Almost four years after making the decision to amputate her lower leg, Durangoan Bee Mathis is planning to climb one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes.
She was selected to climb Cotopaxi, a 19,347-foot peak in Ecuador, with 20 other climbers as part of the Range of Motion Project’s effort to prove that amputees are not disabled when they have access to prosthetic care.
The mission of the Range of Motion Project, also known as ROMP, is in line with Mathis’ own views.
“In my opinion, I don’t have a disability whenever I have access to my prosthesis,” she said.
Mathis shattered the bones in her ankle and leg in a climbing accident in 2011, and after six surgeries, she decided to have her leg amputated 6 inches below the knee so she could get back to biking, hiking and climbing.
She finds it unfair that 80 percent of amputees live in the developing world while just 2 percent have access to prosthetic care, she said.
Mathis’ goal is to raise $3,700 for ROMP before leaving Friday on the climb.
ROMP has organized a major climb every year since 2015 to raise money for prosthetic patients in the United States, Guatemala and Ecuador who do not have access to care.
ROMP expects to provide prosthetic limbs to about 400 patients this year, said Lauren Panasewicz, director of events for the nonprofit.
The medical devices are not free. The nonprofit asks patients to pay a small fee for the devices so they are invested in using and caring for them, she said. However, if the fee was a barrier, the nonprofit would not turn a patient away, she said.
The nonprofit spends about $1,000 on each device and is able to keep its costs down through donated prosthetic components, she said.
ROMP also provides physical therapy and other follow-up care for patients, she said.
Mathis expects to make caring for other amputees her career as a certified orthotist and prosthetist. An orthotist works specifically on medical braces.
She is currently studying exercise science at Fort Lewis College and plans to go on to graduate school to pursue her goal.
She discovered her interest in the field while spending time with Bryan Lott, her prosthetist at Durango Hanger Clinic. She later became an intern at the clinic and now works there in administration.
She has found a natural connection with her patients.
“We have to overcome different obstacles in our lives, but there’s certain things we can relate to,” she said.
Since January, she has been balancing her studies, work and training for her climb.
“Summiting would be beautiful. But it’s just the journey that I appreciate,” she said.
Other climbers across the world organize climbs to raise money for ROMP from May through October. People can follow the ROMP community on social media with the hashtags #climbing4romp and #whatsyourmountain, Panasewicz said. So far this year, 350 registered climbers have participated, she said.
To donate to Mathis’ climb, visit crowdrise.com/beemathis