How a triple amputee Army paratrooper totally crushed Africa’s tallest peak

Matt Saintsing
October 17, 2018 - 1:37 pm

Photo Courtesy of Adam Keys

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro—Africa’s tallest peak— isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But for one injured Army paratrooper, the journey getting there is more than just an intimidating trek.

Adam Keys, 34, became a triple amputee after an improvised explosive device (IED) rocked his vehicle in Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan in July 2010. He spent the next five years recovering and learning how to live with the new reality of requiring prosthetics on both of his legs and left arm. 

“My hospital stay started in a dark place,” Keys tells Connecting Vets in an interview. “I was in the hospital for a long, long time.” 

Photo Courtesy of Adam Keys

Walking, he says, was a significant obstacle as his residual limbs aren’t neatly situated for prosthetics. And each injury is different, but Walter Reed Army Medical Center hooked him up with a set that “fit really well.” 

He got the idea of tackling Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after a Vietnam-era veteran friend of his completed the climb for his daughter’s Cystic Fibrosis. “I said, I think I can do that, and we went from there,” says Keys. 

Keys says he wasn’t an avid climber or mountaineer before his injuries, but as a paratrooper in the Army, he was used to hauling a lot of weight up and down the rolling hills of Fort Bragg, N.C. and Afghanistan. 

“I was like, let’s see how far I can push myself, push my body, push these prosthetics,” says Keys. “But when it came to Kilimanjaro, I saw it as a huge obstacle.”

He was up for the challenge of a lifetime. 

Climbing huge mountains is all about weight, and Keys brought with him five sets of extra legs that weigh just under 10 pounds, and his left arm—a prosthetic—weighs around four. 

To help him along the journey was his friend Tyler, an outdoorsy type and medic, and a team of porters who provided support throughout the climb. 

Photo Courtesy of Adam Keys

“I thought I’d have a lot more blisters,” he says, adding they’re the “biggest thing for me on my residual limbs.” But as a seasoned soldier, he applied creams and continued driving on. 

On the expedition's fifth day, the team woke up at 3:00 am to begin the final stretch of the hike. When he got to the top of the peak more than seven-and-a-half hours later, Keys was stunned.

He says he was “overwhelmed” for the first few minutes having crushed the most ambitious hiking trip the continent had to offer. “I was just balling my eyes out; I almost couldn’t believe it,” he says. “It was an incredible feeling walking up there, it was breathtaking, and it was certainly life-changing for me.”  

His motivation came from a seemingly never-ending well of motivation to see just how far he could push himself. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” says Keys. “And a byproduct of that is maybe helping other people to see what they could do, no matter their injury.” 

Today, Keys has his sights set on a completely different journey: standup comedy. 

Keys is set to perform at the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s 10th annual Gala in November, and at the Washington, D.C. Improv on December 5th as part of Performing With Purpose: A Veterans showcase

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