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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Amazing People, Incredible Odds
Aired July 27, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the first blind person ever to reach the top of Mount Everest.
ERIK WEIHENMAYER, LOST SIGHT AT 13, FIRST BLIND PERSON TO REACH TOP OF MT. EVEREST: You know, a lot of people talk about climbing mountains for the view and I don't really buy it.
KING: Plus, she was given a 15 percent chance of survival when a deadly infection left her a triple amputee at age eight. And now she's about to become a doctor herself.
Where did it come from, this grit?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I don't know where it came from, but I'm so happy I have it.
KING: And a record-setting amputee athlete left quadriplegic by a second near fatal accident. But that still won't stop him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I was sitting here losing my leg and breaking my neck and a calling to engage people.
KING: Extraordinary people defying unbelievable odds, their unforgettable stories are next on "LARRY KING LIVE".
Thanks for joining us tonight as we meet inspirational people who have overcome incredible adversity to achieve the amazing, even the historic.
First up is Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. He lost his sight at the age of 13. He's an accomplished paraglider and skydiver, skier, cyclist and marathon runner, and the author of two books, "Catch The Top of the World" and "The Adversity Advantage."
How did you lose your sight, Erik?
WEIHENMAYER: I lost my sight from this rare eye disease called retinoschisis when I was 14 years old. It was right before my freshman year in high school.
KING: So not only are you blind, but you had the unfortunate adversity of having seen.
EDWARDS: Yes, and so that did create a period of adversity, for sure, because there was time when I -- I was trying to rebound as a blind person. And I didn't know what my future held for me. So I kind of denied the fact that I was going blind. I kind of just wished it away.
And I was walking down a dock one day and I wasn't using my long white cane like everyone told me I should and I took a step and did a flip in the air and I landed on my back on the deck of a boat. And I remember thinking, OK, you've got to become a pragmatist and you've got to figure out what it takes to -- to do the best you can as a blind person, because otherwise you're going to kill yourself.
KING: All right, how did you come to terms with it?
How did you deal with depression, which had to occur?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, you know, I was never afraid to go blind, you know, and to like see darkness or anything like that. I think that's a myth.
What I was most afraid of at that age was -- was sort being swept to the sidelines and forgotten, that, you know, I'd be obsolete, that I would just be listening to life go by.
And so, luckily, I had great friends and I had great teachers and good support systems. And then I got this newsletter one day in Braille of a group taking blind kids rock climbing. And I -- and I thought, you know, who would be crazy enough to take blind kids rock climbing?
So I signed up and I tried rock climbing for the first time. And it was perfect for me. I mean I -- I was doing pull-ups up the rock face and feeling my way up and using my mind to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B on this rock face.
KING: Now, you lost your mother early on, right, when you were quite young?
Your father had a lot to do with raising you, right?
WEIHENMAYER: Yes. I went blind at 13 and then I lost my mom at about 16. And so, you know, I was just kind of rebounding, starting to figure out how to exist and be successful as a blind person and then my mom died in a car accident. And, so definitely that was way more painful than -- than going blind.
And, yes, my dad was a really great -- you know, before that he was a typical dad, but after that he sort of became, you know, Mr. Mom. He kind of was -- was there, you know, cooking meals before he left for work in the morning and he never missed any of my wrestling matches. I wrestled in high school. So, yes, he was terrific.
KING: How did you come to climb Everest?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, after I went climbing when I was 16, I mean I just kept climbing. And I remember I was about -- I had to Arizona, where I was a teacher at the time, and I was a weekend warrior climbing in the desert in Arizona. And I had a good friend who I climbed with and he belayed me to the top of this beautiful rock tower in Phoenix. And he said hey, Erik, we should try something a little bigger.
And I thought like what? Like a 200-foot rock face?
And he said how about Mount McKinley?
And that's a, you know, a 20,000 foot mountain in Alaska.
And so we trained like crazy and we went to Mount Rainier and to Longs Peak and all these great mountains. And I -- we failed on every single one of them, but when we got to McKinley that summer, you know, we had learned a ton and we summited -- I remember we summited June 27th. It was Helen Keller's birthday.
And after that, I just kept working my way around the world to all these peaks and eventually to Everest in 2001.
KING: Your historic climb was captured in an Emmy award winning documentary called "Farther Than the Eye Can See," which also earned him a "Time" magazine cover story. The film raised over $600,000 for charitable organizations.
How can -- do you get the exhilaration when you don't see?
WEIHENMAYER: Yes, I mean I do definitely get exhilaration because I mean, you know, a lot of people talk about climbing mountains for the view. And I don't really buy it, you know?
