Taking Iraq War Vets to the Summit

Tim Medvetz. Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. He writes about what's circulating through his iPod every Monday.
In the past, I have written a few times about some of the adventures I have been able to experience because of my friend Tim Medvetz. For those of you who don't know him from the Discovery Channel series Everest Beyond the Limit that aired a couple of years ago, he was not only a team member of that Mt. Everest expedition, he also summited the mountain in 2007--an amazing feat for anyone, and for this man in some respects even more so.

I met Tim a few years ago through a mutual best friend, Richard Stark, and it immediately became evident that we shared the same sense of adventure and humor. Tim was fresh from summiting Everest, and I was full of questions for him that night (mixing humor and wanderlust from me may come in the form of "Everest, huh? Cool! Was it high?" Stupid for sure, but Tim dug my line of questions/humor . . . I think).

Later that summer, Tim and Richard rode their Harleys through Seattle and stayed with the family McKagan (our house is now dubbed "Northwest headquarters" because, well, with Richard and Tim, what is mine is theirs and likewise). This prolonged hangout gave Tim and me more time to work on our comedic duo routine, and it gave me time to learn a bit more about Tim.

You see, Tim and Richard were to be taking a ferry from Bellingham up to Alaska, where they would continue their bike trip across Canada and down to New York. It turns out that when this ferry gets to Alaska, one must drive through a slice of Canada to get back into Alaska again. Well, this is when I found out Tim used to be a member of a very famous outlaw bike gang . . . er, club. Canada doesn't allow those kind, apparently, and Tim and Richard found themselves face-down with guns drawn on them at that border, and eventually back on that same three-day ferryride, southbound, back to the Northwest headquarters.

His story since 2001 is pretty unbelievable.

In September 2001, Tim got hit by a car while riding his motorcycle down here in L.A. He suffered tremendous head, back, and leg injuries. He woke up in the hospital only to see a bunch of nurses and doctors gathered around the TV set in his room. As his vision started to clear, he became cognizant of the images of a Trade Center building in NYC falling to the ground. He faced that same despair we all felt, and on top of that, the doctors said they would have to amputate a foot, put a steel plate in his head, and put a steel-mesh cage around his lower spine.

After being threatened with grievous bodily harm, the doctors found a way to save Tim's foot, but only just. His ankle is fused permanently. Doctors told him that his physical activities would forever be limited to a couch, basically. Ah, but Tim was reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer while he was in that hospital bed, and vowed then and there to climb Mt. Everest.

After being discharged, Tim went to Brazil to study jiujitsu with the Grace family for two years, AND became a certified dive instructor and skydiver. I think he did some time in a Brazilian prison too . . . just for kicks.

After his stint in Brazil, he came back to NYC to run the door at the world famous Hogs and Heifers bar before departing to Nepal to learn the ropes of high-altitude climbing. He also spent six months in veritable silence in a monastery there. Silence is not Tim's strong suit. His time in Nepal was followed by a year in Thailand at a live-in kickboxing school. It was now time for him to somehow get up Everest.

Tim joined a team that was going to attempt Mt. Everest in 2006, and maybe this incredible story should be left to another stand-alone column. Suffice it to say nothing comes easy to Tim, and his journey through India to get to Katmandu was filled with scrapes and triumphs. When he did finally get on the team, it turned out that The Discovery Channel happened to be filming this expedition. Tim eventually garnered worldwide fandom as the most intense and nonconforming member of that team. In 2007, he finally realized his hospital-bed dream and summited Mt. Everest.

Over the course of the following year, 2008, Tim, Richard, and I got together more and more often as friends who shared an interest in things like the outdoors, sports, and music. But most important, we all seem to share a sense of family, brotherhood, and honor, things that seem at times to be missing too often in this hyper-fast information age.

Eventually, Tim invited me on a training hike or two. It was on these hikes, and the times that Tim would come to visit my family, that I began to understand the true character that this man has somehow contained under that flesh. Tim got me up my very first winter summit last year, and without him being there, it would have been only a fraction of the fun. Honestly, I probably would not have made it to the top of that mountain without his humor-filled chiding and hard-won expertise.

I found out on these hikes another thing about Tim: He has another much grander and more selfless dream. After seeing a TV special on U.S. soldiers who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tim was inspired to get up and at least try to help. Remember, Tim was told that he would be an invalid himself. He knew what these kids were facing emotionally when they finally got back home to their mom's couch in Minnesota or wherever, limbless and aimless and suffering myriad emotional difficulties.

Tim has now started a foundation where he himself will attempt all the world's seven highest summits WITH a wounded veteran along for the climb. We are talking about single and double-leg amputees--young men who want to overcome for themselves and carry the message home to their fallen brethren. A message of hope and inspiration, if nothing else.

Over this last year, I have ridden along with Tim on the ups and downs and highs and lows of trying and finally succeeding in getting his "Heroes Project" up and running. Last week he came over to the house with a hand-shot DVD of his first two "Seven Summit" attempts with wounded U.S. veterans of the Iraq War. I was stunned by what I saw. I am proud of my friend.

Tim is a man who, through his own battles with injuries that could have set him back forever on a couch in a fit of despair and depression, really knows what these wounded warriors are up against. He does this not for glory for himself, but indeed, as I have gotten to really know Tim, for the betterment of mankind as a whole.

See for yourself at theheroesproject.org.

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