Ambassador for Mobility: Nicolai Calabria (pictured at 13)

Location: Concord, MA (And Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania!)

Date: Since 2007

Background:  Carl Calabri has a unique way to mark the milestone age of 13 for each of his children. Instead of the usual cake and balloons, Carol takes each of his children on a “coming of age” adventure. The summer of 2007 was Nico’s turn to pick a destination. But, where to go? Nico explains:
I have been researching many places in the world that I could go. Yes, I could go somewhere to relax and think about nothing but lying on a beach, but it would be much more memorable to do something life changing and exciting. I have chosen, for my coming of age adventure, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I was inspired by a Nova series on PBS entitled “Volcano in the Clouds”. I also watched a movie that truly inspired me, “Emmanuel’s Gift”. If you get a chance, please watch it! This movie gave me the idea to make this not just an adventure but also a way to support the disabled community of Tanzania. The movie made me realize how fortunate I am to have such a great life. Many people with limb differences or other challenges aren’t so fortunate.”
The Story (Pre-Climb): At any age, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be tough – let alone being only 13 years old, and doing the whole thing on crutches! (Nico was born without his right leg or hip, but that clearly has never slowed him down!) Nico had a huge challenge in front of him – training for the physical demands of the mountain PLUS working to raise $27,000 to reach his goal of filling one container full of 550 wheelchairs for Tanzania. 

Nico wanted to make sure the world knew about his project, and knew why he was doing it. 

Nico on the Ellen DeGeneres show October 2011

Nico with Dakota Fanning at Shane’s Inspiration Gala 2008
Nico on the cover of Smithsonian magazine Scholastic January 2008

The Story (The Climb): Nico reached the Uhuru Peak summit at 11:18 AM after climbing for more than 10 hours from Kibo Huts camp. He descended safely to Horombo Huts camp in 5 hours. His father Carl reached Stella Point (140 meters shy of Uhuru) at 10:30 AM. He developed symptoms of acute AMS (altitude mountain sickness) and was ordered to descend immediately. With the assistance of a guide he descended 1100 meters in 1 hour. He is OK. Nico and Carl completed the descent – wind burned and exhausted but otherwise fine. Nico wanted to descend with his father, but Carl asked him to complete the climb for the both of them. Carl is disappointed that he could not stand at the summit with Nico but could not be any prouder of him.

The Story (Post-Climb): As a way to bring this adventure to a full circle, Nico returned to Tanzania in early December with his mother, Jeanine, for the wheelchair distribution ceremony (held on “International Disability Day) where he not only personally presented each of the 100 wheelchairs to its recipient but also visited with their friends and family members who were in attendance. Nicolai’s message as he addressed the crowd of one thousand (including many government officials and dignitaries) was “each of you matter and one person can make a difference.” He was so genuinely pleased to see these people receive relief and mobility, and with tears in his eyes, told his mother that the feelings he experienced during the distribution was better than the feeling he had when he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was an emotionally satisfying experience for all involved, and Calabria hopes to continue to help those in need in the years to come.

Lives Changed to Date: 1,745

Nico is an avid soccer player…
… and wrestler.

Nico with Free Wheelchair Mission founder, Don Schoendorfer


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