From the E.O.F.T. Magazine 18/19 (October 2018)
One leg, two crutches. Tom Belz has been making his way in the world like this for 23 years. He contracted bone cancer as a child, and amputating his left leg was the only way to save his life. There are two distinctly observable realities about Tom—the fact that he is missing one leg and the fact that he will not allow himself to be hindered by it. His ascent of Kilimanjaro in the summer of 2018 is the best example of this tenacious spirit, and an endorsement of his Swahili nickname ‘mbuzi dume’ meaning ‘strong goat’, an animal known for its extraordinary speed and agility when navigating vertical terrain.
At home, people always want to label me and put me in a box where I don’t belong. Here, they just have no idea where to put me.
Have you been treated differently in Africa because of your disability, as opposed to how you’re treated at home?
Tom Belz: Yes. From the moment I walked onto African soil, everyone was staring at me. But not the tourists—it was the African people who thought it was totally crazy. They just didn’t know how to deal with me. I only have one leg, but otherwise I’m perfectly normal. I actually work with mentally and physically handicapped people. First, I had to prove to the African people that they didn’t have to help me so much. One of the boys holds a record for climbing and descending Kilimanjaro. He and I were running up and over hills, and he turned around two or three times and thought, ‘Tom’s actually pretty fast!’ That’s how they finally realized what I’m capable of. During the ascent itself, I was, of course, super thankful that I had guides there to support me because I constantly broke through the ice on the summit plateau.
Dr. Klaus Sieger, the doctor who saved your life 23 years ago, also accompanied you on the ascent. How was that experience?
Very intense. Klaus saved my life back then, but that clinic held traumatic memories for me and I had to reorient myself. At first, I didn’t even want to go back to there, but with time, this feeling subsided a bit, and I had the opportunity to meet children there who had the same fate as I did and to whom I was introduced as a role model. I often saw Klaus there, and that was really nice. For me, the clinic became like a second home, a place where I started to live again. Klaus was a very important part of that, so climbing Kilimanjaro with him actually felt right.
What does Mount Kilimanjaro mean to you in your life now?
I wanted to prove to myself that I could make it to the summit. But in the end, everyone has his own baggage in life to carry; Kilimanjaro is a metaphor for that. Everyone has his own Kilimanjaro to climb. Your partner leaves you, one parent dies… these are terrible things, but they are also opportunities. Life isn’t always as easy as you might think, but you have to decide for yourself whether you will succumb to life’s challenges or find a way to transcend them.
Kilimanjaro and beyond:
As YouTuber ‘Tom NATIVE’, the 31-year-old has already published several travel videos. The first time he set his sights on ascending a mountain, it was Kilimanjaro. His former doctor Klaus Siegler took on the challenge with him.