Local Paralympian Climbs To New Heights
Mittagong local Sam Tait becomes first paraplegic to climb Mount Kosciuszko
by Anna Zakaras
As if representing Australia at the Paralympics and World Championships isn’t enough of a monumental task (which, by the way he’s ticked off already!) in 2019, 29-year old Sam Tait from Mittagong set himself the task of climbing Australia's highest mountain without mechanical assistance. On 11 October 2020, with seven of his closest friends by his side, he achieved that goal.
Across a gruelling 16 kilometres, Sam used a combination of handcycling, sit-skiing, wheelbarrowing and walking on his hands with his legs being carried, to ascend seven hours to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains and the three-hour journey back. Soooo amazing!
Sam is now the first paraplegic to have ever climbed Mount Kosciuszko, calling the climb the most challenging experience mentally and physically he’s ever faced.
He was more than happy to chat with us about how the last seven years led him to the top of Australia!
1 // Tell us about the journey since your motorbike accident in 2013?
I was 22 when I had the accident that changed my life. Since that day I have been skiing. In rehab, I set myself a goal of competing at a Winter Paralympics whether it was 2018, 2022 or 2026. All I wanted to do was represent Australia. I started skiing four months after my accident and I loved it from the second I sat in a sit-ski. I can't explain the feeling it gives you, but it is freedom to me. There is nothing else I've experienced in the world that gives you such a euphoric feeling.
2 // Where do you live?
Each year my parents and I live between Perisher and Mittagong. We moved to the Highlands when I was 2 and I went to school at Chevalier College. I now head down to Perisher around June each year and work and train down there until about October when I come back to The Highlands. I call Mittagong home. It's close enough to the snow, the coast and the city, so it's a good position to be in. I have a lot of friends who live in the Highlands, so I love coming home and catching up with everyone when I have some down time.
3 // What inspired you to set yourself the challenge of climbing Mount Kosciuszko?
Last year I was towed up to the top of Kosi with a few mates, so I didn't do much work at all and I didn't really have that sense of accomplishment. When we were halfway through that hike, a conversation came up about climbing it solo. From there, we started to put a plan on paper.
4 // How did you prepare physically?
So this was tricky for myself and my coach, Kelly Beahan. I’m a downhill skier and need to be strong, explosive and fast, and don’t normally focus on endurance. We didn’t end up changing too much with my training, though. Kel and I knew I was fit enough to get to the top of Kosi - it was just preparing for the recovery and the distance of the 10-hour hike.
5 // Can you tell us about the climb?
The first half of the hike I handcycled about 5 kilometres. We then reached a 150 metre snowbank where my cross-country ski wouldn’t function anymore, so I decided to 'wheelbarrow' across the snow. I had a very close mate, Tom Hodgiflora, holding my legs while I 'walked' on my hands. This was a lot harder than I anticipated but we managed to get there after a few cramps and very sore arms. Over the next few kilometres I was jumping between my handcycle and my cross country sit-ski as the snow coverage wasn't the best until 3 kilometres from the summit where we left my wheelchair, handcycle and dumped excess luggage we didn't need for the rest of the trip.
A few hundred metres before the actual summit, there was a very steep side covered in snow, so you wouldn't want to lose your grip. My team, equipped with shovels dug out, built me a level path so I could safely get across to the bottom of Mt Kosciuszko.
Once I reached the point where I could no longer use my poles to push myself and my cross-country skis, we changed tactics. A rope was hiked up 20 metres, anchored into the snow on a three-way pulley system, so I could pull myself up the mountain 10-20 metres at a time. I think we did this over 50 times - it took about 1 hour and 30 minutes of constant rope pulls to get to the summit.
6 // How did it feel to achieve your goal?
Honestly, by the time I got to the top I was ruined. All I wanted to do was rest and sleep! But once I had some water and food, I was lifted onto the top of the navigation point where I could take it all in and it was really special. I got to see a sunset from the top of Australia, and it was beautiful.
7 // How did you stay motivated?
I think I just wanted to push my body to its limit, set a pretty tough goal, train and get it done. I'm a sucker for pain, so to me the pain was enjoyable and reaching the top of Mount Kosi was an extra bonus.
8 // What's your next goal?
I think I want to climb the Harbour Bridge. I just need to sort out a few things before I commit to that, though.
Sam’s Paralympic Sit-Ski performances to date include placing 10th in the Downhill at the 2018 Paralympics and 6th at the 2019 World Championships in Italy. His sights are now firmly set on the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing where he hopes to achieve his goal of being an Australian Medallist.