Why Apply? Hear it from Diggs, an Alumn

No Barriers — I’d never heard of it.

Don had served on a couple of my Special Forces “A” teams as the detachment senior medic. Back in 2003 we went our separate ways. Don eventually found himself in Iraq and I ended up in Afghanistan. We kept in contact, of course.

Don was eventually blown-up, twice. Me? Well, I ran into a bad situation myself, which took years to manifest in my life.

Fast forward to 2014. Don called me and asked if I would be willing to write him a letter of recommendation for the 2014 expedition Mission: Mt. Whitney, now Warriors to Summits. Unfamiliar with the organization, I Googled it and found it is located in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colo.

Digging a bit deeper, I discerned that this organization could help me with a couple issues I was having. I brokered a deal with Don — we would write each other an endorsement letter. Applications filled out, letters mailed off. Said and done.

In the days that passed I had time to reflect on my chances and dwell on whatever misgivings were manifesting themselves in my mind. At 57 years old, was I going to be “Gramps” for all the younger veterans? Was I physically and mentally prepared for this type of undertaking? How far out of the comfort zone will I be talking about past events to total strangers? Do I really have time for this?

I went through every possibility imaginable. Somewhere in the very back of my mind a part of me was hoping that I wouldn’t be chosen.

Don and I were both accepted for an interview. Don by phone and me, living in Fort Collins, in person. Both interviews went well. I was chosen, Don was not. He wound up needing two back surgeries during the time we’d be climbing. He’ll be back — he’s that kind of guy.

Of course, if you are interested in Warriors to Summits you understand that there is a capstone climb every year.

To prepare for the capstone, our team climbed two 14,000-foot peaks over the course of several days. We started building our team and getting to know our equipment.

It wasn’t until the middle of the second climb that things began to click for me — the genuine interest in your teammate’s condition, pulling together over obstacle courses, and of course, the climb.

Our capstone was Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Not only was there a climb, but also 45 miles of traversing the John Muir Trail with elevation changes of 3,000 to 4,000 feet daily.

One day, I had a Forrest Gump moment. And, I’m not sure why.

We were moving seven miles with gear, first traversing a pass at 13,800 in the rain and snow, and then a long trek through flat, open high plain. I picked up the pace and unintentionally broke away from the team. This lead to a flat out run for seven miles, carrying gear, wearing boots, shredding rain gear — “Run Forrest!”

Crazy, huh? Well, I tell you, for the first time since 2002 I felt like myself again. If we hadn’t had to stop and set up camp, I’d still be running.

We made our trek over an eight day period and summited on September 11, 2014, at sunrise.

Looking back at the entire chain of events that lead me to Soldiers to Summits, I would tell you that the decision to go forward has made a very positive difference in my life and of those who were on my rope team.

You, as a potential team member, will have an opportunity to take advantage of experts in the field of mountaineering. You’ll get to face challenges that will test your will power and stamina. You’ll make friends for life. You’ll make your life.

This blog was originally posted on January 30, 2015.