By Priya Hutner ·
In 1982, 22-year-old Mark Wellman was climbing the 13,075’ peak Seven Gables in the Sierra Nevada when his life was irrevocably changed. He was moving fast and lost his footing, falling out of control he landed on a rock ledge.
Bloodied and barely alive, his friend made the difficult decision to leave him and go for help. Mark Wellman spent an agonizing night cold and alone in and out of consciousness thinking he was going to die. After being rescued by helicopter, Mark would spend seven months in the hospital and never walked again. Mark’s injuries had left him paraplegic.
“I wanted to die. If I could have jumped out the sixth floor window I would have,” Mark said.
I asked him what kept you going? Mark explained he’d met another man named Mark Sutherland while in the hospital who was also disabled. The two bonded and Sutherland helped Mark get back on track. Mark attributes his road to recovery to his friend.
During his months of rehabilitation, a state rehab counselor suggested that Mark find a job in the outdoors that he loved so much. He suggested Mark become a park ranger at Yosemite. Mark went to junior college and landed a job as a ticket attendant at the park. They needed to build a special platform for his wheelchair so he that could look out the window. Eventually, Mark became an interpretative ranger guide living in a tent cabin in Yosemite.
In 1989, Mark met Mike Corbitt who was an accomplished climber. After seeing a photo of a disabled woman being lowered down a cliff, Mark became excited about climbing again. With Mike’s assistance, Mark became the first paraplegic to ascend El Captain. Mark explored new heights and didn’t let his injury hold him back.
Mark, a former member of on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, has also competed in two Paralympics. He has met two Presidents, President George Bush Sr., who signed the ADA act, and President Bill Clinton, who met with the U.S. ski team. And, he’s an accomplished whitewater kayaker.
In 1995, he wrote “Climbing Back,” the story of his long journey to recovery. Mark has climbed, skied and completed a 50-mile, trans-Sierra Nordic ski trip through the Sierra.
“It was harder than climbing El Cap,” Mark explained. “We were sitting on our skis, our backpacks and gear were on our legs and using only our arms to move us.”
For the past 10 years, Mark has helped countless other disabled people. He lectures and travels around the country with a specialized adaptive-climbing wall. Mark designs special climbing gear that includes ropes, pulleys and lifts for people that are hemiplegic, paraplegic and quadriplegic.
And, Mark cofounded the nonprofit No Barriers USA and speaks for the Washington Disabled Sports USA.
“Climbing is a growing sport in the disabled community,” Mark said.
He works with young folks, veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project. Mark said that he has seen firsthand transformation in young people with disabilities learning to climb.
Mark met Carole Praxmarer, a ski instructor, at Alpine Meadows. She found his wallet one day after a party and called him up. They fell in love and eventually married. He and Carole now run their business, No Limits.
These days in addition to teaching, Mark enjoys kayaking on Lake Tahoe.
“When the skiing isn’t that great, I take to the water,” Mark explains.
He said that he’s not much for computers and cell phones, and loves being immersed in nature, and that he doesn’t want to miss the Eagle flying overhead or the stunning beauty of the mountains.
Each year, Mark’s organization, No Limits hosts the Mark Wellman Adventure Day in Sparks for people with disabilities and their families and friends. Mark brings out his climbing wall, kayaks and hand cycle equipment for the day for people to explore.
I asked Mark Wellman that after meeting two presidents, who would he like to meet. He didn’t miss a beat, “I’d like to meet Yvonne Charnod, the owner of Patagonia.”
Mark looks to the future and wants to do more locally. With so many places to climb in Tahoe, he said that he’d like to bring more disabled folks to experience the beauty of the area. A true pioneer for people with disabilities, Mark continues to help people learn to love the sport of climbing.
Mark Wellman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org | www.nolimitstahoe.com