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Between a rock and a hard place

Athletes with big stories to live, realities to redefine, and disabilities. (In that order.)



By Lisa Richardson

Ice-climber. Passionate environmental activist. Inspirational speaker. Author. Vancouver-based Aussie expat. That’s Warren Macdonald.

He’s also 3 foot 11, and has no legs.

Whistler’s Matt Hallatt is a 2010 contender. A golf pro with a 6 handicap, Hallatt has put university on the backburner to pursue the podium, having cut his teeth at the Torino Games.

Hallatt lost his right leg to cancer at the age of six.

Nobody knows what significant events occurred in the lives of Mike Janyk or Erik Guay when they were six years old or what challenges they will have to overcome to ski race their way to the 2010 Games. Most stories about Matt Hallatt, though, mention his leg in the first paragraph. It seems that it’s only when you’re able-bodied that the pursuit of excellence is story enough.

• • •

Warren Macdonald’s memoir of pursuing excellence begins on April 9 1997. He’d lived 31 years worth of stories up until that moment. And he’s spent the last 10 years living even bigger ones, as if to make sure that things didn’t stop there.

“In some ways, what happened on April 9 th feels like a lifetime ago,” he told Pique Newsmagazine in a recent interview. “And yet, it’s so clear to me it could have happened yesterday…”

That was when the Aussie adventurer embarked on a solo hike on Hinchinbrook Island, off Queensland’s coast.

A world-wanderer and eco-warrior who’d spent years living in Tasmania’s wild southwest fighting for the old-growth forest, Macdonald was wont to go bush when he needed a good fix of peace of mind. He had been running his own painting business in Airlie Beach and had spent seven months partying as hard as he was working. It was time to get back down to earth.

Macdonald caught the ferry to Hinchinbrook with four days up his sleeve and a backpack full of provisions.

Three days later, he would leave in a helicopter on a spinal board.

But on April 8, he was hiking and swimming his way along the beach. After setting up camp, he met Geert van Keulen, a Dutch traveler who was planning to summit the island’s highest peak the following day. It was an adventure that Macdonald was immediately drawn to.

They set off after breakfast, and though Van Keulen wasn’t much of a bush-whacker, Macdonald was relaxed and in his element, enjoying the companionship.

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