“I can do this!”
Was Mitch’s thoughts as she struggled to walk. On the horizon the sun is setting fast but the goal was to reach the base camp of Mt. Fansipan – a mountain hut where hikers stay for a night. She could hear the wind howling sending gust of cold air. She felt cold and soon she realized her body is starting to numb but she had to push herself to her limits so as not to burden her companions.
However, a brewing fever threatened to ruin everything. She slept through the night using the sleeping bag a Vietnamese lent her and woke up the next day feeling better. The sun was out and about too which made the assault to the summit easier. The day was promising.
On 14 March 2016 she stood at the highest point of the former Indochina and like everybody else she held a pose, looked straight on the camera as the shutter clicked, recording her first highest climb to date.
Mountain climbing requires good health condition, having a pair of legs and hands and money to finance it – anyone can do the sport if you have the mentioned requirements.
But what made the climb more meaningful to Mitch?
Michella Esparas or simply Mitch to her family and friends, grew up with her right leg and left hand not fully developed. To put it simply, both her limbs did not develop inside her mother’s womb, doctors call this case as congenital or inborn.
And at 29 she received her prosthetic leg from a donor. “I was excited and I felt so blessed”.
Before receiving that wonderful gift she had been using the hand-made prosthetic contraption her father made for her – a wooden leg fitted to the cut-out right foot of her life-size doll. She used it until she graduated from college.
“They (her family) made inquiries when I was younger but doctors recommended that I have to be eighteen to have a prosthetic leg as the bone and muscles need to be fully developed. Due to circumstances it was not pursued so my father made an alternative and I was okay with it” Mitch shared.
Mitch admitted that growing up in a country which is not friendly to people with disability is a struggle. According to her, she had her fair share of bullying experience when she attended a public school in Malabon but when she transferred to a private school, the bullying diminished until it stopped.
“I was a quite child and I have accepted that I was different from the other kids and I didn’t let my disability hinder me from being the same as them though because we all have equal rights”. She had been called names, had been laughed at but those experiences didn’t kill her spirit because she has a family behind her.
“They let me do the things other children do. They let me enjoy outdoor activities like playing with my friends, joining field trips, doing house chores and somehow it readied me to face the real world”.
Mitch confessed that she doesn’t have any in depth knowledge about mountaineering and had not taken the basic mountaineering course. She encountered leave no trace principles like everyone else on the internet or from other people she encountered during her climbs.
She is just one among the many who are now trying to experience the highs of mountain climbing armed only with their fascination of the mountains but what made Mitch different is not her disability but her willingness to learn if given the opportunity.
After that journey to the top of Vietnam’s highest, she reminisces about her climbs here in the country. Only having walked the trails of Pico de Loro in Cavite and Pinatubo in Tarlac, it was indeed another experience to climb higher peaks.
“I felt victorious and fulfilled”
And like every mountain climber in the country, she too dreams of reaching even just the Everest Base Camp (EBC).
Despite having an artificial leg and a non-existent left hand, Mitch refuses to live inside a box, to be stereotyped and just exist within the bounds of what society dictates.
Opportunities, if fate doesn’t create it, we can create it for ourselves.#
Michella Dula Esparas was born in Longos Malabon City and a teacher by profession.