Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002 Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002
Sandpoint Magazine

Sandpoint Magazine Winter 2002

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He made climbing history

Behind the counter at his shop Watches by Gosh, Don Bennett looks unassuming, like a kindly grandfather with a pleasant grin and easy manner. In reality, he’s an adventurer who made history as the first amputee to climb western Washington’s Mount Rainier, a 14,410-foot peak.

That historic climb in the summer of 1982 was the beginning of an adventurous period in his life that led him to competition in sports including soccer, kayaking, canoeing and skiing, all as an amputee.

Active before the boating accident in 1972 that left his right leg severed, Bennett simply adapted to remain active. He resumed downhill skiing four months after the accident and took up different sports that were amenable to amputees.

“After I was hurt I had to change my whole lifestyle. I couldn’t jog anymore, so I took up canoeing and kayaking,” Bennett explains.

Nine years after becoming an amputee, he decided to climb Mount Rainier. The trek called “Hop to the Top,” consisted of a party of seven, including his daughter, led by John Skirving. Bennett climbed on one leg using specially designed crutches with replaceable metal spikes. The expedition received worldwide media coverage and landed Bennett as a guest on Good Morning America.

In 1985, Bennett started the first amputee soccer league in the world. Meantime, he was the only amputee ski instructor in the Greater Seattle Ski School. And he won a gold and silver medal in the nationals at Winter Park, Colo., sponsored by the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association. He retired from competition overall after a 25-mile canoe race in 1996.

Now his challenge is building up his retail shop in Coeur d’Alene. Bennett, at 68, says he has quieted down. “I’m not looking for another mountain to climb, another whitewater adventure or another downhill ski race. I’m so glad that I’ve had all those experiences because those will stay with you for a lifetime. I call them my assets because no one can take away those experiences.”

Bennett adds, “Now I ski for the fun of it.”

– Billie Jean Plaster

Summer 1999

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