I may be biased, but I don't believe it. I mean I think -- I wonder, then, why do people climb up a peak?
Why do they pick the hardest way up?
I think it's the experience that you're looking for, it's the aesthetic experience of climbing, of swinging your tool into the ice, of being with friends, of feeling the wind in your face, the sun in your face. I mean it's just a beautiful experience, the mountains.
And, also, you have to problem solve your way up the mountain and you have to really work together as a great team.
So for me, that -- all that experience just really, you know, trumps the view from the summit.
KING: By the way, Erik married his long time sweetheart at 13,000 feet during a climb out of Mount Kilimanjaro.
You're an unusual guy, Erik.
Do you have any children?
WEIHENMAYER: I do. I have a daughter named Emma. And she turned seven on Tuesday. So she's a little climber herself.
KING: Does she -- how does she deal with a blind father?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, I told my wife that I -- after I got home from Everest, I said I can't change diapers because I'm blind, and she didn't -- she didn't believe it.
WEIHENMAYER: But she -- but I -- I would things like I, you know, I'd give her those little squeaky shoes when she was a baby so I'd be able to hear.
My wife and some teachers that I know helped put Candy Land in Braille. I have card games in Braille. We have a big wrestling mat downstairs.
So, you know, I was really afraid, as a blind father, that I wouldn't be able to really be fully into the experience of being a dad with my daughter.
And so I've really worked on a lot of systems to be a bit later to -- to be a part of her life.
KING: Do you call yourself a pioneer?
WEIHENMAYER: I like to think of myself as a pioneer. And I think it's neat to of all ourselves as pioneers because -- and it doesn't necessarily, in my mind mean, you know, you're climbing scary first ascents or rocketing to Mars.
I think what being a pioneer in the modern world, in my opinion, means is that you're motivated from within and you're motivated by challenges and you push forward, you know?
Because I think a lot of times, the world's expectations have this funny way of turning into barriers. And so I really try to turn within rather than being motivated externally.
KING: Now we're going to take a break.
When we come back, we're going to talk to you about skydiving, marathons, climbing frozen waterfalls, paragliding, snow skiing, surfing and parachuting.
And what does he do in his spare time?
We'll be right back.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FARTHER THAN THE EYE CAN SEE," COURTESY OUTSIDE TELEVISION AND SERAC ADVENTURE FILMS)
WEIHENMAYER: Sometimes people say if you can't see the mountain, why do you climb it?
What's the point?
Right now I'm feeling the wind, you know, the wind shifting, blowing up against my hands, blowing on my face, blowing through my hair. You know, there's these big mountains around us that are just huge. I can hear the -- sort of the echo off of them and I can tell we're sort of -- we're way down below them. So I get a lot of the scenery, it's just not visual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FARTHER THAN THE EYE CAN SEE," COURTESY OUTSIDE TELEVISION AND SERAC ADVENTURE FILMS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're 50 meters from the summit. Over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on the top. (INAUDIBLE).
I can't believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did it, man.
So many people doubted you. You showed them.
You showed them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Incredible stories tonight.
And we've begun with Erik Weihenmayer.
How do you do that?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, when I skydive, I have -- I have these things in my ears called ditters (ph). They beep at certain altitudes to tell me when to pull my chute. And once I've pulled my chute, I have a person on the ground whop talks me down via radio. I have two radios hanging on my neck just in case one fails. And if both those fail, then I have, you know, then my instructor on the ground has a bullhorn.
You've got to have backup systems. It's not about being crazy, you know?
KING: How do you run a marathon?
WEIHENMAYER: Usually, the marathons I've run, I've bungee corded myself to my partner. And it's definitely kind of disconcerting for a guy when he's running down the -- down the road and he sees a blind guy bungee corded to another guy like flying by him.
So it's -- I've -- I've had a lot of fun doing that, as well as adventure racing, which is this sport where -- the hardest one I did was called Primal Quest. It was a nine day adventure race, 460 miles, you know, mountain biking, running, caving, climbing, all these -- rafting -- all of these different sports combined. And we -- we were actually able to cross the finish line.
KING: You climb frozen water falls?
WEIHENMAYER: Yes. And at first that was something -- I wasn't really sure whether I'd be able to do or not, because, you know, when you have these sharp heavy metal tools in your hands, you can't swing them indiscriminately at the ice. You know, you'll knock a giant sized chunk of ice down that will crush you.
So I mean obviously I didn't want that. So I learned that I could take my tool and kind of scan it across the face and use it as an extension of my hand and feel through the tips of my tools and tap the ice face and feel the vibration through the ice.
And so by tapping the ice, I know whether it's good to be a good swing or a bad swing.
