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The Tiniest Man to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

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For one relatively unknown man, Canadian rock band Hedley interrupted their vacation after a gruelling tour to give a special performance in Vancouver. The Barenaked Ladies flew in from New York to join them, stopping their work of scoring a new Broadway show. Rick Hansen broke off celebrations of the 25th anniversary of his Man in Motion journey to roll in for the event.

All these big names punted what they were doing to show their personal support for an incredible individual: Spencer West, who this June will climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise funds to bring clean water to communities in Kenya.

Climbing Kilimanjaro isn't particularly unique. It's an accomplishment, absolutely, but thousands of people do it every year. However they have all had something West does not: legs.

Spencer is 2''7 in height, with no lower body below the pelvis. What he lacks in limbs, he more than makes up for in tenacity.

The first time we met West he was the tiniest man we had ever seen roaring up in a wheelchair. It screeched to a halt and he launched like a ball from a cannon, executing a handspring and landing in this astounding pose with his whole body balanced on one hand, while the other thrust upwards to shake our hands.

Today Toronto is his home, but when West was born in 1981 in Rock Springs, Wyoming, the first thing the doctor said as he handed West's father his newborn son was, "It's a boy."

The second thing he said was, "But we have a problem."

The family was sent to the medical facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, where tests revealed that baby West had a severe form of sacral agenesis, a rare deformity of the spine.

The entire base of West's backbone was missing and the prognosis was poor. One doctor warned that West would likely not survive past his teenage years. Another said the boy would have to spend his life sedentary.

West's parents decided then they would redefine what was possible.

By the age of two, West had taught himself to walk on his hands. In his autobiography Standing Tall, West claims he could get to the kitchen, grab a snack, and be back in front of the TV watching Scooby Doo before his fully-abled friend had poured himself a glass of milk.

By six, West had twice undergone surgery, having his legs amputated to right below his pelvis.
Being short two limbs didn't hold West back from anything, even athletics.

West's high school was big on sports. As West jokes, at 2''7 he wasn't exactly qualified for the basketball team, and as for football, it's hard to play when you're scarcely bigger than the ball. So West became a cheerleader.

In no time West was famous for his cartwheels. In 1998, he helped his team bring home their first State Cheerleading Championship. After their win, West told a TV interviewer, "If I want to do something, I do it. I will always find a way to do it!"

West has risen so powerfully, with such boundless energy, that everyone he meets gets uplifted as well.

In 2002, West was working in a clothing store in Salt Lake City. One cold January day local TV anchor Reed Cowan came in to the store in a black mood. Within minutes, West's irresistible charm and enthusiasm had dragged Cowan out of his funk.

The pair became friends and in 2008 Cowan invited West to join him on a trip to build a school in Kenya. The Kenyan children were fascinated by him. Then one little girl spoke up: "You know, I didn't know that things like this happened to white people."

West had taught the children that people everywhere face challenges, and can overcome them.

"The borders and limitations that we've grown up with as people have been learned," commented Jacob Hoggard, Hedley's lead singer. "By breaking that mould, Spencer is essentially empowering all of us to see that potential within ourselves."

This June, West will undertake his tallest challenge yet: climbing Africa's highest mountain.

Talking about the climb, Rick Hansen said, "What Spencer is doing with his journey is helping us all to look at the obstacles we may face and realize that it is often a state of mind and that we can redefine our own possibilities."

That's why we joined Hedley, the Barenaked Ladies, Rick Hansen, and a whole restaurant full of people in Vancouver: to support this amazing man on his incredible journey. In coming weeks, we will write more about our amazing friend as he continues to redefine what's possible.