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The Climb of His Life

Despite being born with Cerebral Palsy, Ducks staffer Bonner Paddock will attempt a climb to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Monday, 08.18.2008 / 6:22 PM / Features
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The Climb of His Life
Paddock climbed to the top of Mt. Whitney in July.

At the beginning of September, Ducks Senior Manager of Corporate Partnerships Bonner Paddock will attempt a monumental feat: climbing to the 20,000-foot summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the largest free-standing mountain in the world.

The challenge is demanding for any human, notably for Paddock, who has battled with cerebral palsy his entire life. During birth, his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and as a result he suffered damage to the portion of his brain that controls his equilibrium.

Climb Without Limits website
Video of Paddock's climb up Mt. Whitney

Paddock, who climbed Mt. Whitney last month and ran a marathon in January of last year, has never been one to let his disability hold him back. “I know it may sound outright crazy, but I believe in trying to make a difference and showing what one person can accomplish,” he says. “Even if, like me, they weren’t given all the functions a normal person is born with.”

Paddock says his climb of Kilimanjaro was inspired by charitable efforts by Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli and is a fundraising endeavor of its own. His is currently raising money for the expedition through his website at http://kili.ucp-oc.org. All of the money raised will go directly to the UCP-OC Early Care and Education Center, where kids with different disabilities (Cerebral Palsy, autism, Down Syndrome, spinal bifida, etc.) will go to receive proper medical care, therapy and childcare. The center will debut the first truly inclusive childcare/preschool in Orange County, a comprehensive therapy center, after-school care, and will provide art and recreation opportunities for children with disabilities.

As of Aug. 18, Paddock has raised $166,000 of the $250,000 goal. Last year he was honored with the Life Without Limits Award from United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County. The award recognizes an individual who “embodies and champions UCP-OC's vision of Life without Limits in a way that dramatically makes a difference in the lives of children in our community.”

“I believe in trying to make a difference and showing what one person can accomplish,” says Paddock (right). “Even if, like me, they weren’t given ‘all the functions a normal person is born with.’”

The expedition – which has been named Climb Without Limits – includes 10 climbers who are close friends of Paddock’s, all of which will pay their own way to Africa. The expedition team’s gear, head to toe, has been donated by Oakley. The trip and climb will be the subject of an upcoming documentary.

Statistically, of those who attempt to make the entire climb, only 40 percent reach the summit. 

“I do this for two reasons,” Paddock says. “Showing kids with disabilities that you can accomplish more in life by continuing to push yourself and to climb on behalf of all the kids that won't ever be able to do ‘normal’ things.”

Paddock was interviewed for a Q&A with Sports Business Daily staff writer Brian Helfrich last month:  

Q: You just climbed Mt. Whitney and last year ran a marathon, but where did the idea for Mt. Kilimanjaro come from?

Paddock: For most of my life, my family never talked about my disability because I was doing well, and the doctors said, “If he’s not doing badly, let’s not make him that aware of it. You don’t want to get it in his head that he can’t do things.” When I got to the Ducks, we were in the middle of the lockout and the Samuelis had just signed the purchase letter, so we didn’t have as much to do at the time. The Samuelis said, “I know we’re going to be the new owners and we just want to encourage everybody during this time to join a charity that you feel passionate about. So I started talking to my mom a little bit more about cerebral palsy, learned more about it and started volunteering. It’s one of those things that I started facing all my fears that had anything to do with my balance or my lower body. Then I ran the marathon, and had people, including [Ducks Executive Vice President & General Manager] Brian Burke and his wife, supporting me, and it made me realize it was okay to face these fears. And Kilimanjaro has every fear in my life. I don’t have equilibrium so I have to balance with my eyes. We start the final summit night at around 2 a.m. in the thin air, so I’m real nervous about my balance. But I’m just trying to face all my fears and hopefully show all these other kids who have disabilities and may be afraid to do something that its okay to give it a try, and if you put your mind to it, you can do it. And hopefully that’s what I can prove. 

Q: Could you talk about what physical shortcomings as a result of CP make it so challenging for you to climb a mountain?