KING: Are you a daredevil?
WEIHENMAYER: No, I really don't see myself as a daredevil, you know?
I mean I think it's easy, you know, as a blind guy, just be like a blind Evel Knievel, you know, getting yourself shot across the Grand Canyon in a rocket, you know, ship, or something.
I've never seen myself as a risk taker. I've seen myself -- for me, the exciting part is being a problem solver, being an innovator, trying to figure out how am I going to do this.
Maybe it's something the word sees as impossible or improbable, but, you know, how do I figure out a creative way of doing it?
And to me that's -- that sense of innovation is where it's at.
KING: You surf?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, I've just surfed as a novice.
You're just an amateur at that?
WEIHENMAYER: Yes. The last time I went surfing, I crashed into a big pile of rocks, so. I'm no expert there.
KING: You formed an organization called No Barriers, a non-profit organization to promote innovative ideas.
How does it work?
WEIHENMAYER: Well, we -- we've been running these festivals around the world. Really, we bring together all these amazing innovations and approaches and ideas that help people with disabilities live full and active lives and push through barriers in their lives. We bring in a scientist who has invented prosthetic legs with computer chips in the knees and the ankle joints. We bring in paraplegics who have invented mountain bikes so paraplegics can get off road and mountain bike through the backcountry.
It's just a -- a sharing of ideas, lots of pioneers who have come together and share the latest and greatest ideas.
KING: You've won an Espy award, the cover of "Time" magazine, inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement, Nike's Casey Martin Award.
Erik, I salute you.
And thank you for joining us on this night where we salute a few people who do amazing things.
WEIHENMAYER: Thank you.
KING: Eric Weihenmayer in Philadelphia.
When we come back, Jim MacLaren, the former amputee marathon and Hawaiian Ironman record holder, who survived two near fatal accidents, leaving him the first left him an amputee and eight years later, a quadriplegic.
You won't believe what you're going to see.
Don't go away.
KING: We now welcome Jim MacLaren to LARRY KING LIVE.
Jim was a 22-year-old Scholar Athlete, a Yale graduate, when he lost his left leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident.
He recovered and went on to set records in the marathon and Hawaii Ironman has an amputee.
Eight years later, during the cycling portion of the Orange County Ironman, Jim was struck by a van, collided with a signpost, rendering him a paraplegic.
You must say why me, not once, but twice?
JIM MACLAREN, AMPUTEE MARATHONER NOW QUADRIPLEGIC AFTER TWO NEAR- FATAL ACCIDENTS: Initially, I had a buddy from Yale come down and I cried, which I didn't do a lot of in those days. And I thought I don't know if I can do it.
But, I mentor now and even a mentor needs a mentor. And I was very fortunate to have a mentor then. And he said, you know what, Jim?
The word why is never going to help you, because you need to get on with your life anyway.
So I was fortunate to get that out of the way.
KING: All right, why, after the first accident, did you bother to compete at all?
MACLAREN: My psyche changed a little bit. I was doing team sports, football at Yale, all-American lacrosse player, also acting, which was a little bit of a paradox on both sides of the fence, I guess.
And then lost my legs and it was just to see what I could do. It wasn't about competing. It was -- I started swimming for rehabilitation. I could take my prosthesis off and then weight started dropping off and I went from 300 pounds to 188 pounds. And I was, in those days, Larry, the prosthetics weren't made very well, so a lot of cutting and bleeding on my stump. And I started bicycling to class and I thought let's see how far I can bike.
And it sounds silly, but when you never realize that when you bike 25 miles out, you need to...
KING: Come back.
MACLAREN: ...come back, so.
KING: What do you remember about that first accident?
MACLAREN: Well, really, the joy of a -- of that crisp autumn evening in New York City. I blacked out when I was hit by the bus. It shows the power of the human spirit, though. I was in a coma and I woke up really disoriented, but I saw that my left leg was gone and I said to myself, after the white light experience and the whole bit I said, OK, cool, your left leg is gone. And I went back to sleep.
Now, the next day when the doctors come in and your girlfriend comes in and you realize that my speech has been affected and then the -- this small little thing we call the ego in the brain which serves us, but also can be -- then I started freaking out.
But initially -- and this is what I try to tell everyone that I speak to, is that the human spirit, it just accepts and moves forward.
And I'm a 44-year-old work in progress, but that -- that I do know, is...
KING: Your fault or the bus's?
MACLAREN: It's pretty conclusive evidence it was the bus's fault. It was a Sunday evening on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, so no -- no witnesses.
KING: Did you always have a passion for sports?
MACLAREN: Yes. Yes.
KING: So did you know pretty soon you were going to compete?
