In the face of adversity


By BILL McCLELLAN News Editor


As a boy, Riley Woods often dreamed of climbing Mount Everest. He could envision himself scaling the treacherous mountain, battling the wind and elements. In March, the former Big Spring resident will get the opportunity to make his dream come true, but unlike his boyhood fantasies, this ascent will be in a wheelchair.



It will be a historic moment, and not just for the recent Baylor University graduate.



Fifty years ago, Sir Edmond Hillary became the first person to climb to the mountain's storied summit. Now Woods, 28, is part of a group that hopes to become the first disabled team to make the trek.



"I'm looking forwardit. I'm excited about it," said Woods, who was in Big Spring to visit his parents, George and LaDonna Woods and sister Ellen Miller.



Woods has been accepted to be part of the Everest '03 Challenge Trek Team in conjunction with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, an Austin-based organization. He's confined to a wheelchair, the result of a spinal cord injury which occurred while he was in his junior year at West Point.



"It was a freak accident. I wasn't doing anything stupid. I wasn't even going very fast," said the soft-spoken Woods. "I was showing my roommate how to ski and I guess my ski got caught in some grass under the snow or something. I just fell. It wasn't even a bad fall. I mean, I've had a lot worse falls before."



But the accident left him a T5 paraplegic and he was medically discharged from West Point in 1996, about the same time his parents moved to Big Spring. His father is an electrical engineer at the ALON USA Refinery.



"I lived with my parents for three years until 1999," said Woods, who attended Trinity Baptist Church.



In August of 1999, he married and moved to San Antonio where his wife, Rachel, was completing law school. Two years later, they moved to Waco. Woods finished his undergraduate degree in religion at Baylor University, graduating magna cum laude last December. He was awarded the Dean's Academic Excellence Scholarship and, in the fall, will be entering Baylor Law School.



First, however, he'll take on Mount Everest. Woods and the rest of the team will journey to the base camp, 17,388 feet above sea level. Team leader Gary Guller will go on to attempt to climb to the mountain's summit at 29,035 feet.



"The team is made up of people with all kinds of disabilities. Some have multiple sclerosis, some are quadriplegic, some paraplegic. I believe some may be deaf or blind. Some are missing limbs," said Woods. "It is a group of people with a cross section of disabilities."



There are several reasons why he wants to undertake the trip.



"For one, it has always been a desire of mine, even before I was injured," said Woods. "After I was injured it wasn't something I really even though about. Then when I found out about this trip, I thought 'Wow, maybe some day I'll be able to do it.' I had no idea at the time that I would have the chance so soon.



"So there is a personal reason, no doubt about it. The other purpose of the trip is really about showing people with disabilities that they do not have to be hampered with that," said Woods. "You can do everything, even take on something like Mount Everest. I want to give hope to people that they can do anything they want."



Woods, a member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Texas PVA chapter, will leave for Nepal on March 15 and return to the United States on April 15.



"I'm not sure what to expect on that three-week, 30-mile trip to base camp. It's going to be interesting to see what happens, how we can accomplish this," said Woods.



First, however, he needs help securing funding for the adventure.



Having only learned of the Everest trip a short time ago, he received his acceptance letter just days ago.



"Most of the people going on this trek have had a year to raise funds. I've got about a month," he said.



It's going to take about $6,100 to pay for the trip, plus another $500 to $1,500 in equipment, clothing and the like.



"I'm hoping to find some corporate sponsorships," said Woods, who was an athlete growing up.



"We lived in Norway when I was in elementary school and I went snow skiing, ice skating, played some ice hockey," he said.



And he played football and ran track while in high school at Corpus Christi.



The accident ended all that, of course, though Woods does plan to participate in the Veterans Wheelchair Games this summer. He wants to try his skill and swimming and hand cycling.



"I enjoy fishing, too," he said with a grin.



Most importantly, he's scaling new heights.



"I am a Christian. I believe in God, and I believe there is a purpose for everything," he said. "This (the accident) is just something that happened. You have to go on."



Once the journey is underway, the public may follow the group's progress at the Team Everest '03 official Web site, www.teameverest03.org. The group will be accompanied by journalists, photographers, a videographer, doctor and attendants.



Anyone interested in helping Woods acquire the funding he needs can reach him at (254) 741-9120 or by e-mail at Riley72@aol.com



Contact News Editor Bill McClellan at 263-7331 ext. 235 or by e-mail at newsdesk@crcom.net

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