Two double amputees climb Pikes Peak to benefit veterans nonprofit
By ELLIE MULDER | The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette | Published: August 25, 2019
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — As double amputee Travis MacCody Strong climbed Pikes Peak, a little voice in his head pleaded with him to stop.
His back ached. His shoulders, wrists and hands were hurting.
But the retired Army staff sergeant pushed through, reaching the 14,115-foot summit after a four-day trek alongside Mandy Horvath, a double amputee who conquered the peak for the first time last year. Others joined to help carry their packs and to document the journey.
“This is a much tougher climb (than) I anticipated,” Strong posted on Facebook on Aug. 17, the third day of their journey. “But the climb must go on. One hop at a time.”
Strong lost both legs in 2006 while deployed in Iraq with the Army’s 1st Stryker Brigade, his biography says. He and his unit were on night patrol, rolling down an empty street near Baghdad, when an explosively formed penetrator bomb engulfed their armored vehicle.
Strong and Horvath’s climb — which benefited Cars 4 Heroes, a nonprofit providing free transportation to veterans and first responders in need — began Aug. 15 with a trek up the Incline. They wore matching shirts labeling them “LEGLESS LEGENDS.”
After Strong and Horvath came down the mountain, they presented a vehicle to a local veteran.
“I’m really proud of Travis, because I did warn him beforehand that this was going to be one of the hardest things he’s probably ever done,” Horvath said. “To an extent, I do believe that he underestimated a lot of my preparation and planning, and as a result, I think he’s hurting a little bit more than I am. He made it to the top, and I was really just honored to have him along and push him to reach his potential.”
Horvath has been affiliated with Cars 4 Heroes for more than 10 years. The organization is based in Olathe, Kan., near her hometown of Smithville, Mo. Its founder, Terry Franz, has been a mentor to her.
She says she was slipped a date rape drug at a bar in July 2014 and has no memory of how she came to wake up on train tracks, her legs crushed by a train. A few years later, Franz gave her a vehicle through his organization, which allowed her to continue her advocacy work across the country.
“He’s one of those people in my life that’s never given up on me,” she said. “I’m not military, myself, but I want to reach a hand out to those that are — not just that, but first responders, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be alive, in a couple (of) different instances now.”
In July, she helped bring the organization to Colorado, becoming director of operations for the state. She said she hoped the climb alongside Strong would draw awareness to the organization’s mission.
“We didn’t do this just for, uh, poop and giggles,” she said, laughing as she plugged the nonprofit’s website, cars4heroes.com, in a Facebook video the morning of Aug. 18.
“If you know a veteran or first responder in need of a vehicle, please send those applications in. And we’re also accepting donations through the donate tab on that website.”