MACLAREN: One day I walked into the Yale bookstore. And I had been cycling and swimming. And I picked up a book on triathlons. And I don't know what this says about my personality -- maybe -- my buddy Doug -- Doug Wright from Yale, who's a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and screenwriter -- he -- he once said to me I always try to rise to the top of whatever situation.
And I immediately went to the last chapter on this thing called the Ironman, which I thought they were crazy back when I played football. And I was already doing, at the times, I was thinking, OK, if I walked the whole marathon, because I had never run. So it was...
KING: The triathlon is the toughest of all events, is it not?
KING: That's a superior athlete.
MACLAREN: And especially in Hawaii, because you're doing the...
MACLAREN: ...the distances -- well, the temperature coming off the -- the -- you do two -- a two-and-a-half mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. By the time you get to the marathon, it can be 130 degrees coming up off the asphalt. So it's just hot, windy, very, very difficult.
KING: All right, that next accident, which would have -- most people -- you must have had some severe depression, right?
You said you cried a little, right?
KING: What bounced you back?
MACLAREN: Two things. Laughter, the first time I laughed at the rehabilitation center. And the second thing was I woke up one morning and I looked out at the sunrise and I thought, you know, what, MacLaren?
I'll bet you that sun is as beautiful, if not more so, than it was six months ago, when you were considered a big stud triathlete world champion. And those two things got me through.
And then just -- now, it's -- I don't know if you remember the Espies in '05, but when Oprah Winfrey presented us with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, myself and my brother from Ghana, she talked about choosing life. I knew, a 10-minute standing ovation -- n I'm humble enough now, Larry, to know that it's not about Jim MacLaren. There's something bigger going on here, magical.
And I started my own foundation and choose living. I mean and that's my -- that's what keeps me going.
KING: More of the magic with Jim MacLaren right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY: Faced with tragedies that would destroy most people, Jim and Emmanuel did more than just survive -- they thrived. They refused to live their lives as passive victims. In having the courage to choose life, Jim MacLaren and Emmanuel Osofu Yaboah continue to give new life to those around the world who need it most.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with the extraordinary Jim MacLaren.
By the way, he has a Web site. You might want to contact him on it. It's www.chooseliving -- that's one word -- chooseliving.com...
MACLAREN: .org, actually.
KING: .org. I'm sorry.
MACLAREN: No, thank you, Larry.
KING: It says .com.
We made a mistake.
KING: The first mistake since 1983.
KING: And his phone number is 717-431-5505.
I hope we've got that right.
MACLAREN: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Why are you raising money for Alex Hermstead (ph)?
MACLAREN: Alex Hermstead -- when we talk about the magic, the mission statement was difficult to peg down because people write in, from CEOs who have addiction problems or depression problems, to someone like Alex Hermstead, who is dying from -- is 13-years-old in Iowa...
KING: A girl, right?
MACLAREN: A girl, dirt poor, twin sister. Doctors don't know why she's dying. She's dying. And just, as a fledgling beginning of our foundation, we sent them $500. And they acted like it was the best thing in the world, you know, just trying to help them pay some bills.
And so we help people through -- like Alex -- through inspiration, accessibility, mentoring, and, when necessary, financial or educational. And we've done it to people -- thanks to people like you, it opens up my world so I'm able to reach the world.
KING: How do you earn a living?
MACLAREN: I do motivational speaking pretty much -- that I do full-time. And then I also do life coaching and mentoring when I'm at home, which my body a lot of times, although I've received a lot of my movement back, it leads to a lot of inconsistency with my health. So I can do a lot on the phone and a lot over the computer.
KING: Are you married?
MACLAREN: I'm single.
KING: How do you compete now?
What do you compete in?
MACLAREN: Well, now -- believe it or not, I -- people always find it funny that other things happen after you have two accidents.
I had a rotator cuff surgery after I broke my neck and it didn't do well. So my competing now...
KING: (INAUDIBLE) didn't work for you, right?
My fitness now is just my own personal fitness. I have a recumbent bicycle I can ride indoors. I have a few abdominal muscles that have returned, so I do -- from the moment I wake up -- I wake up in more pain than I even -- I love words and I don't even have a metaphor for it.
So I do leg lifts. And I just start engaging life as soon as I can. So suddenly the bed becomes an exercise mat. The four hour routine with my caregivers to get ready in the morning, you know, like this morning with my buddy Scott, who brought me up here and -- that -- I make a game of that, you know?
I mean and -- like my good friend, Senator -- former Senator Bob Kerrey said -- we were interview once and he was asked if he thought his accidents had been gifts, like I had.
