Wheelchair adventurer credits Big Isle ohana
The mainland visitor conquers Mauna Kea in under 40 hours
Sean O'Neill became the first man to climb Mauna Kea in a wheelchair Saturday night, a feat he could not have accomplished without Big Island generosity.
"There's a lot of little tiny pieces that just kind of blend together and you get an overall sense of goodness," O'Neill said yesterday. "I know for a fact, it could not have happened if I was all alone ... Everything takes more than just one person."
O'Neill finished the 43-mile trek at 11:45 p.m. Saturday, 13,796 feet above sea level. The 40-year-old, a metal sculptor from Pennsylvania, started at 8 a.m. Friday from the Hilo shoreline.
With the help of Big Island friend Raul Perena and resident Dan Beardsley, O'Neill pushed 18 hours on Friday and 14 hours on Saturday, sleeping only three hours between.
Both days were the biggest uphill pushes he's ever done.
Five of the last 8 1/2 miles of the road were unpaved -- covered in dust and rocks half the size of his fist, O'Neill said.
Paralyzed from the waist down 15 years ago after jumping from a bridge in Tennessee into the Mississippi River, O'Neill has received lots of support already, but he was overwhelmed by the Big Island's generosity.
A man named Bobo "who came out of the blue" Friday night offered O'Neill encouragement, telling him he would make it.
"He was quite supportive," O'Neill said. "I didn't realize how arduous it would be."
ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pennsylvania resident Sean O'Neill, shown here munching on a pear during preparations Thursday, was described by his brother Tim yesterday as "a fierce athlete."
On the second day, he spent nearly two hours talking to people who stopped to say hello as drivers slowed to show their support.
He received about 2,000 shakas, he said, adding "every single one makes me smile."
Saturday evening, with three miles left to the summit, discouragement had begun to set in. His time per mile had grown progressively longer.
O'Neill completed a mile in two hours on the unpaved road. Usually he can push 5 mph on a flat road.
After 8:30 p.m., O'Neill said, "I was ready to throw in the towel just to brush my teeth."
Perena walked with O'Neill most of the way on Saturday, and encouraged him to continue at a slow pace along the steeper incline and thinner atmosphere to prevent overexertion.
Kimo Pihana, a Mauna Kea ranger who also escorted O'Neill, said the last mile was probably the toughest, with a 17 percent grade.
"I thought he was going to hit the wall, but he just continued on to make sure he was going to finish," Pihana said.
By the time O'Neill made it in 38-degree weather, "he just was looking forward to get some rest," Pihana said.
Yesterday, O'Neill's hands were tender and his upper body muscles sore, but he was "delirious" and "catatonic."
"The whole entire accomplishment I haven't even taken in yet," he said. "It's kind of surreal."
O'Neill plans to return to the mainland in a week. In the meantime, he is considering a trip in the next few days to push up Haleakala.