How to Redefine Possible | A Q&A with Spencer West
Visionary and activist Spencer West has lived a life marked by obstacles and triumph. After losing his legs from the pelvis down at the age of five, he entered a world that might have easily defeated him. Tackling any and all the challenges that he faced, he has learnt how to navigate in a world set against those with disabilities.
Spencer shares take-away tips and life-lessons on how to find opportunity in every challenge while instilling hope and empowerment to create positive change.
Feeling inspired, we caught up with Spencer to talk about how he is redefining what’s possible, some of the adventures he’s been on and what the future entails.
You have an incredibly inspiring story, what prompted you to share this and help redefine what’s possible with audiences across the globe?
In 2008, I travelled to Kenya on a ME to WE Trip that changed the entire course of my life. On this trip, I discovered the power of my story. Before 2008, I had done a few speaking engagements as favours for friends and family but had always felt uncomfortable telling my story and how I lost my legs. I also didn’t really know what I was doing.
However, while I was in Kenya I got to help build and celebrate the opening of a new classroom. When we were there, I shared my story with some of the local kids. After telling them my entire life story, including how I lost my legs due to a genetic disease, a young girl raised her hand and said “I didn’t know something like this…” referring to the loss of my legs, “could happen to white people too.” This was the first time I understood the value of my story. This was also the first time I realized that I could use my story not only to empower others to look at challenges differently, but that I could use it to empower people to get involved with something they were passionate about.
When I came back to North America, I knew I wanted to use my story as an example. I wanted people to know that change is possible, and we all have the ability and responsibility to redefine what’s possible for ourselves and others. A few months after I had returned home to the U.S., I quit my job, packed up my entire life and moved to Toronto, Canada, to be a motivational speaker and global ambassador for WE.
When you arrived at Mount Kilimanjaro how did you make the decision to climb the summit on your hands?
About four years into my journey with WE, I was feeling guilty. I was traveling the world telling audiences that they need to make a difference and get involved with causes they care about. However, I was just talking about it. I had never actually done it. I realized I couldn’t continue to tell others to fundraise or raise awareness for things if I hadn’t done it myself. That was where the idea for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro came in. I wanted to show the world that change is possible. And, I wanted to have a really cool adventure with my buddies!
So, I set out with my two best friends, David and Alex to climb Kilimanjaro on my hands and using my wheelchair. It wasn’t just about climbing the mountain though. We set a goal to raise half a million dollars for clean water in East Africa, during the time it was facing one of the largest droughts they’d seen in over 60 years.
How has the money you raised on this summit helped the clean water project in Kenya?
The money we raised from our climb provided everything needed for the digging, infrastructure and maintenance of two boreholes in two communities in Kenya where WE works. This resulted in 12,500 people having access to clean water for life!
What piece of advice would you give an audience member to overcome their personal roadblocks and achieve their full potential?
We need to stop looking at obstacles as negative things. I firmly believe obstacles are given to us to help us learn and grow as individuals. I think it’s important, with any challenge we face, to take a step back and look at what we were supposed to learn. And furthermore, how can we share that lesson to the people around us.
If you had one lesson that you’d want an audience to take away from your speech, what would it be?
I hope audience members walk away feeling empowered to redefine what’s possible for themselves and for others!
Finally, Spencer, what’s on your horizon?
For now, its continuing to speak and share my message, as well as grow my YouTube channel Spencer West. I am trying to create fun, motivational and meaningful content for those who are looking for more beyond my keynotes. And, we’re always looking for new subscribers.
Thank you for your time Spencer, you are an inspiration to us all. We look forward to following your adventures and keeping up with your YouTube channel.
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