Wheelchair athlete sets high goals
A story of courage and determination. Juvenile diabetes and type two diabetes are both killers for which research must be continued to find a cure...
This reporter has hiked some of the trails that this remarkable man has conquered and it was not easy for me.
Wheelchair athlete sets high goals
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Bob Coomber cannot walk, but he sure can hike.
The disabled Livermore outdoorsman is preparing for the hike of his life - an ascent of 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa or 22,841-foot Cerro Aconcagua in South America.
If he pulls it off, he will be the first person to climb either mountain in a wheelchair.
"I have no idea if it's doable, but I would love the opportunity to just get there and start off," Coomber said. "I have to do something to prove to myself that I haven't reached the zenith of my life yet."
The Americans with Disabilities Act was not designed for people like Coomber, a 53-year-old adventurer known throughout the Bay Area as "Four Wheel Bob."
He got the nickname because he was regularly spotted pushing his wheelchair up mountains, down rocky gorges and along dusty trails in out-of-the-way places. He has been on virtually every hiking trail in the Bay Area, and last year he became the first wheelchair hiker to reach the summit of 14,246-foot White Mountain in the eastern Sierra, the third-tallest peak in California.
He does it, he says, because he loves nature and because the fruits of his labor are so rewarding. Now he is preparing for the most difficult unaided mountain climb anyone on a wheelchair has ever attempted.
"I figured about 15 years ago that as long as I could keep the chair moving in the right direction, I was going to keep pushing it," Coomber said. "I feel better physically than any time in my life, quite honestly. There is always an excuse to stay indoors. I'm just not much of a giver-upper."
His training will include a trip to Arizona next month with his wife, Gina, to tackle the four peaks known as South Mountain, Camelback Mountain, Papago Peak and Piestewa Peak.
His determination is unmatched. That's out of necessity. Nothing has ever come easy for Coomber, who grew up in Piedmont and developed juvenile diabetes in his early 20s.
The disease caused numbness and weakness in his legs, a condition known as neuropathy. But Coomber, who had spent his childhood hiking, fishing and backpacking, wasn't about to let the disease stop him.
He kept hiking while enduring a regimen of blood sugar tests and insulin injections. Then one sunny July day in 1990, he fell, and the brittle bones in his leg shattered. He struggled to rehabilitate his leg and regain his strength, but the problem worsened.
During one period, he suffered five fractures within 18 months. By the time he was 35, simply putting weight on his legs sometimes would cause them to fracture. The condition developed into a debilitating form of osteoporosis, and he was forced into a wheelchair.
The kind of hiking Coomber does is fraught with danger. With very limited use of his legs, he must turn backward on steep hills so he can push with his arms while his feet are on the ground stabilizing his wheelchair.
Going downhill can be even more hazardous. Coomber improvises switchback turns, his wheels often skidding on loose rocks and dirt.
"I've fallen over plenty of times, but I haven't gotten hurt," he said. "I just pull myself up and get back in."