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Climb Every Mountain // One-Legged Climber Scales the Highest Peaks in All 50 States

Bill Underwood
Mar 1, 1995

Todd Huston understands the value of perseverance.

Last year the 33-year-old South Tulsan scaled the highest peaks in all 50 states in record time — and with only one leg.

Accompanied by a friend, Huston attained the highest elevations in all 50 states in 66 days, 22 hours and 47 minutes, shattering the world record of 101 days set by a two-legged mountain climber.

Since that accomplishment, Huston has become an overnight celebrity. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN and has been covered in newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. In January Huston spoke to an international television audience when he was Robert Schuller’s guest at The Crystal Cathedral. In April he will be the subject of a feature article in `Sports Illustrated.`

Huston is also in demand as a motivational speaker, taking his message of triumph over adversity to schools, churches, and businesses all across the country.

Leaving no mountain unclimbed, he recently co-authored `More than Mountains,` an autobiography of his adventures in mountain climbing.

The book was released in January and currently is available locally at Novel Idea bookstores.

When Huston was 14, he was involved in a boating accident at Lake Tenkiller that nearly killed him and cost him the use of his right leg. Huston was swimming in the lake when his legs got caught in the propellers of a boat.

`I actually died twice, once in the emergency room and once on the operating table,` Huston said. `Because I lost so much blood, my heart had stopped.`

The accident severely damaged Huston’s sciatic nerve, resulting in paralysis of his right leg below the knee. He also had lost a lot of muscle tissue.

Doctors told Huston’s parents Huston probably would never walk again. He proved them wrong, but the absence of feeling in his leg resulted in a variety of health complications throughout the next few years.

`I could step on a nail and not even know it,` he said. `And that would literally happen sometimes. I’d pull my shoe or boot off and there would be blood everywhere.`

Huston frequently developed sores and infections because of his leg injury until, at 21, he decided to have it amputated below the knee.

`That took care of all the paralyzed part of my leg,` he said. `No more sores, no more blisters, no more infections. I had to choose to have a life and a lifestyle instead of a leg.`

With the help of a bulky and uncomfortable artificial limb, Hustongraduated from the University of Tulsa with a bachelor’s degree in business and moved to Balboa Island in Orange County, Calif.

In California, he earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology and worked with young people in clinics throughout the SouthernCalifornia area. While there, he met and married a woman from NewZealand who left him after two years of marriage.

`When her immigration status changed and she became a legal resident of the United States, I came home one night after church and she had disappeared,` he said.

Although crushed by this development, Huston emerged from his despair with a new sense of purpose. After prayer and thoughtful consideration, he decided to utilize his counseling skills to help amputees.

Before long, he was counseling amputees and speaking to groups of physicians on how to best meet the needs of their amputee patients.

It was while doing this work that Huston learned about the 50Peaks Project. The independent promoter of this project was trying to find five disabled individuals who would climb the highest elevations in all 50 states. Huston knew nothing about mountain-climbing, but the idea interested him.` Before I was injured I had been an Eagle Scout, so I thought,

‘Maybe I’d like to do it,’` he said. `So, I thought about it and then, right at the deadline, I submitted my application. I prayed about it and said, `God, if you want me to go I’ll go, but if youdon’t that’s fine with me because these are some serious mountains.`

Huston received a letter saying he had been chosen as one of the five people for the project. Over the next year, he trained tirelessly in preparation for the climbs.

Assisting him was Fred Xalokar, a professional mountain climber and an old schoolmate of Huston’s from Memorial High School.

The first mountain climb was scheduled to get underway on April 1994, but one month before departure, funding for the project fell through. Never one to give up, Huston found a way to continue the project on his own.

`I said, ‘Look, I’ll just go get my own money and I’ll do it myself,’` he said. `I was able to raise about $12,000 in a few weeks.`

Whit Rambach, a friend, accompanied Huston on the climbs. Xalokar also joined him on several of the climbs.

The project was scheduled to begin with Hawaii and end atop Mount McKinley in Alaska. Unfortunately, more than halfway through the project, Huston learned that the original schedule had been planned poorly and his group had to start over again.

`They said to start in April, so I went ahead and started in April,` he said. `All of a sudden it became very apparent to me that the

The Northeast was really in bad shape. We couldn’t even get into some of the parks to go climb them, and the mountains in the Western states were full of snow. We had started climbing way too early.

`So, I went and climbed Mount McKinley after doing 33 states and started the clock over again on June 1 at 5:10 P.M. At that point, we hurried down Mount McKinley, went back and re-did all those states, and then picked up the ones in the Northeast.` Sixty-six days later Huston completed his quest by reaching the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain.

In January, Huston left California to return to Tulsa, where he now shares a South Tulsa office with his father, Bill Huston, president of Huston Lumber Sales. Through his newly established business, Huston Resources, Huston coordinates his many speaking and promotional engagements across the country and throughout the world.

Last week he spoke at events in Salt Lake City, Sun Valley, Idaho, and New Orleans. Huston said he is happy to be back in Oklahoma.

`My family is here, and I realized there were a lot of economic advantages to living in Tulsa,` he said. `One, the cost of living is much cheaper than in California — and also the cost of business. Oklahoma is much friendlier to do business in than California.

`Tulsa is also more centrally located. I do so much traveling that every time I do something east of the Rockies it’s a full day, then a full day to get back. It’s not good time management to have to spend so much time flying from one end of the country to another.`

In March, Huston will travel to Australia for several speaking engagements. While there, he plans to climb the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Koscioski, to kick off his world mountain-climbing tour.

His plans are to climb the highest mountain in every country in the world. Unlike the 50 Peaks project, he will not attempt to break any world time records accomplishing this task. Huston also has a new woman in his life, a childhood friend he ran into at church.

Huston attributes his success to an inner fortitude and determination that comes from his faith in God.

`With psychology, you can change people’s environment, but unless they have something spiritual, faith in God and a direction that comes from a higher source, it’s kind of like you have the whole formula, but you’re missing that one little piece and it all crumbles,` he said.

`It may work to a certain point and then it crumbles, and it may seem as if it’s working but it doesn’t. There is no solid ground to it.

`It’s like going three-quarters of the way up the mountain and saying, ‘We’re at the top.’ You don’t get the feeling of being on the summit until you are standing there.` Full Article

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