Area students defy physical limitations, will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Two area college students can readily identify with author Cheryl Strayed and her challenging journey.

The University of Dayton’s Eric M. Oberwise and the University of Cincinnati’s Katie Taylor have both faced serious setbacks in their lives but have determined to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in August.

The two will make the climb to raise funds for May We Help, an Cincinnati-based all-volunteer organization that helps turn “an inability into a capability” by creating and building innovative devices for those who want to pursue a passion but have been thwarted by physical limitations. The one-of-a-kind assistive devices have helped disabled individuals do everything from paint a picture and ride a bicycle to turn the pages in a book.

Facing challenges

In Strayed’s case, it was the loss of her mother that led to an emotional crisis and her determination to make a demanding solo hike. For Oberwise, it was an emergency trip to the hospital which resulted in the removal of half his colon. While lying in his hospital bed waiting to learn whether or not he had cancer, he vowed to change the course of his life by using his engineering education to help others.

Taylor, who became paralyzed after a skiing accident at age 16 and was told she would never walk again, says climbing Kilimanjaro will prove to herself and the rest of the world that anyone who has suffered or struggled can do anything they set their mind to do.

“In the first few months of my recovery, I found an article about a man who had been paralyzed from the neck down,” says Taylor, who is from Oakwood and is now an architecture student at U.C. ” He made a miraculous recovery, and now he runs in Iron Man triathlons. I promised myself that someday I would do something like that. Climbing Kilimanjaro is going to be my Iron Man. If I could prove doctors wrong and learn to walk against all odds, I can climb this mountain, and if I can climb Kilimanjaro, then I can do anything.”

Their stories

After learning he did not have cancer, Oberwise changed his college minor to bioengineering, started the UD chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society, and got involved in UD’s ETHOS program which will take him to Africa in May to help develop renewable and sustainable technologies. Now he is also raising funds for May We Help.

Katie’s mother says despite the “mom” voice in her head that wants to wrap her child in bubble wrap and protect her from bad things, she and her husband continue to be their daughter’s biggest cheerleaders.

“Katie has demonstrated over and over again her ability to manage the ups and downs of dealing with her physical and medical challenges,” says Denise Taylor. “She wants to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as a gesture and encouragement to others to climb whatever their personal mountain is too. My heart bursts with pride and respect for her. “

Katie says although some people say their lives flash before their eyes when they have a near-death experience, in her case it was her future that flashed before her eyes.

“I pictured prom, graduation, my father walking me down the aisle, all things that I wanted to do standing on my own two feet,” she says. When a hospital psychologist asked her how she felt knowing she might never walk again, Katie screamed at him to get out of her room and find her someone who was going to give her hope, not squash it.

“It turns out that I was right,” she says now. “Twenty-six days after the accident, I moved a toe. A week later I moved another toe, then my ankle, and then my thigh. Two months after my accident, my physical therapist tied my feet at right angles, and I hauled myself up and “walked” between parallel bars. Eight months after the accident, I started walking without any form of assistance.”

Oberwise says the climb is certain to be one of the greatest challenges Katie will face in her lifetime.

“In every sense of the word she will be conquering — conquering any fear she may have about the trek, conquering any physical deficit that others may have thought she had, and, most importantly, conquering the negative paths life offers by doing this for an incredible cause,” he says.

As for himself, Oberwise sees Kilimanjaro as the symbol of the personal changes he determined to make when he was lying in that hospital bed.

“Katie, myself, and Chris Kubik — the project director of May We Help — will be pushing ourselves to the limit to not only make a statement about the people we represent but to also find the sense of clarity that come from an experience as life-altering as something like this,” he says.

He quotes Cheryl Strayed: “Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something.”

For information or to pledge to May We Help, see

To view examples of the inspirational work done by May We Help, see

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