In 2014 he broke his neck—now, Perth engineer Steve Plain has broken an incredible record.
Flat on his back in hospital, unable to move, Plain made himself a promise in 2014: to one day walk out of hospital and climb the highest peaks on each continent. “Today,” he told WHO from Mt Everest on May 14, “I completed that goal.”
And in record time. On May 14 the 36 year old reached his final summit, Mt Everest, becoming the fastest person to scale the Seven Summits, slashing nine days off the previous record with his 117-day achievement.
It’s a stunning achievement given he was once warned he may never walk again.
Plain’s world was upturned on Dec. 13, 2014, when he and his mate Dave went for an early morning swim at Perth’s famed Cottesloe Beach.
After a splash, “I decided it was time to bodysurf in for breakfast,” says Plain, who was born in Sydney but had moved to Perth for work.
As he rode a “tiny” wave, it suddenly dumped him, forcing his head and neck into the sand and shattering three vertebrae in his neck.
“I found myself lying face-down in the water, unable to breathe, unable to move,” he says. “Thankfully, another wave flipped me over so I could at least gasp for air.”
Fortunately two lifeguards—Gary Matier and his 14-year-old daughter, Lara—were nearby and heard Dave’s cries. Plain attributes the fact that he would one day walk again to their first-aid efforts.
In hospital, “it hit home how serious it was when I wanted to phone my parents in Sydney to tell them what had happened—I couldn’t even hold the receiver,” he says. “That’s when I lost it and began to cry. The realisation I could be paralysed for life was overwhelming.”
His head was clamped in a “painful and uncomfortable” halo brace, with four metal pins in his skull, in the hope the spine would heal.
Three months later the brace was removed and, despite nerve damage, Plain began moving, one shuffling step at a time.
“My brother has always been a fighter, and probably the most determined of our six siblings,” says sister Tanya, 38, who moved in to help during his recovery. “One day, he just told me he’d decided to climb the world’s seven tallest mountains. I was gobsmacked.”
Months of rehab followed.
“I spent a lot of time in the gym, the pool, on a bike,” recalls Plain, who is single and works for a Perth mining company that gave him leave for his challenge. “It was tough, but I kept pushing myself.”
After a “practice run” on New Zealand’s Mt Aspiring, he took off on his mammoth personal quest in January with climbing partner Jon Gupta, through the aid of sponsorship deals.
His mission—which has included scaling Mt Vinson (Antarctica), Aconcagua (Argentina), Mt Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mt Kosciuszko (Australia), Denali (US) and Mt Elbrus (Russia)—is raising awareness and funds for SpinalCure and Surf Life Saving.
“The more difficult parts of the project have been the flights and times in transit,” he says. “The actual climbing has been relatively smooth.”
But whenever the task was tough, “remembering where I was three years ago keeps me going,” says Plain. “I love challenging my physical and mental capabilities.”
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