Some 15 years ago, it was easy to spot young Spencer West among the crowd of teenagers dancing at a Catholic Youth Organization event in Rock Springs.
At first you thought he was a child. Upon closer inspection, you realized he was dancing on his hands. He had no legs and the lower half of his body appeared to be missing.
The story of this Wyoming native is one about refusing to give in to disability.
He gained fame this year climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a 19,300-foot high volcano in Tanzania to show folks that sometimes the impossible can be done. And to also to raise money for the Free the Children charity that he now works for in Canada.
He started the climb wearing his trademark tee shirt “Redefine Possible.” The incredible climb required 20,000 steps, which he made with his hands over the arduous rocks and trails. He finished it wearing a parka.
To truly appreciate what he went through, please Google “Nelly Furtado Spencer West” and watch the video that the singer made using footage of Spencer’s incredible climb. The name of the song is Spirit Indestructible, which perfectly captures the life of our Wyoming native.
Following that climb, he was interviewed on both of the CBS Nightly News and the CBS This Morning shows on July 19.
His goal was to raise $750,000 for Free the Children, and based on the press he has received, hopefully he is getting close. So far, over half a million dollars has come in.
Standing just two feet, seven inches tall on his hands, West is a physical miracle. He only weighs 72 pounds.
He was born to parents Kenny and Tonette West in Rock Springs with a disease called sacrelagenesis, which is an abnormality of the spine and resulted in the amputation of his legs when he was five.
Despite what happened to him, his parents made sure he had a normal childhood. He says he was born in the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese calendar, and he was like a monkey swinging around and walking and dancing on his hands. He was a member of Rock Springs’ state champion cheerleading squad, acted in school plays and was named outstanding student by his peers at graduation.
After college and a good job, he still felt unfulfilled. A friend had been working in Africa and urged him to come along and help build a school in Kenya.
During that first trip to Africa, he encountered young people who were not shy about asking him, “What happened to your legs?”
But what most struck him was when one little African girl said to him, “I didn’t know bad things like that happened to white people.” That one comment was a turning point in his life. He decided he had found his mission.
What could he do to help raise money for these poor African children?
Thus, the idea for the climb came about. Some 25,000 people start at the bottom of Kilimanjaro each year but just 10,000 make it to the top. Could Spencer West, with his crushing disability, actually pull off such a feat?
His upper body strength is amazing.
According to his book Standing Tall: My Journey, his heroes when growing up were Superman and Batman. His favorite mythical hero was Hercules, which is fitting. The man has Herculean strength.
But he also has a sense of humor. He often tells people that the bottom half of his body was accidentally sawed off in a magician trick.
Or he was swimming and the sharks got him.
Or he left the other half of him home. Put it somewhere and still hasn’t found it!
What makes West so amazing has been his ability to overcome so daunting a handicap that he is now in demand as a public speaker. He spends most of his time giving motivational talks and raising money for his charity.
During an event for Free the Children charity, he shared the stage with folks like former Vice-President Al Gore, the Dalai Lama, Dr. Jane Goodall and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Some 18,000 people attended the charity’s big event last spring.
Spencer West is now doing what he does best – inspiring people, both with disabilities and without them. His message is that no matter what bad thing befalls you, with determination, you can make it turn out all right.
At the young age of 31, the miracle baby has grown up a miracle worker.