South African student is first female quadriplegic to climb Kili

2 September 2015

Ability activist Chaeli Mycroft is making her way with her team of Chaeli Conquerors up majestic Mount Kilimanjaro. The Capetonian student passed the 400m mark early yesterday morning, two days after celebrating her 21st birthday. The Chaeli Kili Climbers is her crusade to become the first female quadriplegic to summit the peak, and one of only three people with disabilities to do so.

Mycroft and her team kicked off their epic adventure on Friday, 27 August and she hopes to reach Kilimanjaro’s highest point by this Friday, 4 September. In addition to the rigorous climb, the team is hoping to raise awareness about the mind-set and mobility of children with disabilities, as well as cerebral palsy. Mycroft says she created the Chaeli Conquerors to show the importance of working together to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

“Just because someone has a disability, doesn’t mean there should be a limit to what they can achieve,” Mycroft told News24 before she left for Tanzania. The climb will help raise funds to support the Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre run by the Chaeli Campaign, the charity she started with her sister and three lifelong friends. At the time, Mycroft was only nine years old; the five girls were aged six to 12.

Her passion as an ability activist won her the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011 and in 2012 the first medal for social activism awarded by the Nobel Peace Laureates. The charity has assisted over 5 000 children with disabilities in South Africa, providing customised wheelchairs, occupational therapy and educational support. The Chaeli Campaign is endorsed by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

“I think the drive of activism has always been a part of my makeup. I was raised to be open about my disability,” Mycroft told CNN recently. In addition to charity work, she is also strives to break barriers for people with disabilities, showing the rest of the world they can do anything able-bodied people can do, both in small ways, such as being the first quadriplegic to study and live on campus fulltime, as well in big ways such as climbing Africa’s highest mountain.


The Chaeli Kili Climbers are being led by East Africa expert Carel Verhoef, who has climbed Kilimanjaro nine times. Climbing in a specially designed wheelchair, Mycroft has a team of 15 people helping her on the journey to the summit. At some of the trail’s more precarious points, she will be carried by another climber.

Planning the climb has taken almost three years of research and preparation to develop, taking into consideration the effects altitude and physical exhaustion will have on Mycroft. The climb, as Verhoef can attest, takes its toll on even the best and fittest climbers, but Mycroft does have a special set of physical needs. Her body can be susceptible to sudden temperature drops, so heat and fluid intake regulation is vital to her success. But she is confident in herself and her team’s ability to work together to solve any problems during the climb.

“I’m not stressing about the mountain,” Mycroft insists. “If anything goes wrong, I know that we can find a solution. We have a very strong-minded group of people. I think you need that in order to be successful.”

The climb is being live tweeted on Twitter and her website, tracking the team’s progress in real-time, using the hashtag #ClimbWithChaeli. The team hopes to complete the climb and reach the highest point in Africa by the weekend.

SAinfo reporter