He hesitated for a second. And he said I agree with Jim, but I think it's a gift I'd like to wake out without some mornings.
And I think we could probably all say that about...
KING: No kidding.
MACLAREN: Yes, I mean we're all...
KING: Kirk Douglas has been a friend to you, right?
MACLAREN: He has. He has. We met three days before his helicopter accident. And we just had a heart to heart for three-and-a-half, four hours. And I told him -- I handed him my leg. I said I wouldn't trade it. It's been a gift.
And ever since then, he's been -- it's an inspiration to me when anybody goes deep inside themselves and -- and gets, you know, Socrates said that an unexamined life is a life not worth living. And he -- had had -- he has the courage to go back and look at himself and call himself on his own B.S. in some ways, and to grow.
And what he and Ann have done the parks and the children all around the world, both here and in Israel -- he came to visit me in the hospital when I broke my neck.
JIM MACLAREN, AMPUTEE MARATHONER: ... and call himself on his own B.S. in some ways and the girl. And what he and Ann have done with the parks and the children all around the world both here and in Israel. He came to visit me in the hospital when I broke my neck.
LARRY KING, HOST: Do you feel blessed?
MACLAREN: Yes, I do.
KING: You don't feel cursed?
MACLAREN: Not at all. Not at all.
KING: It would be easy to understand if you said cursed.
MACLAREN: I know. I know and that's it. It's, you know -- what is it "The Shawshank Redemption," right? It's get busy limping or get busy dying. And I just -- I have to get up every day.
And call it crazy but I know I'm not going to die. And I believe -- I just lost a very young friend, 13 years old, Katie (ph). She just died of inoperable brain cancer. This young woman -- her one wish -- she saw the ESPY tape and she wanted to meet Jim Maclaren. So my buddy from Yale flew her whole family down to meet me.
So I was sent here to lose my leg and break my neck and a calling to engage people. And she was sent here to do what she did in 13 years. I mean that's sad but she changed lives. KING: You're a great man. Great meeting you.
MACLAREN: Thank you. It's an honor to meet you.
KING: My pleasure. No, it's my honor.
Jim Maclaren. For more information about his foundation or anything you want to learn, www.chooseliving.org or you can call 717- 431-5505.
We'll be back with more. Don't go anyway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN SHERET, ENDURANCE CYCLIST & AMPUTEE: I'm going to start here in Washington D.C. today and I first go to Atlanta. From there I cycle -- in 66 days I have to be in British Columbia. From there it's off to Australia, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, South Korea and to the Soviet Union. And then from there I'm going to be making my way to the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERET: The quantity of people that are losing limbs every day, land mines are still sitting there maiming and injuring and killing men, women and children indiscriminately around the world.
What I'm trying to do on this trip is create awareness for the -- literally the hundreds of thousands of amputees that have to -- throughout the world that do not have the ability even to have a simple prosthetic limb.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Amazing stories of courage tonight.
The next one no more amazing than the rest. Dan Sheret, endurance cyclist and amputee, he recently embarked on a global trek some 16,000 miles across four continents to raise aid and awareness for amputees and land mine victims across the world.
How did you lose your leg?
SHERET: Well, Larry, actually it was a simple accident. I jumped three feet off a -- over a fence in my rural property in Oregon and shattered it. Two years later, I had it amputated.
KING: What were you doing jumping over the fence?
SHERET: Well, I was -- it's -- the contrary I was actually getting a plastic bag out of my neighbor's fence.
KING: Simple thing like that?
SHERET: Simple thing.
KING: How old were you?
SHERET: At the time I was 38. And then...
KING: So you had a full life of walking?
SHERET: Very much so. I was a custom furniture maker. At the age of 40 I made the decision to have my leg amputated.
KING: They gave you a choice?
SHERET: A choice of that or five to seven years of reconstructive surgery with about a 25 percent chance of success.
KING: So you got an artificial leg?
SHERET: I do. And I make it my own. I make it myself.
KING: You make your own leg?
SHERET: Yes, we do. Yes. I have been trained as a prosthetic technician so that it's part of the journey that I'm doing is to be able to -- I'm not only be able to create awareness around the world but to physically be able to use the talent I have and make artificial limbs for people.
KING: What led to this bike ride?
SHERET: Well, this is actually my third ride, major ride. I've crossed America before. I've crossed Europe before. I've done the U.K. twice. This ride, I really saw the need of someone taking up the cause and being able to focus on what -- the good work that is being done around the world and I decided to -- that I would cycle around the world.
So I contacted the U.S. State Department and their Land Mine Abatement Program. We got a small grant from them. They're one of the leading -- internationally, they're one of the leading organizations that are spending money removing land mines.
