Challenged Athlete Encourages Others

Claudia Anaya

An injury occurred during birth, where the nerve that controls the shoulder, arm and hand are torn away from the spine, called brachial plexus palsy. Doctors told Paul Fejtek’s mother that he would have little or no use of his right arm.

With the help of his mom, Fejtek learned that “regardless of the obstacles that you have recently faced in life, everything is possible as long as you have courage, commitment and passion.”

He took listeners on a journey with the wisdom he shared on Thursday in the J.W. Smith Student Center in his presentation, “Scaling the Mountains of Adversity.”

The Center for Students with Disabilities presented the event, which was held at noon.
Fejtek explained how courage, commitment, and passion have helped him to reach part of his goal to climb the seven summits; the highest mountains on the seven continents to help support the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and those with physical disabilities.

Fejtek has successfully climbed five of the seven highest mountains peaks in the world. He is on his way to reaching the goal that 229 people in the world have reached; to have climbed all of the Seven Summits.

“You’re on a plane headed towards to your favorite vacation destination. As you climb higher and higher, you peer out the window – everything looks so small down there. The cars, the freeways, the buildings – all but disappear, along with the noise of traffic, the troubles, your responsibilities that you’ve just left behind,” said Fejtek, painting a picture to his listeners.

“You’ve now reached your cruising altitude of 29,000 feet. As high up above everything as we are, the belly of our plane can actually scrape the tip of Mount Everest at this altitude.

“You look out the window, as you gaze across the horizon, you watch the sun slip away beneath the clouds. You wonder, you wonder to yourself why did they have to charge me $50 to check my luggage?” Fejtek said jokingly.

“You wonder to yourself how many amazing things there are in this world – all the places to see, things to see, things to do, cultures to experience, and then you think maybe there’s people out there that need my help,” said Fejtek.

“If only I had the time, if only I had the money. If only I wasn’t in this wheelchair, why am I here? What’s my purpose? Why do I have so many obstacles to deal with?” said Fejtek.

He brought up the thought of what people would attempt if they were not afraid. What goals people would pursue if they knew for a fact that they would not fail. And if people knew that they wouldn’t be criticized for trying.

Courage, as Fejtek said, he has best heard described is “not the absence of fear, but instead courage is the ability to act in spite of your fears, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of criticism.”

Fejtek often talks to people about his mountaineering adventures and has people telling him that they could never do it
“Why not?” asked Fejtek.

He explains that these people are in perfectly good health with both arms and legs.

“Why can’t they climb a mountain or pursue other big goal or challenge that really requires pushing beyond their perceived limitations?” asked Fejtek.

Fejtek finds pleasure in reaching outside his comfort zone to pursue his goals. He finds that when he reaches the top of each summit, everything is possible.

“I encourage each and every one of you to take that step out of your comfort zone and pursue your goals, whether it’s applying for that job you really wanted or trying out for that particular sports team or even asking out that cute girl in your morning class. I mean what’s the worst that could happen? When on a mountain the worst that could happen is plummeting a thousand feet to your death,” said Fejtek.

By asking a girl out on a date, there’s a possibility that she might say yes, Fejtek said.

On Sept. 8, 2008, he climbed his fifth mountain, Cartensz Pyramid on the Oceania continent.

Commitment and persistence, Fejtek said, is what was key in climbing Cartensz, the most technically challenging of all the summits.
Because of lack of gripping strength on his right arm, he went to practice in an indoor climbing gym in Orange County.

Finding that the difficulty was more than he thought, he came up with the idea of what he calls “the hook,” a coat hanger hook attached to a wrist brace for carpel tunnel designed for better gripping ability.

“The third ingredient for success, at least in my opinion, is passion,” said Fejtek. “Remember when we stepped out of our comfort zone earlier to ask that girl out for a date. What drove that? Passion. You have to be excited, enthusiastic.”

Fejtek closed his speech by quoting Mark Douglas, “achievement of your goal is assured the moment you commit yourself to it.”