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Local athlete reaches great heights with a little bit of help

CARLSBAD — There is no obstacle too large for Carlsbad resident Erica Davis.
Although confined to a wheelchair, 28-year-old Davis recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, becoming the first female paraplegic to reach the mountain’s summit.
The former college athlete has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2005, but that has yet to slow her down. When approached with the idea of climbing Africa’s tallest mountain by Derek Gates, marketing director for the Vista-based C.H.E.K. Institute, an advanced education company that specializes in training professional athletes, she was eager to participate.
“I interviewed a few candidates, but she was definitely the person that I knew could take on the challenge,” Gates said.
Gates met with
the Challenged Athletes Foundation, or CAF, to find the perfect match for the trip, which was designed to help bring awareness to their mission.
According to their Web site, CAF raises money to help physically challenged athletes pursue an active lifestyle by providing opportunities and resources to encourage them.
As the trip started to gain momentum, months of training set in. Davis, Gates and the rest of the climbing team spent endless hours hiking, pushing and pulling a custom-made wheelchair around San Diego County that would eventually get Davis up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Gates collaborated with Colours Wheelchair to create a chair that could handle all the different terrains the team would face on the mountain.
It included heavy-duty wheels and capabilities for other team members to hoist the chair “like a chariot,” Gates said.
“Erica trained really hard and it showed,” Gates said. “She was able to do more on the mountain than we actually thought she was going to be able to do.”
Despite Davis’ physical determination, the mountain posed several occasions where she had to rely solely on her support team to pass over large boulders and tight passes. Davis sang songs to distract herself as she relied on “trust and faith” in the team.
“There were areas where my chair just wouldn’t fit on the trail,” Davis said. “I was getting passed over six or eight porters who had to lift me above their heads.”
After just a week of climbing, the head guide told the team that an additional hour of climbing would get them to the mountain’s peak a day ahead of schedule. The team climbed the extra hour and reached the summit as the sun was setting Jan. 31, securing Davis’ title as the first female paraplegic in a wheelchair to climb the mountain.
Davis hopes that her trip will inspire and remind other people facing similar challenges that, “with other people’s help, we can do anything.”
“The overall story of our trek is that everybody has their obstacles and there’s always a way to overcome them,” Gates said.
Now that Davis and Gates have made history and returned home to North County, they’re both wondering, “What’s next?”
“It’s going to be really tough to top taking the first female paraplegic up Kilimanjaro,” Gates said.
The incredible adventure was filmed by Captured Productions to be released as a documentary titled “Through the Roof.” To learn more about the film or to make a donation to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, visit