A man determined to challenge youth across Canada to make a difference in the world is planning a Red Deer stop next spring. Spencer West, a Free the Children ambassador, recently announced his next big challenge in Calgary during ‘We Day Alberta.’
West, who lives in Toronto but is originally from Wyoming, will embark on a walk from Edmonton to Calgary in early May of next year. But he won’t be walking in the ordinary sense. West will do the walk on his hands and in his wheelchair.
He lost both his legs at age five to a genetic disorder, but it’s never held him back.
Doctors told his family he wouldn’t be a functioning member of society – but his parents were determined to ensure their son felt the freedom to pursue virtually any opportunity.
“My parents refused to believe that,” he said of the doctors’ grim prognosis. “They always treated me like a normal kid; they never treated me any differently.”
They signed him up for everything from swimming to gymnastics.
“They never focused on the things I couldn’t do; we always focused on what I could do. I think that really built the foundation for who I am today.”
It also taught him plenty about partnership and working with others to achieve goals in life, he points out. He trekked up Mt. Kilimanjaro this past June in support of providing clean water to communities in east Africa as part of his ‘Redefine Possible Mission’. It was a tremendous challenge but frankly West wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Last summer, we trekked up Mt. Kilimanjaro, sending a message of hope and encouragement to continuously challenge what’s possible,” he said. “The response was overwhelming, and we knew we couldn’t stop there. We are bringing our next challenge to Canada, walking from Edmonton to Calgary, and we’re calling on everyone to join us on the road helping us to raise money for Free the Children’s Water Initiative.”
The fundraising goal is $150,000.
West’s walk will take place in early May. Along with buddies David Johnson and Alex Meers of the Me To We initiative and some celebrity guests, West will be traveling through communities including Innisfail, Red Deer and Airdrie. Schools, individuals and corporations can donate and sign-up to support his walk at www.freethechildren.com/water.
He announced the walk during a recent ‘We Day’ event in Calgary that drew 18,000 youth to the Saddledome. “The energy was palpable, you could literally feel the excitement from the moment people arrived. It was absolutely incredible and the response from everybody was really amazing.
“It really highlights this idea of community; kids who may have thought they were alone in some way realize there is this incredible community across the province.
“I always describe it as beautifully exhausting. At the end of the day, you are so overwhelmed by the response, the energy and the passion that you are exhausted – but in the most beautiful sense of the word.”
Seeing what the youth do in terms of transforming the message into social action is of course the heart of what he works for.
“That’s the whole point of We Day. That’s always my hope for kids at We Day, is that they will take action afterwards. That for me is the most exciting part and what I look most forward to. Let’s look at the impact that these students are going to have on the world.”
West describes a pivotal time four years ago that encouraged him to take his message of encouragement and hope to the masses.
In 2008, he took part in an trip in Kenya, where he helped build a school in a rural community in the Maasai Mara. On this trip, he met and befriended young people striving to overcome incredible challenges every day. He credits this experience for helping him recognize his true calling—to inspire people around the world as a voice for social change.
He was also struck by the connections he made with the local youth, and how they wanted to hear his story.
“A young girl raised her hand and said she didn’t know something like that could happen to white people too,” referring to West’s loss of his legs. “That one phrase changed the entire course of my life. It changed my thinking. I interpreted what she said as ‘Everyone has challenges’.
“I thought if I can inspire someone to recognize that we are all going to face some sort of obstacle – regardless of where we are from whether its Kenya or North America – what more could I do with this? Maybe I could inspire them to do something they are passionate about.”
Free the Children’s Adopt a Village model is implemented in communities throughout Haiti, Kenya, rural China, India, Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Ghana. The organization was founded in 1995 by international activist Craig Kielburger. More than 1.7 million young people are involved in about 45 programs through the organization.