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  • Writer's pictureJimmy Rex

Conquering Kili

A few months back I was speaking to one of my close friends Jason Van Camp.  He and his wife Liz bought a house recently and I worked as their agent, so I was mostly just calling to follow up.  Jason is a former Green Beret and did several tours in the Middle East and he has always been one of my favorite people to travel with. I told him we need to plan a fun trip soon, go do something manly.  He called me back a few minutes later with the opportunity of a lifetime. 

Jason was part of a special group called “The Waterboys” that consists of former and current NFL players, influencers, and former military veterans. Because of our relationship Jason was willing to talk to the founder of the group NFL Man of the Year in 2018 Chris Long and long story short, he was able to get me on board with the trip. 

I was so excited to be a part of it, mostly because I had always wanted to hike Mount Kilimanjaro but what a huge bonus to do it with 7 former special forces and military veterans and 8 NFL guys.  I am always trying to surround myself with people that inspire me to be more and do more and I knew with this caliber of a group I was going to learn lessons of a lifetime.  However, I was not prepared with just how much of an impact it actually ended up having. 

One of the veterans in our group was a man named Phil Quintana or “Q” as we called him.  He was blown up in the war and lost his left leg.  He is what they refer to as an above the knee amputee as he has a prosthetic leg that has limited function and support. Q trains at a facility in Texas called “Adaptive Training” that is ran by one of the former NFL players David Vobora.  David and Q trained for 6 months leading up to the climb in order to give Q the best chance possible of reaching the top.  

Before we started the hike, we worked for 2 days in different Massai villages meeting with the local people that have received water the past few years thanks to the wells build and supported by “Waterboys.” The hike up Mt Kilimanjaro was kind of just the bonus at the end for most of us. I was anxious and excited at the same time.  I had breakfast with Q before the first hiking day and he opened up to me about why the hike was so important to him, his “Why”.  

A few years before he had been in a really dark place, coming back from the war having lost a leg, he just experienced some dark times. He told me how he had overcome that and he went on to explain that he had a lot of friends in similar positions. This hike and getting up that mountain meant everything to him because he was doing it for all his friends and former military guys that he knew were in the same position as he was. I left the meal feeling completely inadequate about my own why for doing the event, but I knew one thing; Q was getting to the top and I would do everything I could to help. 

Kilimanjaro is over 30 miles of walking and for us it was spread over 5 days.  Days 1-4 it is just a grind day after day but overall it wasn’t that difficult for those of us that were used to walking or hiking long distances.  I did notice that Q didn’t get any time off as he was constantly having to pull himself up hills and rocks along the way.  

Summit day is the real beast of Kilimanjaro and it’s the reason that 43% of the people that attempt to summit to the top of the mountain end up heading back down for one reason or another. We woke up at 11 pm and got all ready and by 11:45 we were on the trail.  All 8 NFL players and all the former military guys with us all said the same thing, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  To give you an idea you are headed straight up a steep mountain in the dark and cold, and you go all night long. 

Finally, about 5:45 am the night began to broke and I could see clearly to the front of the group where Q was setting our pace.  You could tell he was exhausted and ready to be done.  Physically he should have been done hours if not days ago.  Yet he pushed on and on, swinging his hips on each step to drag his leg up that mountain.  At one point I looked up and got pretty emotional because I saw Q literally crawling on all fours simply because he couldn’t stand any more.  

After a brief break we got to a spot that most consider to be the top of the mountain, Gilman’s Point.  Technically you could say you climbed up the mountain if this is where you turned around and headed back.  But it wasn’t the highest point in Africa, that is called Uhuru Peak.  The lead guide and leader of our group Chris Long were accessing the situation and talking with Q to decide what he needed to do. There was no doubt he had emptied his entire tank and had nothing left to give. 

This was a moment in my life that I will never forget. As Q and the guide Orca were trying to decide what to do, David Vobora the man that had spent 6 months training with Q in preparation for this, came up to Q.  He gave him a huge hug and he said, “Bullshit man! You aren’t done yet. You got this.  I know you and I know you aren’t done. We got 90 minutes of hell ahead of us, but the peak is in site and you and I are going there right now, together!” Q said ok and away we all went. 

That 90 minutes seemed like it took 5 hours. To give you an idea we were already at around 19,000 feet so altitude was a very serious issue at this point and every single one of us was feeling the full effects. Some of the toughest men I have ever met were in so much pain that they were just trying to get to the peak for even a few minutes before they would turn quickly around to get to a safe altitude. 

I’ll save you the drama, Q got to the summit.  He got there with the help of the guides and his friends.  Here is a quick video of the moment Q reaches the summit and gets greeted by David.  I was a mess watching this because it meant so much more than just climbing a mountain and we all knew it.  

Talking later that day with David I told him how inspiring his little speech to Q was.  None of us knew him like David and there was real danger, so it wasn’t our place to talk to Q that bluntly.  But David loves that man so much and they have so much trust in each other that once David gave him that permission to go on, it was done. David told me, “We don’t know how far we can truly go until we’ve pushed us past where we’ve never been.” 

 David is the founder and the one that runs the Adaptive Training gym for wounded vets and soldiers. He understands the mind and the power that comes from overcoming our physical bodies.  He explained to me that Q would look at every obstacle in his life differently for the next 20 years based on the decision that was being made on the mountain at that moment. He knew Q could do it and so he didn’t hold back.  How grateful I knew Q was for David and the rest of us in that moment.  The gift was given to all of us, to be that inspired by Q in a moment that he could have stopped and not one person would have blamed him.  

Thank you, Q, for inspiring me to know that I will never be able to give an excuse to get out of a tough situation.  We too often in life blame circumstances or our situation for why things didn’t go our way.  Most the time we don’t have a David to smack us back into reality and that reality is this, we can take the path of least resistance, our lives won’t really change, we will be fine in a word.  But to be on the top, to climb the tallest mountains, to remove barriers that only exist in our mind, we need to see the adversity and take it head on.  Such a powerful lesson that we all needed that day and that I will never forget.  Two of my new heroes David and Q. 


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