Conquering the mountain
At sixty-six years of age, local massage therapist Tony Caruana has not only conquered his disabilities; he’s also conquered his fears. Carrying a lifelong phobia of heights, Tony decided to put himself to the test mentally and physically by doing one of the greatest challenges of all – climbing mighty Mount Kilimanjaro.
“It was the hardest adventure in my whole life, that’s why I can’t answer people as to what I can do next, because I can’t top it.”
“I first decided to train for the inaugural Saint Jude Kilimanjaro Climb for the school of Saint Jude in Tanzania, Africa, in 2010. At the time, I was obese, I had surgical pins in my left foot and I didn’t end up making the final leg of the journey,” tells Tony, now at My Masseur after 30 years in the Australian Army.
“I wrote to Gemma at the school of Saint Jude and said I would be back in 2014 to conquer the mountain, and I just did: three weeks ago I got home. I successfully summited on September 2.”
Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895m above sea level, and is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Although Tony was not alone in his climb up the monster, he said the trek up “Killi” was the hardest thing he has ever had to do, both mentally and physically.
“I had surgical pins in my foot, and the first time I attempted Mount Killi, I broke a surgical pin, so it was sitting in the soft tissue of my foot. I got it out this time, in time to heal of course, but the pins still hurt every step of the way,” says Tony.
“It was easy to quit, the pain with the pins was certainly unbearable, especially when I was coming down. I had trained the brain to manage this of course, but it was still tough.
“I was so determined and just thinking to myself, ‘I have to keep going’. It was the hardest adventure in my whole life, that’s why I can’t answer people as to what I can do next, because I can’t top it.”
Although Tony’s disabilities are not life threatening, they do affect his everyday life. In the past he’s been on medication for depression, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Now free from the medication for two years, his conditions are all managed by his improved and active lifestyle.
“Never be afraid or ashamed of what your disability might be. It’s all about giving it a go, and believing in yourself. Believing in yourself is one of the biggest things”
“I try not to let my disabilities affect me, but they do of course,” he admits, adding he has lost 50kg in three years in a bid to ease the burden on his body.
“I don’t have clear sight in my left eye because I nearly lost it when I was eight, I have disabilities of my back and left wrist, I have pins in my left foot, and sometimes the pain is just unbearable. I have a heel impingement on the left ankle, and a neck impingement on the left as well. I have torn my supraspinatus [rotator cuff] so it’s still repairing after about 18 months and I’m dyslexic; but I’ve never let these things stop me in life.”
Tony has pushed through these diseases and disabilities to conquer several amazing feats throughout his lifetime. Among climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tony has also crossed the Simpson Desert and cycled 7,000km across Australia.
“When I crossed the Simpson Desert, it wasn’t run by professionals; it was all volunteer, so you had to provide your own crew. So the thing was to set a goal and stick to it.
“We never had a support team or vehicle and I didn’t know what a mountain bike was at the start. I knew I wouldn’t win a race anyway, but my goal was to start every day.
“The hardest thing back then was trusting the universe so much that things would fall into place – which they did.”
Tony’s advice to those living with minor or major disabilities is to believe in yourself and get educated about what you can and can’t do, as how far you can go may sometimes surprise you.
“First of all you have to agree to yourself to have a go, and then learn how far you can go to make sure you don’t do any permanent damage. It’s just learning to push yourself above what you think you can do, but with the right advice and assistance from professionals,” he says.
“But most importantly, never be afraid or ashamed of what your disability might be. It’s all about giving it a go, and believing in yourself. Believing in yourself is one of the biggest things.”
As for Tony’s next adventure? He is competing in the Pan Pacific Masters Games next month in two sports, dragon boating and indoor rowing; but says he has more challenges that he wants to tick off his bucket list:
“I’m still itching to do a 14-day trek across the MacDonnell Ranges out of Alice Springs.
“I also want to get my dive ticket, but that’s another fear I have to work on.”
Find out more about Kilimanjaro here: kilimanjaronature.com