KING: So how do you do it? You started where?
SHERET: I started -- actually on this trip we started in D.C. on June 1. And I cycled to Atlanta to the Amputee Coalition of America Convention. I did 800 miles in 10 days.
KING: And you go west?
SHERET: And I go west to Vancouver, British Columbia.
KING: How do you hop continents?
SHERET: Well, plane. So I will fly... KING: And you take your bike on the plane?
SHERET: We do.
The next stop will be Melbourne, Australia. I will cycle 3,000 miles across Australia and then it's into Southeast Asia, China, Russia. Then it's the Middle East.
And working with a program -- it's a rotary program out of -- it's sponsored by Montgomery County Rotary in Maryland. It's called the Bossler Prosthetic Project. And we're -- we've been invited by the Jordanian government to come over and do the first ever cycle ride ever across Jordan.
KING: How do you raise the money?
SHERET: By talking to people. I mean...
KING: You stop and you talk...
SHERET: It's just stopping. It's a grass roots organization. You know we have our Web site. It's me getting out in front of people and just saying that, you know, limb loss affects everyone.
In all of my trips and all my travels, there has never been a day when I haven't had somebody who's come up to me and say, you know, my uncle, my brother and my cousin is an amputee.
KING: What's your Web site?
SHERET: It's www.abilitytrek.org.
KING: dot o-r-g.
KING: Do you map out your whole route?
SHERET: Everything is there including a daily webcast that we do. We have a wonderful children's...
KING: Do people go along with you?
SHERET: No. It's solo. I carry my own gear. I carry about 80 pounds of gear on this trip.
KING: Extra legs?
SHERET: I have an extra leg, yes.
KING: Isn't there some wear and tear on pumping a bike that much? SHERET: It is. There's wear and tear. You know as Jim was talking about, there's wear and tear on your legs. You -- but you kind of suck it up and make do. It's important because you get to meet people like a woman I met in Boston who was a new amputee, a double amputee, who thought her life was over. And I sat and I talked with her in her hospital room and said, "You know you've got a beautiful 16-year-old daughter here. I can guarantee you that if you work hard, in two years, you'll dance at her, you know -- the time will come, you'll be able to dance at her wedding."
And it's that hope and inspiration and just letting people just feel that there's hope out there. And that's what this trip is about.
KING: Do you have family?
SHERET: I do indeed. They...
KING: Is it tough being away?
SHERET: It's never easy but it's -- they understand that this is a blessing that's happened to me. It's not -- it's something that I feel that I was meant to do.
KUDLOW: Did someone steal your bike?
SHERET: Not my bike. They stole a few other things.
KING: You got robbed?
SHERET: I have been robbed, you know, crossing the United States. That happens. They obviously needed the gear more than I did.
KING: Do you wear this Toyota United?
SHERET: I do. Toyota United has been a wonderful -- they're a professional race team. They're one of the leading race teams in the U.S. and they have the commitment that I have which is to get up and do more than you can. And so they've been a wonderful sponsor of product. And I ride one of their bikes. They're just -- you know they're wonderful, young, professional cyclists that inspire me because of what they do.
KING: You must feel very good...
SHERET: I do. I...
KING: ...about what you do,
SHERET: I'm very happy and very blessed.
KING: What's the website again?
SHERT: It's www.abilitytrek.org.
KING: To read Dan's trek journal or to make a donation which will not only help Dan eat, sleep or ride one more day but also help bring needed medical devices to those injured by land mines. You can log on to that Web site we mentioned, www.abilitytrek.org.
SHERET: Thank you. All right.
KING: What a story!
The stories and the sagas continue. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Amazing stories of courage under pressure. Kellie Lim joins us now. She was a triple amputee at age 8. Doctors said she had a 15 percent chance of living. And now she's a recent top graduate from UCLA's medical school and has begun her residency in pediatrics.
What happened? What caused you to lose three limbs?
KELLIE LIM, TRIPLE AMPUTEE: Well at the age of 8 I contracted meningeal toxemia which is the much feared bacterial meningitis. Through the illness I had to have amputations because the blood started clotted and bleeding at the same time and my body started shutting down. I had septic shock.
KING: How did you handle that at that age?
LIM: You know that's an interesting question. You know I don't -- I remembered a lot of it but not the critical parts because I was so ill that I started becoming delirious. So I had lapses of memory and I was confused a lot of the time. But I handled it like anyone would if they wanted to get through it.
KING: Your younger brother had it too?
LIM: Yes. My younger brother contracted it around the same time.
KING: But he didn't lose any limb?
LIM: No. They monitored everybody in my family.
