South Africa


Wheelchair-bound South African conquers Kilimanjaro

Wheelchair-bound South African conquers Kilimanjaro
Tarryn Tomlinson at Kilimanjaro base camp, Kibo Hut. (Photo: provided by Tarryn Tomlinson )

Tarryn Tomlinson lost the use of her legs at the age of 19. Despite being wheelchair-bound, she adventured up Africa’s tallest mountain and encourages others to overcome their obstacles.

Tarryn Tomlinson, 37, grew up in Cape Town. Although not overly athletic growing up, Tomlinson was fond of swimming, nature, and walking.

At the age of 19, she contracted severe rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder which causes your immune system to attack your own body’s tissues, especially the joints. 

The arthritis started in one of Tomlinson’s knees and quickly spread to other joints in her body. Although she has feeling in her legs, her joints do not function correctly, leaving her unable to walk and reliant on a wheelchair.

Tarryn Tomlinson’s view of Kilimanjaro’s base camp. (Photo: Tarryn Tomlinson)

Tomlinson is a consultant, working in various fields ranging from personal development to writing for Mango Airline’s award-winning in-flight magazine Mango Juice. Her pride and joy is the foundation that she launched in 2010.

The Bambini Dream Foundation Trust is an NPO aimed at encouraging children as well as adults to go beyond what they think is possible for themselves. Tomlinson says it has been her greatest joy to mentor a group of youth from Blikkiesdorp in Delft using music, art, and cognitive therapies. 

Lee Wyser from Guts 2 Glory, an NGO aimed at helping disabled and underprivileged athletes achieve their sporting potential, challenged Tomlinson to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as part of their “Kilimanjaro 2020” initiative.

A group photo of everyone who participated in Guts 2 Glory’s Kilimanjaro 2020 initiative. (Photo: provided by Tarryn Tomlinson)

Tomlinson declined the challenge for two years, not out of fear, but out of a lack of inspiration. However, she found her inspiration in 2019 after she founded her company, Live Able, which is focused on accessible living and travelling for people who are differently-abled. 

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to prove that most obstacles for people living with disabilities are man-made and that if I could be a part of a movement which wanted to prove that your attitude determines your altitude, it would mean a lot for the advocacy for accessible spaces,” says Tomlinson.

Before her departure, Tomlinson was prescribed medication for altitude sickness, a common condition which occurs when climbing such heights. 

She also had to prepare for the shockingly cold conditions, and K-Way South Africa provided her with protective gear and apparel.  

On 2 March 2020, Tomlinson, together with five people with disabilities and three supporting athletes, began their ascent of Kilimanjaro. 

We ascended rather quickly as we decided against an acclimatisation day due to weather conditions. We reached base camp at 4,720m above sea level on the third day and remained there for two days. 

“We took five days in total and on the last day of hiking to a certain point, came down with a vehicle,” says Tomlinson.

Tomlinson adds that there were times she wanted to give up, but she kept going. 

“The feeling when we reached base camp was absolutely worth it. It kept running through my mind how incredibly lucky I was to make it to base camp. 

“Many able-bodied people do not make it that far. I also felt gratitude that I was seeing and experiencing a part of nature which very few people will see with their own eyes. The beauty was immense. Surrounded by snow and mountain peaks I felt overwhelmed with appreciation and pride. I accomplished what I set out to do,” says Tomlinson

Although she has retired her hiking boots, Tomlinson says, “Africa is a treasure that I want to experience more of, and if it leads me up a few more mountains, well, then I suppose I’ll have to dust off those hiking boots again.”

Tomlinson says that you should not “be afraid to explore because you are differently-abled. I have found the kindest people who want to help and who are open-minded enough to not let your ‘disability’ cloud their judgment. 

“If you can dream it, then you can achieve it. It may look different for you than for an able-bodied person, but isn’t everybody’s experience unique to them?” DM/MC


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