She is a Lubbock woman on a mission to inspire people across the world one step at a time. At 61-years-old Rhonda Graham climbed Mount Everest in October and she plans on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in July, but it's not her age that has people talking.
Back in 1980, Rhonda's left leg was amputated because of a staph infection after a total knee replacement. For the next 25 years she used crutches because infections and surgeries prevented her from getting a prosthetic leg.
Finally she got her leg - and on her prosthetic she has a photo of the mountains, a daily reminder there is no limit to what she can do.
"I couldn't seem to get the mountain out of my mind. I thought I have to go see this mountain for myself," she said. "I kept trying to talk myself out of it but I couldn't. This mountain… it was there and I had to see it."
In October she found herself at the base camp of Mount Everest. A mountain she was determined to climb, even with one leg. "The hydraulic seals of the leg broke, probably because of altitude. So the leg basically was not functioning very well by the time the trip was over. It was more or less just hanging on," she laughed.
Nothing could get in her way. "I've missed too many things; I don't want to slow down," she said.
What took her seven days to climb, only took her ten minutes to come down. A climber had fallen sick.
"I started hearing different rumblings of well he's walking but he's in really bad shape. Then they said he's not walking anymore, they're carrying him, and then they said he's unconscious," she said. "The helicopter they said was coming in but they couldn't take him down without some who had previous medical experience."
It was up to Rhonda. Her 25 years in the medical field allowed the helicopter to continue down with her and the other climber, but it's not just one life she hopes to save … It's others like her she hopes to inspire.
"A leg does not define you. This leg does not make me who I am. I have my heart and my soul - without the leg or with the leg," said Rhonda. "I want people to realize they're still who they were before the amputation. I consider myself modified, and think that most people don't get out of this world without being modified in some way. Some things are more obvious than others, but I want people to realize there's still a lot of things and a lot of life they can live out there."
Rhonda will go to Oklahoma City Monday morning to get work done on her prosthetic leg, helping to make it fit her active lifestyle more. She hopes to start training once again, this time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in July.
Copyright 2011 KCBD. All rights reserved.