Utahn climbs Kilimanjaro on one leg

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Kilimanjaro is a rough climb for any seasoned athlete, but for Utah native Tara Butcher, who knocked at death's door following a severe accident four years ago, the climb was way out of her comfort zone. Then again, that's why she did it!

Tara began preparing for the climb months ago in the mountains of California. During a workout at 24-Hour Fitness in Salt Lake, she talked about that tragic auto-pedestrian accident in 2005. She was hit by a car traveling 72 miles per hour.

"My head was severed from my spine," she said. "They call it an internal decapitation. They did a bone fusion; a titanium plate fused it."

Tara suffered multiple shattered bones and ruptures. Plates and rods were implanted to hold everything together. She also lost her left leg below the knee.

No one could have imagined she would ever make it, but Tara told KSL News, "I kind of got more and more into it, running further and longer. Eventually I did a marathon, then triathlons after that. I just realized how good it made me feel."

Now, it's out of the box for the big climb up Kilimanjaro.

"It's a new challenge. To me, it's different than anything I've ever done. It's out of my element of comfort," Tara said.

The Fit 4 Kili Climb Project was organized by the C.H.E.K. Institute and sponsored by Overstock.com. C.H.E.K Institute's Derek Gates said he remembers well when he invited Tara by telephone to be one of only two challenged athletes to join the nine-member climbing team.

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"I don't believe I had the ability to hang up the phone fast enough before I heard her scream," Gates said. Tara did scream, because this invitation is what she wanted. Her mother was apprehensive, but proud.

"It's really hard for me to express how proud I really am," Marion Butcher said. "Everything she's accomplished, and her attitude and her determination -- that's been her trademark."

Scope Prosthetics designed a special artificial hiking leg with an ankle that twists and moves over the rough terrain.

"I just kind of told myself that we were all going to do it, that no matter what happened, we were going to get to the top," Tara said.

And to the top she climbed, along with Erica Davis, who in her wheelchair became the first female paraplegic to make it.

"I remember moments of looking at the tasks we were heading towards and just thinking to myself, like, 'How am I going to do that? I don't know how I'm even going to do that.' But you just do. You put one foot in front of the other, and you just go," Tara said.

The way Tara thought she would feel while working out in Salt Lake months ago is exactly how she felt when she reached the summit.

"It was a new thing that I overcame," Tara said. "You know, it's like the first time I ran a marathon. I felt elated. It was triumphant. It was amazing."

At the summit itself, Tara said she couldn't believe it.

"It's surreal. When something is that hard and that much work, when you accomplish it, it's really a good feeling," she said. "I noticed a little bit more of a peace inside of me a, like a peaceful feeling."

Erica and Tara's climb will be available on DVD later this year as part of a documentary entitled "Through the Roof." Both challenge athletes hope to inspire others with disabilities to push the envelope.

"They're pushing the envelope to teach the common person, or the able-bodied, what challenge athletes can do," Gates said.

E-mail: eyeates@ksl.com


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