KING: Now what was it like to -- what did you have to learn, to walk again and then deal with one arm?
LIM: Yes. I was right-handed and so I had to learn everything with my left hand. I had to learn how to walk again. I had to learn everything over again.
KING: Now you two new legs right, two prosthetic legs?
LIM: Two prosthetic legs.
KING: Why didn't you choose wheelchair?
LIM: I did use a wheelchair for several years because of my growth and the changing -- you know my legs were changing quite often so they had to modify my prosthetics so many times that I had to use a wheelchair most of the time, for about three years.
KING: You graduated valedictorian from high school, returned to regular school in Detroit five months after you became sick, right?
LIM: That's correct.
KING: How do you explain all of this and yourself? As you look at yourself, how do you explain it? Where did it come from, this grit?
LIM: I don't know where it came from but I'm so happy I have it.
KING: So did you ever say to yourself I'm going to chuck it, I don't care?
LIM: You know there have been days where I would say, you know, I want to give up. But there is always tomorrow and I feel that I have more to live for and that I have goals in my life.
KING: Why medical school?
LIM: I think that because of my experience I've made for medical school in a way.
KING: But didn't a prominent university ask you not to apply because you didn't meet physical requirements...
LIM: They did.
KING: ...which might be understandable? How did you be a doctor?
LIM: It's understandable at a certain viewpoint. However, you know, you don't know what one can do. So yes, a prominent university did say, "Don't try, try something else." But they retracted that and I eventually was accepted into their program.
KING: But didn't attend?
LIM: No, because they left a...
KING: OK. You've become self-sufficient?
LIM: Yes, very self-sufficient. I moved all the way to California from Michigan. I live on my own. I don't live with anyone. I don't anyone else.
KING: Did your parents think you should apply to the University of Michigan?
LIM: Yes. My dad wanted me to stay at U of M, UMich.
KING: Why did you choose UCLA?
LIM: I wanted to try a different part of the country?
KING: How were you treated by other people like in school?
LIM: They treat me as their classmate and their colleague. I don't think my disability comes up very often if at all.
KING: Why pediatrics?
LIM: I love kids. I think they make me smile at the end of the day.
KING: All right. What are the things you're not going to be able to do, frankly, that a doctor can do?
LIM: There are certain procedures that I probably need assistance with. I'll probably do parts of it. But I think I'll be able to do mostly everything. I'm not going to be a surgeon of course. And I think the most important part of being a physician is learning how to think and think quickly. And I think I have that.
KING: How about getting around? Do you drive?
LIM: I drive. I walk on prosthetic legs. I don't use a wheelchair currently.
KING: Do you date?
LIM: I do date. Not often but I do if I find time.
KING: Well, you're a beautiful girl. You ride horseback?
LIM: I did learn how to horseback ride.
KING: You went skydiving?
LIM: Yes, I went skydiving once.
KING: Are you used to being, every person disabled has this, looked at?
KIM: Yes. I'm very used to being looked at and stared at and you know these questioning looks from people. I'm used to that.
KING: Does it ever get old hat? You may be used to it but does it ever become another day, another walk in the park?
LIM: It is another walk -- day in the park for me.
KING: It is?
LIM: It's just the way it is.
KING: Do you help other disabled people?
LIM: My first and foremost goal in life is to be a good physician. And if I help disabled people by being a physician either directly or through my story, then so it is.
KING: Well, you certainly will...
LIM: Thank you.
KING: ...just by the nature of what you accomplished. You got great grades in high school, right?
KING: Where did you undergrad?
LIM: Northwestern University.
KING: Not bad either. How did you do there?
LIM: I did really well. That's why I was in medical school.
KING: Yes, that's right. You're not in medical school...
LIM: Not anymore.
KING: Best of luck, Kellie.
LIM: Thank you so much, Larry.
KING: Great story. Kellie Lim, incredible.
We'll be back with another great segment. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK HOYT, HAS CEREBRAL PALSY: I may be disabled but I live a very fulfilling life.
D. HOYT, FATHER OF RICK HOYT: He's out there competing in road races and triathlons. He lives a happier life than probably 95 percent of the population.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D. HOYT: The feeling coming down the finish line, I think he cried because it's just an awesome experience with the crowd there, all of the excitement, the noise, and the announcers announcing all -- the adrenaline just gets flowing.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Our last segment in this incredible program takes us to Worchester, Massachusetts and Dick Hoyt. Dick is the father of Rick Hoyt. And there you see his son Rick. Rick was born with cerebral palsy. He has no use of his legs, arms or tongue. Rick, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Air National Guard, has either towed, pushed or carried his son across the country on over hundreds of finish lines for 27 years.
