On March 14, 15-year-old Eli Reimer became the first American teenager with Down Syndrome to reach Everest Base Camp. “We took time to really spell it out for him in a way that he could understand,” his father, Justin, who climbed with him, said. “We trained and we got everything on Netflix that was related to Himalayas.”
They decided to attempt the trek after a friend of Justin mentioned that it could be a good wait to raise money for their non-profit. Justin says that Eli is athletic, and that they hike a lot, but that they’d never thought about doing a big climb. Their nine-person team raised 85,000 for the Elisha Foundation, which the Reimers started in 2005 to provide resources for families with special needs children; they’re particularly active in Eastern Block countries like Ukraine.
Justin said that, mentally, they broke it down in to small pieces for Eli, calling each day a summit, and often having different members of the team working to distract him from the intensity of the climb. Physically, Justin says, Eli’s experience wasn’t that different from the rest of their team. At one point most of their group got a stomach bug, which Eli avoided.
After 10 days of climbing, and trying not to hold the team to any expectations, Justin said making it to Base Camp was surreal. “It had been 16 months of planning, so then to have my son in all of his disabled glory standing there was humbling,” he said.