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Frank Gray

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Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette
Cameron Tribolet works out at Anytime Fitness on Wednesday, preparing for his climb of Mount Whitney. Over the past six months, a personal trainer assisted him in strengthening his core muscles.

Mount Whitney just another hill for local climber

About the time you are reading this, Cameron Tribolet should be partway up Mount Whitney, a 14,500-foot granite peak that is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, one of a series of peaks in the Sierra Crest that resemble crocodile teeth.

Climbing Mount Whitney is not in itself unusual. Thousands of people do it every year.

What’s different about this Fort Wayne man’s climb is that he has no legs, pins in both hips, two artificial shoulders and a handful of carbon knuckles, implanted to replace knuckles that long ago crumbled.

The mountain climb is just the latest in a series of efforts that Tribolet has undertaken after deciding as a young man that he would commit suicide after being shot and losing his legs when he was 23.

The attack happened in 1986, while Tribolet was sitting in his car at a traffic light. In a video he made for an organization called Way Outfitters, Tribolet explained that one bullet pierced his bowel and another pierced his aorta. Doctors were able to repair the aorta, but an infection set in and the repairs to the aorta failed. Circulation to his legs was cut off and gangrene set in.

Tribolet said all he remembers is waking up with no legs below his knees.

What is a 23-year-old house framer with no legs expected to do with his life? Tribolet decided when he was sent home he’d simply kill himself.

He didn’t, but for a year and a half he sat at home thinking he had no life to live.

Tribolet’s father told him he had to do something with his life, so Tribolet went back to school, became a fire sprinkler engineer. A friend that he had hunted with took him hunting again.

That got Tribolet thinking. “If I can climb a tree and hunt, what else can I do?”

He started looking for organizations that helped people with disabilities take part in different activities.

Today, Tribolet has probably done more things than most other people. He hunts. He rides a bike. He’s done bungee jumping, parasailing, scuba diving, played basketball, and he skis.

Then about two years ago he heard of a man who was looking for 10 people with disabilities to climb Mount Whitney. Tribolet applied and was accepted, but the organizer was unable to get funding for the project and it fell apart.

But Tribolet was bitten by the mountain climbing bug, and he wanted to try it. He contacted a guide and arranged to make the climb. Only after everything was set did he mention that, by the way, I don’t have any legs. The guide wasn’t put off.

Last January, Tribolet started working out at Anytime Fitness at Georgetown, hired a personal trainer, Jessica Fuller, and told her he wanted to get in shape to climb Mount Whitney.

Fuller didn’t balk, either. She went home, studied Mount Whitney, pondered what kind of training Tribolet would need and returned with a plan.

Over the course of six months Fuller worked with Tribolet, concentrating on workouts designed to strengthen his core muscles. Before long, Tribolet was able to walk for the first time without using canes.

Last Wednesday, Tribolet went through his last training routine at Anytime Fitness. On the evening of the Fourth of July, he left for the Sierra Nevada range and Mount Whitney.

By the way, Tribolet’s wife, Susan, wondered why she couldn’t come along, too. So the two are on Mount Whitney now. They’ll spend their 25th anniversary there.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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