Ascending Mountains

American Airlines Pilot Steve Connolly has long been inspired by images of mountains — what they symbolize and the challenges they present in life.

 He has responded by organizing a mission with a monumental goal: to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa with six friends, all of whom are amputees.

The retired Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel began flying Super 80s with American 22 years ago. He now flies the Boeing 767 internationally to the Caribbean and South America. “I gave up coaching lacrosse so I could fly the 767s,” he says.

Connolly’s motivation for organizing the mountain-climbing team that he calls the Kilimanjaro Warriors is the desire to aid wounded veterans in their rehabilitation process. “When you achieve a monumental task, it becomes a motivator to continue the challenge of living a fulfilling life,” he says.

The team consists of Connolly, six amputee veterans, a spouse of one of the veterans, a physical therapist and a cameraman to document the climb.

For advice on the physical challenges the amputees — one of whom will be climbing with crutches — will undergo, Connolly contacted the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, which provides state-of-the-art amputee rehabilitation. There he spoke to physical therapist Mark Heniser. Heniser will accompany the team on the eight-day climb up Kilimanjaro, whose peak reaches an altitude of greater than 19,000 feet. 

Training together as often as possible, the team recently gathered for hiking in Flagstaff, Ariz., where they encountered rain, hail and lightning — elements they likely will experience on the expedition. The climbers are working hard to prepare for achieving their challenging goal. “I am so honored to know these people,” he says. “They are living their lives to the fullest.”

The Kilimanjaro Warriors will begin their climb Feb. 10, 2014. To follow their journey or find more information, visit www.kilimanjarowarriors.com.

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