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Q&A: Tim Medvetz, founder of The Heroes Project

What was the hardest part of that first summit?

Getting over the mental fatigue. Whenever you’re climbing a mountain, at some point it becomes more mental than physical…you’re walking past frozen bodies and your mind is telling you ‘turn or you’ll end up like that.’ You’re tired and hungry; it’s freezing. That day on the summit was by far the worst day of my life and also the greatest because it was somber and quiet and I was at peace. 

How did you feel when you got back to the U.S.?

I was at a crossroads again, feeling kind of lost. Then, I turned on my TV when they were airing Veteran’s Day coverage from Arlington Cemetery. I got choked up watching one guy who was burned beyond belief talking about how he’s a proud American and doesn’t regret serving his country.

How did that lead to the formation of The Heroes Project?

I just started reaching out to veterans and met Keith Deutsch, an above-the-knee amputee from Colorado. We began training together and in 2009 we climbed Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus, in Russia. I watched Keith drag his prosthetic to the top at 18,442 feet, yelling, crying, and throwing his arms in the air. Pretty much my whole adult life up until that point had been all about me, but that was when The Tim Show ended and The Heroes Project was born.

Did you have to educate yourself about prosthetics before training with amputees?

I learned as much as I could about the technology but in the beginning it was all trial and error. We’d shoot videos of how the limbs were functioning on slopes and take them back to the prosthetic developers to tweak. The learning curve was incredible as no one had tried it before.

Why do you feel such a personal connection to veterans?

My injuries are no comparison to theirs. I am pinned, patched, and bolted back together— these guys have missing limbs. But I can definitely relate to that feeling of helplessness in the hospital, when you have to rely on others to get you through the day. What worked for me was going out to the mountains or getting into the gym, but everyone has to find their own vehicle in order to get their life back after a traumatic injury. Everybody has their own Everest.

Which Heroes Project moment has had the biggest impact on you?

My fondest memory was when we were on Mount Kilimanjaro with a Marine called Mark, who’d lost both his legs above the knee, his fingers, and his hearing. We were coming up a pretty steep pitch about 2,000 feet below the summit and there was a big group in front of us. I just popped off the trail to go to the bathroom when and I went to catch up with my team, I saw Mark hobbling out of formation and passing all these people at 18,000 feet. An able-bodied German turned to his girlfriend and said, ‘We just got passed by a man with no legs, we need to move faster!’ That epitomizes The Heroes Project: legs, no legs, if you put the work in, train and prepare, you can do anything.

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