Paddock: My biggest struggles are my balance and lower body. The parts of my brain that were damaged or non-functional at birth were my equilibrium and lower body strength and coordination. I balance with my eyes. I use walls, poles, etc. to set my parameters and relative body position. When I get tired, my balance is the first thing that I really struggle with. When I am tired it is harder to concentrate on things and focus on body position. My walk has a limp. A lot of people ask if I have a bad knee, hip or ankle. I was able to play sports but the ones with footwork were harder for me. I loved to play as many sports as I could. Wasn’t always the best athlete, but had a ton of determination and hated to fail at anything. I wear my shoes out severely on the insides and the toes of the shoes. Dress shoes don’t last long for me. I spent countless years going to physical therapy five days a week. It helped me tremendously because I had extremely tight hamstrings, etc. It made my toes grip inward when I was younger until we started physical therapy.

Q: Have you considered what you may want to tackle after Kilimanjaro?

Paddock: I don’t know, because it took almost a year for my body to recover from the marathon, and I wasn't doing so well the day after summiting Mt. Whitney. It was a good idea and it was not such a good idea. I wanted to see if my body would shut down, and I really had some bad problems on the way down. I had severe cramping in my stomach and lower body. Obviously my feet are really messed up because the way I walk, but I wasn't anticipating it being that bad. The boots are heavy. But I did make the summit on Saturday. After starting at 3:30 a.m., we summited at 11:55 a.m. and arrived back down at the bottom at 6:30 p.m. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. But going forward, I know I could do more, so I definitely anticipate coming up with something. I know I couldn’t do Everest. But Kilimanjaro just came up as a way to face my fears. Maybe after I get back I will sit down and figure out what else I fear. I have to continue doing stuff in my life, because I’ve been given something 99 percent of these other kids haven’t.

Q: Aside from raising money, what else do you hope to gain from the Kilimanjaro trip?

Paddock: Most of it already happened, and it’s some stuff that I didn’t even expect. A friend of a friend met me at a game and ends up selling his bike for $50. Fifty bucks for an 11-year-old kid is like thousands of dollars. It was unbelievable. And a girl set up a lemonade stand and made $600 in two hours. She was the most remarkable, because she has a more severe case of CP than I do. Her family read the front-page story written in the Orange County Register and contacted me through that. They wanted her to meet me, and then she went home that night and thinks of the lemonade stand on her own. All of her friends have opened lemonade stands on the weekends and have raised $1,500 -- just 11-year-old girls putting up lemonade stands on street corners.

Q: What would you say was more exciting -- the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup or you winning the Life Without Limits Award?

Paddock: (Laughs). Both were unexpected. I never took the job at the Ducks thinking they were going to win a championship, especially where they were before the lockout. So that was a huge surprise. The Life Without Limits Award was tough, because I’m still struggling and working on talking about having a disability. They were both emotional, one for one reason, and one for the other. One is a personal satisfaction, while the other is more of a business satisfaction.

Q: You mention Burke and getting the inspiration from the Samuelis. How supportive have the Ducks been throughout all your endeavors?

Paddock: They’ve been huge supporters. They’ve definitely jumped behind all of this, and I just got an e-mail from the NHL today saying that they wanted to do something with their Web site. It’s really cool that the league is not only acknowledging what the players are doing, but front-office people who are trying to make a difference too. 

Q: What other people in the sports industry have been supportive of this climb?

Paddock: Burke and his wife are huge supporters. Dennis Kuhl, the President of the Angels, is a great friend of mine and one of my biggest supporters. Kenny Derrett, the CMO with the Chargers, is another great friend and personal donor. The Angels are behind it officially, and Kenny is talking to the Chargers. I used to work for Ron Seaver at the National Sports Forum, so he is helping out, and so is Steve Lacroix with the Vikings, Chris Overholt with the Dolphins, Steve Dupee at GMR. And David Abrutyn at IMG is another good friend and somebody who has been very outspoken to everybody in the industry to get behind this climb and what I’m doing. He’s another huge supporter of mine. And Todd Parnell, the GM of the Altoona Curve, is trying to work something out with the Eastern League and Minor League Baseball to have a night for my climb with more than one team. So the director of the documentary said he would fly out for one of the nights to capture that and see how much the sports industry has embraced this. 

Q: Who else have you talked to about getting involved?

Paddock: I don’t know if they’ll do anything, but we are talking to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines." The woman I hired to help me, because I realized I got way in over my head, she was reaching out to them. And I’m in touch with Colin Farrell’s people about narrating the documentary, and those talks have been very positive because his son has the same disability as I do.

Q: You read a quote every day. Are there any that have stuck with you?

Paddock: Two. Vince Lombardi said, "If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done." And Lance Armstrong said, "Pain is temporary, it may last a minute, or an hour, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it lasts forever." That was the one I kept thinking about while I was going up Mt. Whitney.

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