On the seventh day of their ascent, an unprecedented group of climbers reached the 3.6-mile-high summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
And the medical director for this expedition of people with disabilities, UPMC neurosurgeon and longtime Steelers team physician and triathlete Joseph Maroon, M.D., promptly reached for the satellite phone. Time to phone home.
Dr. Maroon celebrated Wednesday by calling KDKA-AM friends Larry Richert and John Shumway on the air. It was 6:58 a.m. Pittsburgh time, 2:58 p.m. in Africa.
What transpired not only captivated Richert – he called Dr. Maroon a “medical marvel” for having covered more than 3,000 miles in triathlon competitions – but also the radio station’s listening audience and next guest, Pirates team president Frank Coonelly. Talking by phone from spring training in Bradenton, Fla., Coonelly said he would share Dr. Maroon’s “remarkable” tale with “our athletes down here in Pirate City.”
Here’s how the conversation went:
Richert: “We have something very exciting. We’re the first to have Dr. Joe Maroon, neurosurgeon from UPMC and the Steelers’ neurosurgeon. He is the medical team [director] of a group that has challenged and mounted Mount Kilimanjaro. And he joins us live. Doc, good morning.”
Shumway: “You there, Doc?”
Maroon (somewhat breathless in the cold and thin air): “Larry, I’m calling from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, 19,000 feet high. And this is the most phenomenal experience I’ve ever had. . . . Really, it’s a challenging experience, I can tell you that. But watching these guys climb over rocks and over hills and over. . . it’s really the most thrilling experience of my life, quite frankly.”
Richert: “And you’ve had a lot of thrilling experiences. How long will it take you to traverse back. . .? (No response.) We lost Dr. Maroon on the satellite phone, but how amazing is that?”
Shumway: “That is phenomenal. We’ll get him back, talk to him more about this, if not immediately then. . . in a little while.”
At 7:10 a.m., Maroon rejoined the KDKA-AM conversation, with a better satellite signal.
Richert: “Doc. . . , congratulations.”
Maroon: “Thank you so much, Larry. This is a very, very difficult mountain to climb, actually. I was with three individuals with no legs, one individual with both legs amputated and an arm, and another with no arms – a 19-year-old young man who was born with no arms. To see these individuals climb over steep rocks and terribly difficult trails, to reach this summit – the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas and the tallest (free-standing) mountain in Africa, was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen. The motto of it was Paths to Glory, and the altitude (an individual attains) is determined by one’s attitude. I’ve never in my life seen such attitude like these fellows. They’re all superbly trained athletes who were injured. A couple of them in a car accident; had their leg amputated. And now are training for the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016. It’s one of the greatest experiences of my life.
“My daughter Isabella came along with me, and she hung right in there with everybody. Thanks for taking the call, and I wanted to let you know about it.“
Richert: “You are our first call from Mount Kilimanjaro. Congratulations, Dr. Joseph Maroon. You set the bar pretty high, my friend.”
Maroon (laughs): “Well, 19,000 feet high today, Larry.”
Richert: “All right, thank you. Be safe on your way back. Can’t wait to hear more about the trip. Congratulations.”
Maroon: “Thank you, sir — both of you.”
Richert: “. . . This guy does some amazing things. And he said this moment, right now, is the peak of what he’s done. “
Shumway: “You can hear it in his voice, the appreciation he has for those other guys. . . .”
Richert (making a segue to the next caller): “If you’re sick of the wind, the cold, the snow. . . , we’re going to have baseball next. Joining us, the president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Frank Coonelly.”
Coonelly: “Good morning, Larry, I’m joining you from sea level in Bradenton, Florida.” (Laughter)
Shumway: “I don’t know about you, Frank, but the way Larry announced you there, he sounds like he’s ready for that broadcast booth and some baseball.”
Coonelly: “Absolutely, as are we. But before we get into to that: What an amazing story Dr. Maroon brought to you guys. Those three gentlemen, you talk about diligence and perseverance . . . not having people tell them what their limitations are. What an amazing story. That’s a great story. I think I’m going to share that story with our athletes down here in Pirate city. Remarkable.”