourself," he says. Once he let go of his fixation with completing the climb "unassisted," he recognized that a shared victory is more important than a personal victory. "It really is more about the journey rather than making the summit," he says.

Stoner is excited to use the footage from the climb to bring issues from Tanzania to the U.S. Behind the lens, he was able to see Waddell’s accomplishment through the eyes of the porters and other locals who had never seen anything like what he was doing. He hopes that element of surprise will inspire people to change the way they look at those with disabilities.

In terms of the photos being considered art, Stoner admits that taking a beautiful picture was not in the front of his mind while he was climbing. "The environment – not the art – is what informs the shot," he says. But the environment is so spectacular that it’s difficult to filter the beauty from even the most grueling moments on film.

"I’d be really disappointed if it wasn’t art," says Waddell. The goal in art is for the viewer to become the protagonist, he says. "My journey is your journey. I want people to see themselves in what I’m doing."

The top priorities for One Revolution at this point are sharing Waddell’s story and spreading the message about its goals to manufacture and distribute handcycles in developing countries.

"I think the biggest thing right now is for something to catch," Waddell says. Once the gears are set in motion, he hopes the project’s course will take on a domino-like effect.

The organization is in need of financial support to help realize its potential. "Maybe a beautiful photograph can catch someone’s eye and inspire someone to give," Stoner says.

The art talk at the Kimball is free and open to the public. It will be followed by open mic night at the Alpine Internet Café in the Kimball’s Garage Gallery. For details about upcoming events at the Kimball, visit http://www.kimballartcenter.org . To find out more about the One Revolution Foundation, visit http://www.one-revolution.com .


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