Man determined not to let his disability get in the way of his mountain climbing dreams

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- An Arizona man has proved that physical limitations don't mean a person can't fulfill his or her dreams.

Tom Whittaker of Prescott is a world-renowned mountain climber, but a car accident almost ruined his career. Now, Whittaker shares his story of perseverance, in hopes it inspires others.

"Whenever anyone tells me I can't do something, I go out to prove them wrong," said Whittaker.

Whittaker has never let the word "no" stop him, and that's what led him becoming the first disabled person to ever conquer Mount Everest in 1998. The journey to that achievement, however, was not an easy one.

From a young age, climbing became a passion, and Whittaker became a world-class mountaineer, conquering mountains across the globe. He was on top of his game, gaining notoriety within the climbing community, when his life almost ended in 1979.

"A drunk driver lost control of the vehicle and came into my lane and hit my vehicle head-on," said Whittaker. "I was driving a [Volkswagen] Bus, and the bracket that held on the spare wheel took my right foot off. I had multiple fractures of both lower legs."

Whittaker's right foot had to be amputated.

"I came here to become a name brand mountaineer, and feet are part of the job description," said Whittaker.

Whittaker's doubt and fear, however, turned to determination.

"One of the things that kept me going after my accident was the look in my friend's eyes and climbing partner's eyes when they saw what had happened to me, and that killed me because I could tell that they -- that I was no longer one of them," said Whittaker. "I wasn't one of those elite mountaineers, I was washed up in their eyes."

That determination is what brings Whittaker to the top of Mount Everest. Whittaker said once he set his mind to the goal, there was no turning back.

"I found that through training and being even more dedicated than I was before I got disabled, I could climb just as well with an artificial foot than I could with all 10 toes," said Whittaker.

Whittaker retired from Prescott College in 2000. He is now a motivational speaker, and does corporate training and leadership courses talking about his life.