The son of a Welsh Army officer, Tom Whittaker arrived in the U.S. having worked his passage delivering a 65-foot yacht across the Atlantic. While completing a master's degree in education at Idaho State University, he also worked on achieving his dream of becoming a professional mountaineer. However, on Thanksgiving Day, 1979, his van was hit head-on by a drunk driver, leaving him permanently disabled, a kneecap removed and his right foot amputated. Facing pain, anger and thoughts of suicide, Tom learned to walk again and to enjoy his favorite outdoor activities as an amputee.
In 1981, he finished a second master's degree and founded the Cooperative Wilderness Handicapped Outdoor Group at Idaho State University. Funded by private and public donations, this unique volunteer organization introduces the disabled to outdoor activities as a means of physical and emotional therapy and rehabilitation. He directed the program for a decade, then left Idaho in 1991 to take his current job as an adventure education professor at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona.
In 1989, Whittaker became the first disabled person to attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world's tallest and most treacherous mountain. In May 1998, he embarked on his third Everest climb. He incorporated three other projects into his trek: an Environmental Restoration Project, an All-Abilities Trek that involved a group of physically disabled people on a climb to Everest Base Camp, and a service initiative which enabled Prescott College students to participate. On the morning of May 27, Tom Whittaker realized his lifelong dream as he reached the summit. His wife and daughter waited at the Base Camp for his return.
In November of 1999, Mr. Whittaker was honored with ESPN's prestigious 'Courage in Sports Award,' in recognition of his determination and will to believe that despite adversity and physical disability, he could still achieve his dreams.
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