The Tom Whittaker Story

"When I say I climbed Everest what I really mean is … my team climbed Mount Everest."

Tom Whittaker rocked conventional wisdom when, as an amputee, he created a world first by becoming the first person with a disability to climb Mount Everest. Now he is aiming for a new world record; to become the first amputee to conquer the highest peak on each of seven continents.

Tom Whittaker, a world-class mountaineer, has pitted himself against the North Face of the Matterhorn in winter, Mt. McKinley, and the nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. On Thanksgiving Day of 1979, a car accident shattered both his legs. Emergency surgery saved his life but required the removal of his right kneecap - and the amputation of his right foot. Tom Whittaker’s life had changed forever but his adventures had just begun. Nineteen years later, Whittaker made history and stunned the world when he became the first ‘disabled’ climber ever to conquer Mount Everest.

This was his third attempt on that mountain. In 1995 he came within 1,500 feet of the summit before being beaten back. On returning to base camp, teammate Greg Child gave Tom a stone saying “I picked this up on the summit and I want you to put it back where I got it from”. The gauntlet was cast.

Three years later, after overcoming a lung infection, and medical opposition, Tom’s perseverance and determination paid off. On May 27th, 1998, Whittaker made a footprint on Everest and climbing history by stepping onto the 'Roof of the World'. He returned the stone, he redefined the possible, but more than anything his achievement stands as a beacon to all who aspire to take a dream and turn it into something great.

All this was captured in CBS’s documentary film, "Footprint on Everest", which won the Teddy (Roosevelt) Award for best adventure documentary. The film was re-tooled for “48 Hours" with Dan Rather as “Against All Odds.”

Tom Whittaker’s experiences have taken him on a remarkable journey of adventure and self-discovery. He proved to the world – and himself – that the mind is more powerful than the body. He has battled to raise awareness of diversity and the real abilities of people with disabilities. Tom is convinced that the best way for people, no matter who they are, to achieve their destinies is through well defined values, self knowledge, clear goals and the ambition and drive to make it happen. Whittaker’s wining formula has worked for him and his teams in the most extreme environments on Earth. Of this you can be absolutely certain; it will work for your people - Guaranteed!

Biodata: Tom Whittaker

With 35 years of experience in teamwork, leadership and motivation training Tom Whittaker is an educator and expert and human achievement. He has two Masters Degrees from Idaho State University’s College of Education and pursued Doctoral studies at Colorado State University in the School of Human Resources.

The son of a Welsh army officer, Tom Whittaker worked as a schoolteacher in the UK, a rig diver in the North Atlantic and as a nightclub bouncer in Gibraltar. He arrived in the U.S. having worked his passage delivering a 65-foot yacht across the Atlantic. He has been a program director for the Canadian Outward Bound Mountain School, he founded and directed the Cooperative Wilderness Handicapped Outdoor Group at Idaho State University and for nine years, Whittaker taught wilderness leadership studies as a professor at Prescott College in Arizona.

Tom Whittaker became a naturalized American citizen in 1986. Twenty years later he was inducted into “The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace when he was awarded an MBE, for service to people with disabilities and mountaineering.

Tom Whittaker currently serves as the Executive Director of the Call to Duty Foundation that is dedicated to integrating service men and women from Iraq and Afghanistan back into the society they fought to protect. He lives in the mountains of Arizona with his two young daughters.


  • Tom Whittaker was inducted into The Most Magnificent Order of the British Empire when he was presented the Member of the British Empire award at a royal investiture at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II.
  • The Gene Autry Courage Award
  • The Franklin D. Roosevelt Award: March of Dimes
  • The ESPN "Superlative performance" Arete Award
  • Freedom of the Human Spirit Award - International Center for the Disabled
  • Just One Break, Inc. Role Model of the Year Award

Educational Initiative

Whittaker’s message of diversity went out in seven separate Scholastic News publications to some two million school children. An interactive curriculum 5th through 12th grades was subscribed to by 760 schools in the U. S. and Canada. Another million hits were logged on web sites that were maintained during the expedition.

Environmental Initiative

Tom Whittaker’s expedition retrieved more than 1,000lbs of garbage from the high camps and recycled it to the highest standards. They also retrieved 89 oxygen Cylinders that were shipped back to the US and sold to cover the cost of the initiative.