For medically retired US Army Staff Sergeant Benjamin Breckheimer, climbing became the driving force behind his recovery process after being blown up while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009. Only through incredible medical care was his right leg re-attached and circulation resorted. Today, his right ankle is completely fused in a 90 degree ‘standing’ position but, has mobility in both legs, just don't ask him to run.
“It's my oxygen, the reason I get up in the morning. When I’m not climbing or preparing for a major climb, my mind tends to wonder and right now that’s not a good thing.” says the 31 year old purple heart recipient who struggled with alcohol abuse and suicide during his darkest days of recovery.
In 2014, Breckheimer traveled to Tanzania in hopes of collecting the first of his seven summit peaks - Mount Kilimanjaro, or ‘Kili’ as it is referred to within the climbing community. As fate would have it, he became sick on the flight over from the States and lasted 4 days on the mountain before succumbing to altitude sickness and retreat.
|Benjamin shares his story with Airmen in Germany|
“Kili, is a killer for those who don’t respect her,” says Chris Klinke, a multiple Everest summit expedition leader. “It’s not a technical mountain, it’s a text book acclimatization ascent to do it in 5-7 days.” The statistics speak for themselves: over 40 percent of the climbers attempting to summit the mountain succumb to high altitude sickness and retreat.
During the year following his failed attempt on Kili, Benjamin was afforded an opportunity to join an Everest expedition team, which also ended unexpectedly. It was on Everest in the spring of 2015, that the Calvary Scout experienced the biggest scare of his life. An avalanche tore through base camp killing 19 fellow climbers and just missed sweeping Benjamin away. “Seeing that massive wall of snow coming right at me was more terrifying then seeing my leg dangling by a cord after the explosion in Afghanistan.”
This week Breckheimer returns to Kilimanjaro with a crew of supporters from the nonprofit organization American300. “I had the opportunity to travel with Benjamin on a overseas military mentoring tour last November and watched him connect with fellow service members in an incredibly powerful way,” says Eric Meyer, MD, who also has multiple Everest summits and volunteers as a military mentor with American300. “When we heard that Kili had kicked Ben’s butt, a group of us decided to help him give it another go.”
“We constantly place individuals like Benjamin with deployed troops to allow for personal resiliency stories to be shared,” says Rob Powers, founder of the military mentoring program. “For Benjamin it’s mountains, for others it’s something else maybe. The point is, we all need something that drives us from within and seek the true fun that life has to offer if we just don’t quit.”
American300 has enlisted the support of fellow mentors and supporters to ensure that Benjamin doesn’t go it alone. Climbing alongside both his Kilimanjaro and Everest attempts will be Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, a world renowned Everest expedition leader and long time American300 military mentor along with Dr. Meyer, Dr. Bryan Scheer and others.
“We’re incredibly honored to support Benjamin’s return to Kilimanjaro and Everest, he’s not only a great example of resiliency, he’s become a fantastic mentor,” says Ed Bell, president of the all volunteer effort American300 who along with Powers will be joining the climb. “Again it showed all of us the power our mentors have in effecting positive growth, not just with the troops they serve, but with each other - we couldn’t be prouder of the American300 team.” says Bell.
Kilimanjaro isn’t the only mountain that American300 volunteers will be helping Benjamin
climb this year, he will also be traveling to Nepal and Mount Everest.
Follow along with Benjamin on his journey to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Everest here at www.American300.org for updates, photos and video.
About American300 -
The 501c3 nonprofit American300 supports our Department of Defense and Department of State with mentor programming designed to increase individual resiliency. Learn more at: www.American300.org