D. HOYT: Why?
D. HOYT: Why, because my son asked me. He was attending South Middle School in Westfield, Massachusetts and his gym teacher got him involved in all of the gym activities with everybody else. And he was also the basketball coach at Westfield State College. And he used to take Rick to the basketball games.
Well, at one of the basketball games they made an announcement that one of the lacrosse players from the college was in an automobile accident. He was paralyzed from the waist down. So they're going to have this charity road race to try to help him raise some money so he could pay his medical bills.
And Rick, who communicates with a computer, came home from that basketball game and he told me all about it. He said, "Dad, I have to do something for him. I want to let him know that life goes on even though he's paralyzed. I want to run in the race."
Well, at the time I was 40 years old. I was not a runner. I used to run maybe three times a week a mile each time just to try to keep my weight down. But I agreed to go down and push Rick in this five mile race. And it's all we had his Mulholland wheelchair which was prescription for him, fitted to Rick's body. And we had a hard time pushing him it never mind running in it.
But we went down to the race and the gun went off. And Rick and I took off with all the other runners. And everybody thought that Rick and I would just go to the corner and turn around and come back. Well, we didn't. We finished the whole five miles coming in next to the last but not last. That's one thing. We've never been last in all the races we have been in.
D. HOYT: When we get home...
KING: Go ahead, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
D. HOYT: ... when we got home from that race, Rick wrote on his computer, "Dad, when I'm running it feels like disability disappears," which was a very powerful message to me. If you think about it, somebody who can't talk or use their arms or legs, and now they're out there running. Their disability disappears. He calls himself Free Bird because now he was free and able to be out there competing with everybody else.
KING: How old is he now?
D. HOYT: Rick is 45 years old.
KING: And you started to take him home from the hospital even though the doctors said he would be a vegetable the rest of his life, right?
D. HOYT: Yes. We can't figure out what kind of vegetable he is. I don't know. Can you see?
KING: He is a very handsome man. How did you learn that he could communicate?
D. HOYT: Well, we knew Rick was very smart. We could tell by looking in Rick's eyes that we -- when we were talking to him that he understood everything that was going on. So we tried to get him into public school and they said, "No, he doesn't understand. He won't be able to learn."
So we went and talked to some engineers from Tufts University in Boston and they looked at Rick and they said the same thing that he wouldn't be able to learn. So we told the engineers to tell Rick a joke. And they told Rick a joke and he cracked up laughing. And they said, "Wow, maybe there is something there."
So they said, "If you guys can raise $5,000, we'll build a communicating device for Rick." Now you got to remember this was 32 years ago and $5,000 was a lot of money. But the Hoyt family raised the $5,000. We gave it to the engineers and they built what was called the TIC, the Tuft's Interactive Communicator.
And the engineers were coming to our house. And everybody was betting what were the first words Rick is ever going to say. And naturally his mom said it's going to be, "Hi, Mom." But me, the dad, no, it's going to be "hi, Dad." Well, the Boston Bruins were going for the Stanley Cup. And the very first words he ever said was "Go Bruins." So we knew right then and there that he understood everything that was going on and he loved sports.
So we took Rick to the school. And the principal at the school and some teachers took him in a room and they left us outside because what they were saying, we were answering for them. So they asked him questions. He answered correctly and they had to accept him in public school.
KING: What a great story.
Now you guys have established the Hoyt Fund to enhance the lives and mobility of people with disabilities. And if you want more information by the way or want to make a donation, you can go to their website. It's www.TeamHoyt -- that's one word -- dot com.
How did you get this idea to do all of this as a team?
D. HOYT: Well, you know, we got started off in running. And when we first started running, people wouldn't come near us. They wouldn't talk to us. And they really didn't want us in the races. And in the first one, the overall race director said that we could run. And it was a 10K race, 6.2 miles, and there were 300 runners in it. And Rick and I finished 150th out of the 300 runners.
So then after that Rick and I go to a different town and a different city and run. And finally people started coming up to us and talking to us. And they could see that Rick had a personality and a sense of humor. And he always had that big smile and his arms up in the air when he's out there competing.
But it wasn't very easy at first because when we first started running I used to get a lot of phone calls and letters from other families that had disabled people and they said, "What are you doing dragging your disable son to all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?" What they didn't realize, he was the one that was dragging me through all of these races. But now they understand.
KING: You guys are amazing. Let me give out...
D. HOYT: Thank you very much.
KING: www.TeamHoyt.com. The amazing Dick and his even more amazing son Rick.
It's been an extraordinary show tonight about extraordinary people. I hope you agree.
Anderson Cooper is next with "AC 360." Good night.
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