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'Prosthetics helped me beat Kilimanjaro'

By Warren Macdonald for CNN

Warren Macdonald climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and El Capitan in the U.S.





(CNN) -- Warren Macdonald had both legs amputated above the knees after a climbing accident. But by modifying or trying out new types of prosthetics, he was soon back on top of the world. This is his story:

It seems funny to think about it now, but prior to 1997 I wasn't at all interested in technology. In fact, until that point, I hadn't even clicked a mouse, and was proud not to have. How things have changed.

In April 1997, I'd set out to climb Mt. Bowen, the tallest peak on Hinchinbrook Island, off the north-east Australian coast with a hiker I'd met the day before.

We'd spent all day climbing, hiking and wading our way up the mountain when we set up camp for the night. I was walking nearby when I heard a huge crack.

I spent the next 45 hours pinned under a one-tonne slab of rock, including 35 hours alone after my partner left to raise the alarm. I was taken to hospital, where both my legs were amputated above the knees.

I am a fairly high-level amputee, with one stump measuring less than six inches. But as I began my recovery I remember thinking: "I grew up watching the 'Six Million Dollar Man.' I'll get a new pair of legs!"

I did learn how to walk again, albeit very slowly, with the aid of canes. But it wasn't enough -- I felt restricted and severely limited in where I could use them, so I changed tactics.

I modified a wheelchair, put some extra padding in a pair of bike shorts, and dragged myself up a 1,454m mountain in Tasmania, southern Australia. The experience totally energized me.

By February 2003 I had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (5895m), and later that year I'd conquered El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, North America's tallest cliff face (850 vertical meters), as well as the 180m frozen waterfall "Weeping Wall" in Alberta, Canada.

I knew full-length prosthetics weren't going to work for me in the mountains, but I thought there had to be a better way than shuffling along on my backside.

Together with Kevin Carol of Hanger Prosthetics in Oklahoma City, I developed a modified pair of short prostheses that, combined with a pair of "sawn-off" crutches, gave me incredible mobility through even the most difficult terrain. But I still used a wheelchair to get around.

Then a flippant, off-hand question at Hanger opened up an entirely new world.

Cameron Clapp, an amazing young guy who got run over by a train a few years ago, losing both legs and an arm, had been using C-Legs ever since I'd known him. I hadn't considered them suitable for me as I knew they were heavier than anything else I'd used.

Even so, as Cameron sat in the room opposite me, his legs dismantled beside him, I asked if I could take his C-Legs for a walk.

Minutes later they were bolted on. Immediately, something was different. I could stand up straight -- something I'd never dared with any other device without fear of toppling over backwards. I took a few steps within the parallel bars, but Cameron urged me to keep going.

I'd never walked without a cane since the accident, but with a newly found confidence I strolled out into the open room. It's impossible to put into words the total liberation that I felt.

It still blows me away now as I travel the world, minus the wheelchair, minus the laptop (I now carry a PDA instead), complete with iPod.

Not only have I embraced technology; now it has literally embraced me.

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