“People are nice. That’s the good thing about humans, but after awhile you’re like ‘I know if I had two legs you wouldn’t treat me this way’.”
Dan Kosick is a nice guy. A super nice guy. But as an adaptive athlete since the age of 15, when he lost his leg to cancer, he doesn’t always love it when people are too nice.
“I don’t think it’s really fair for me to say that I don’t want people to hold up for me because I’d probably wait for someone in my shoes. That’s just human nature. You want people to hold up if they notice someone is struggling or could use some extra help. So I can’t get mad at somebody for wanting to slow down and help me out, but internally I’m just always going to feel like I don’t want want that to happen.”
Compassion and competitiveness. These two forces define Dan.
The former fuels his work as a social worker, lacrosse coach and world-class father. The latter has driven him to lofty heights, like competing against the world’s best as a US Paralympic skier and serving as a Tough Mudder ambassador.
But when it comes to lofty heights, no endeavor has taken him as high–or tapped into his competitiveness and compassion–as much as his most recent achievement.
“The big thing about Cotopaxi is that it’s almost 20,000 feet, which is an elevation I’ve never experienced,” said Dan, two months out from the summiting expedition he and 15 other amputees would attempt on behalf of the Range Of Motion Project (ROMP), a non-profit organization established to help underserved populations gain access to prosthetic services.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but the whole idea behind the climb is to show the world that you’re not disabled by an amputation, but by the lack of a proper prosthetic.”
And show the world they did. On September 28th, Dan, and the ROMP team, successfully reached the summit of Ecuador’s second tallest mountain as the sun was just cresting the eastern horizon.
“It was incredible. It wasn’t easy climbing in glacier boots with crampons and a prosthetic at 20,000 feet,” recalled Dan. “I almost felt tired…almost.”
Dan, of course, was joking about the post-climb exhaustion he experienced, but all kidding aside, he credits committing to a focused training plan for the successful outcome.
“My whole mindset leading up to Cotopaxi was to train as if I was performing, so when I performed it was like training.”
Specifically, Dan relied on a regimen of functional fitness exercises, indoors and outdoors, knowing he would need to rely on his entire body to get him up and down the mountain.
“To me functional fitness means fitness you’re going to use,” noted Dan. “There are so many different ways to workout and train, but if you’re training and working out in ways that you’re just not going to use everyday, or for specific purposes and goals, then it’s not functional.”
From weekly sessions gripping, grappling and grinding up and over obstacles at a local OCR course to more structured training sessions at his local gym, the challenges of Cotopaxi remained the focal point of Dan’s training.
“I think the idea is that everybody should approach training with a goal or a focus. It might not be climbing a mountain, but just having a goal in general forces you to come up with a plan of how to get there. For me, at 20,000 feet, climbing Cotopaxi on one leg meant I was going to need to be able to do 20,000 step-ups over some really tough, uneven terrain in thin air,” said Dan. “Just knowing this gave me and my coaches something to focus on and build a training plan around.”
When asked if all his training and preparation eliminated any sense of doubt leading up to the climb, Dan simply responded, “I’m not afraid of falling. I’ve fallen a lot in life. I fall everyday. Most people don’t know how to fall, so they’ve never embraced it. But I’m a professional faller and I know how to fall good, so if I fall on Cotopaxi I will just have to figure it out when I get there.”
It’s unclear how many times Dan fell, or if he fell at all, but what is clear is that he and his fellow ROMP climbers figured it out when they got there.
To help Dan and his efforts for the Range Of Motion Project, please consider donating at ROMPglobal.org.