Cloud Walkers reach peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

A remarkable journey by a San Antonio-area group ended Tuesday at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. Reaching that peak would be an incredible achievement for anyone. But this team of climbers had an additional burden as its members made the 16,000-foot climb.

They are amputees, having overcome the loss of arms or legs to injury or disease.

The group, named Cloud Walkers, is made up of members of the San Antonio Amputee Foundation. University Health System is a major sponsor of the expedition, which includes former patients and volunteers.

The group began the climb Dec. 29. The last day, starting at midnight, was the most physically and mentally challenging, covering one of the steepest sections. They made a six- to seven-hour journey to Stella Point to witness the sunrise, followed by an additional one-hour trek to Uhuru Peak, at the very summit.

Among the group is Johnny Martinez, 23, a mechanic who lost a leg in a car crash north of San Antonio while returning home from a barbecue. He spent 45 days in University Hospital, much of it in the ICU.

“He’s a very outgoing, fearless, vibrant, willing-to-do-anything kind of guy,” said his mother, Melissa Martinez of Harper, a small town north of Kerrville. “Since his accident, he’s amazed all of us with his recovery, his attitude. The way he looked at life after the accident is exactly the same as before.”

The group is led by Foundation director Mona Patel, who often counsels new amputees at University Hospital.

The group has been training throughout the year at area parks, hiking under difficult conditions to prepare for Kilimanjaro.

Tom Allred, a double amputee who volunteers at University Hospital, put in hours of grueling training before deciding not to make the trip with the others after experiencing some health problems. He has been communicating with the group via satellite phone and posting updates to their Facebook page.

“I told myself, I’m going to prepare as best I can,” Mr. Allred said in an interview last spring. “And if it comes down to the final decision-making point and I’m really not capable of doing it, I will have lost nothing because I will be in better physical condition that I would otherwise have been.”

You can read about their progress on their Facebook page. You can meet the individual Cloud Walkers on the San Antonio Amputee Foundation website. Here’s a story about the Cloud Walkers and their long preparations from KSAT-TV.