Capetonian Tarryn Tomlinson shares her plans to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on her wheelchair


Her decision to face the 5895-meter mountain and embark on the journey is motivated by a symbolic and selfless goal. 

It was after Tarryn had taken up a new job at a hotel to consult about accessibility and public spaces that she heeded the call to summit, because “it’s just become more and more evident how places are not accessible to people with disabilities and when certain measures are taken, they are not taken properly”.

So Tarryn says she is undertaking this journey to prove the age-old sentiment that “your attitude determines your altitude”. 

She adds that there are certain things that we can’t help, like a mountain – it’s there, but most barriers that exist are actually manmade barriers. It’s the way spaces are being designed.

“The [climb] is to really to highlight that as people with disabilities, we don’t need pity, we need agency and that together – which is why I won’t be pushing myself up I’m going with a team – we are able to overcome challenges," she says.

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The summit to Mount Kilimanjaro is to raise funds for a children’s centre in Tanzania. Tarryn says there’s also a universal message for everyone. “It’s about highlighting people’s ability,” she says, “If someone with a different [ability] can go on to take these kinds of challenges, so many people can step away from their excuses or their comfort zones to [have] a better mental attitude to face their personal mountains."

In preparation for the journey, Tarryn is undergoing structured physical training with a team of medical professionals who are sponsoring their training.

“I started working with the biokinetic team and we work together twice a week and of course in between, I also have training that I need to do. That’s on the physical side."

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“Mentally I kind of just don’t think about it too much, I believe that there’s no use trying to mentally project something I’ve not experienced before. So my mental attitude is: we’ll confront the challenge as we go, when we are there and just get past one challenge after the next,” says Tarryn.

She says she has received mounds of support on her social media platforms ahead of the summit which will take place next year. “We all need to feel that we can conquer challenges and I think that whenever we see someone being able to do something [we thought was impossible], it kind of ignites a question in us: ‘well they are able to do all of that, what’s my excuse?’"

This initiative started in 2014, by organiser Lee Wyser and her friend. For the 2020 summit, Lee says she has secured funding for four of the seven athletes in their team. 

“I certainly do not wish to leave anyone behind,” says Lee.

She adds, “It is more important for me to ensure that these athletes reach the summit. Each athlete will have a story to tell and my dream is to help make their dreams come true and with that open the doors for many other physically challenged athletes to realise that summiting Kilimanjaro is possible if they just believe.”

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