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Paraplegic climber Lai Chi-wai, of Hong Kong, scaled nearly to the top of a 1,050-foot skyscraper in his hometown last Saturday. Though he stopped after about 800 feet, battered by high winds, the 38-year-old managed to raise over HK$5.2 million ($700,000 USD) for charity, with the funds going towards research on robotic exoskeletons for those with spinal injuries.
Paralyzed from the waist down after an automobile accident in 2011, when he was only 28, Chi-wai was previously a top-ranked speed climber. He took gold for Speed two-years in a row (2002, 2003) in the IFSC Asian Championships and also podiumed with silvers in the same category in 2000 and 2006. He also reportedly was the first Chinese X-Games winner for Speed Climbing.
On the fifth anniversary of his accident, Chi-wai jugged up Hong Kong’s famous Lion Rock, a 500-meter granite monolith which looms over the city. Now, five years later, the motivational speaker and activist attempted to perform a similar stunt on the 1,050-foot Nina Tower, to “express the Lion Rock spirit in an urban jungle,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.
Unfortunately, a little over halfway up, high winds began to twist his ropes and toss his wheelchair back and forth, nearly slamming him into the building on several occasions. He was forced to constantly pause to untangle his lines, and the strain began to wear on him. Chi-wai eventually threw in the towel 200 feet from the top.
After the climb, which took over 10-hours, his fingers were purportedly so raw and blistered that he only could use the tips of his thumbs to spin the wheels of his wheelchair.
“I can only accept this version of events,” he said in the NYT interview. “But as an athlete, I don’t know if this is the best ending. I don’t have closure yet. I’m still looking for answers.”
Although he turned back just shy of his urban summit, Chi-wai’s efforts weren’t in vain. The stunt boosted the spirits of many in Hong Kong, a city wracked by protests and the pandemic in the last year. Furthermore, his feat continues to bring in donations.
Owen Clarke is a writer currently based in a barn in Tennessee. He is a columnist for Rock & Ice, Gym Climber, and The Outdoor Journal. He also writes for Atlas Devices and BAÏST. He enjoys Southern sandstone and fish tacos, and is afraid of heights.
Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.