By Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois
DUBOIS – Spencer West, a motivational speaker and author, captivated the audience in Penn State DuBois’ Hiller Auditorium with his inspirational story of overcoming his personal challenges during a recent appearance there. Often using humor to keep things relaxed and interesting, West went on to share tales of how he now helps others find inspiration, and the satisfaction he gets from doing so.
The 31-year-old from Toronto knows quite a bit about overcoming adversity to achieve great things. He lost both of his legs to amputation as a child after a genetic disorder rendered them unusable. However, this didn’t stop West from climbing Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro in June. At nearly 20,000 feet, Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest stand-alone mountain, and West made the summit almost entirely while walking on his hands.
West credits his “can-do” attitude to a strong foundation of self-confidence and determination instilled in him by his parents beginning when he was a child.
“We were told by the doctors that I probably wouldn’t be a functioning member of society. We were basically told that there was no hope for me,” West told the campus audience. “My family and I set out to prove them wrong.”
West chronicled his journey in a book, Standing Tall; My Journey, published last year, which goes into detail about just how much he has proven that those doctors were wrong. He went back into his history in the book, and in his speech at Penn State DuBois, explaining the events that built the determined attitude that got him to the top of Kilimanjaro.
“I didn’t want to just be known as a guy without legs,” West said. “I’m a son, a grandson; I want to be a dad someday. I have an identity.”
West went on to further build his identity in high school by participating in cheerleading and other school activities. From there, he went to college and ended up launching a successful career in sales. When he found that he had done everything that the doctors once said he could never do, he realized it was now time to do something for others.
“I had a good job as a sales rep, a house, a car. I had everything in life that society says you need to be happy, but I still wasn’t happy,” West remembered. “Then, a friend invited me to Kenya to help build a school,” he said, noting that he was apprehensive about the idea at first.
Before long, West decided to join the school building effort in Kenya, and joined the charitable organization, Free the Children, who was heading up the project.
“The moment that changed my entire life came when we got to the site of the school,” West remembered. He said the Kenyan children had questions about his missing legs. He continued, “A little girl said something to me in Swahili. It translated to, ‘I didn’t know that sort of thing could happen to white people, too;’ That told me that I could show them that there are others that have struggles; that they’re not alone. That’s when I realized that I could use my story to inspire others.”
While in Kenya, West coined the idea to climb Kilimanjaro in order to help spread his inspirational story and help others. When word got out, donations for the cause started pouring in. In the end, his climb raised $750,000 for Free the Children.
West continues to work with Free the Children today, sharing their story while he shares his own tale at speaking dates around the globe. At the campus, the story struck more than one chord.
“He is just phenomenal,” said student Adam Snyder. “His story was just amazing and so inspiring.”
“Spencer West was a great inspirational speaker,” added student Katrina Anderson. “He shows us that everyone has a different purpose and reason in life.”