Explorer wheels way up Everest
Made of sheer grit, Glenn Shaw has been to places most people only find on pages of National Geographic or see on the Discovery Channel.
Circumnavigating New Zealand, embarking on an expedition to Antarctica, kayaking in the Middle East, dog sledding three times on the Continental Divide, or assembling an Oxventure Expedition to the highest place in the world has become a way of life for the disabled Brit, who garners media attention everywhere he bounds.
The far reaches of the earth opened up to Shaw upon his first visit to Winter Park in 1995, when the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park gave him the opportunity to learn to ski.
Before that Shaw, who suffers from the rare “brittle bone disease,” or steogenesis imperfecta which causes injury or death from any high impact to the body, didn’t consider himself much of an athlete.
Shaw’s bones are so fragile he has suffered 130 fractures in his 37 years, confining him to a wheelchair.
The week after Shaw was born, he had two broken arms, two broken legs and two broken wrists. And as a child, his weak bones hospitalized him about once a month.
After attending a special needs daycare in England for years, Shaw began attending a mainstream school at the age of 13. At first, he needed three caretakers before it was concluded that Shaw could function with just one helper.
Years later, his upper body became stronger, as did his will to succeed independently in the world.
Today, Shaw is an internationally known and respected adventurer, as well as a senior banker at Britain’s second largest bank, Barclay’s Bank.
He credits the NSCD.
“Winter Park has a lot to answer for,” Shaw said, sitting in the lobby of the Winter Park Best Western during his recent trip back to the Colorado Rockies.
At the time, he sat with two broken femurs.
“(NSCD) started my exhibition career by starting me on skis. It led to Everest twice and everywhere else,” he said.
A raw determination and a strong upper body, Shaw said, have provided him the tools to travel the world, in spite of his delicate frame. It’s not just the raw challenges that lay before him, or the love of the environment, but it’s “being told that you can’t,” he said.
After a short holiday to the U.S., Shaw said he plans to return to England to have surgery on his legs and hopefully correct the broken bones he has borne since his first trip to Mount Everest in 1997.
In April of that year, Shaw joined an expedition that had planned a 15-day trek to Everest Base Camp at just under 18,000 feet. But on the sixth day, a Sherpa carrying Shaw fell, and the two tumbled over a ledge toward a second platform where “I stopped him and he carried on,” Shaw said.
The Sherpa’s life depended on the upper body strength of the physically challenged climber. Similar to a “Tom and Jerry cartoon scene” Shaw said, he hung on to the Sherpa to prevent him from falling to a certain death 4,000 to 5,000 feet below.
“I saved him,” he says matter-of-factly.
The accident caused Shaw’s right leg to break in three places and his left leg to break in five places. He was airlifted from the mountainside without reaching his “personal summit,” the base camp in the Himalayas.
Yet, in January of 2004, Shaw returned to Everest and with a specially made wheelchair, did accomplish that goal. Even harsh weather and memories of his harrowing accident did not stop him.
Just from the wear and tear of the journey, his leg broke at 17,753 feet. Being so used to living with pain, however, that did not deter him.
“I just said, ‘guys, I’ve got some news. My right femur broke again,” he said.
He then continued on with the expedition.
“You get used to it,” he said.
“Through my efforts I hope to spread a message of determination and provide inspiration to others. There’s a whole world out there, go and explore it and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back!” he wrote in a 2004 journal entry.
It was Matt Feeny at NSCD who gave Shaw his first opportunity to test his drive. For a man in his condition, adventure sports such as skiing would be “totally a no-no” in England. But when he rolled into the center upon a random visit to Winter Park, he was surprised that Feeny was willing to give him a chance.
“I said to Matt, ‘Should I try this?’ and he simply said, ‘yes.'”
Four to five people accompanied Shaw as he rode for the first time in a sit ski.
“As years went on, I got better and faster and went on bigger runs,” Shaw said.
He stayed in Winter Park until 2001, at which time he left the mountains with a broken shoulder from a ski fall.
Later that year, he went to Antarctica on a kayaking trip, followed by a series of adventures that even James Bond himself might envy.
In Winter Park this fall, “locals were moaning how cold it was,” Shaw said. “I just put on a jacket and pushed up hill. Nothing bothers me.”
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