Climbing Past Stereotypes | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Climbing Past Stereotypes

A local teen is set to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro

Gary Christenson

When Eli Reimer reached basecamp at Mount Everest, he was perhaps more excited about his reward—Lay's barbecue chips—than completing his climb and, more broadly, about his remarkable accomplishment as the first American with Down Syndrome to reach that altitude.

"He took it in stride," says Eli's dad, Justin Reimer, about his son's achievement in March 2013. We are sitting in the Reimer's living room in southeast Bend a few days before the father-son team depart for their next adventure—this time along with 12 other hikers and a three-person film crew, in an attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Smiling broadly and bashfully, Eli sits next to his dad, wearing a Bend High football t-shirt. This June, Eli turned 17 years old, and he will enter his senior year next fall at Bend High, where he also works out with the football and wrestling squads. When asked if he was scared during the climb, Eli doesn't miss a beat and answers with a resounding, "No."

"He knows no fear," his dad assures. "Physically, he did better than a lot of us on the team," he adds.

After the landmark climb to base camp on Mt. Everest, Justin sent a somewhat informal press release about his son's major accomplishment, and by the time they landed at LAX Airport, three TV crews had already gathered. Over the next few days, that media attention snowballed so much so that by the end of the week, Eli appeared on the "Today Show"—a morning staple for a 40 million person viewership. And, at the end of this school year, one of his teachers showed that footage to the school assembly; Eli received a standing ovation from his fellow students. When asked what it feels like to be a "rock star," Eli simply smiles.

Down Syndrome a is genetic disorder that affects roughly 1 in 1,000 babies born each year, and causes moderate intellectual disabilities. Before the middle of the last century, most children with Down Syndrome were marginalized or institutionalized. Since then, the efforts to "normalize" children with Down Syndrome has taken extraordinary efforts. In the early '60s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President John F. Kennedy's sister, started a day camp to support children with intellectual disabilities, not completely unlike a camp that the Reimers host in Central Oregon; a spot for children to have physical and outdoor opportunities.

By 1968, the Kennedys' efforts grew when the family foundation supported a teacher in Chicago to host a one-day sporting event; 1,500 athletes showed up for that event and, in the subsequent 46 years, the Special Olympics has become one of the largest international sporting organizations with some 70,000 events held worldwide every year. At the latest Winter Olympics, one of the most viewed advertisements was a TV spot for McDonald's which spliced footage from various winter athletes with their gold medals, ending on an image of a skier with Down Syndrome; footage that wasn't pandering, but simply and truly showed the exuberance of an athlete celebrating victory as much as any other podium winner could have.

Yet in spite of these advancements—and the passage of the Americans With Disability Act in 1990—Justin points out that such acceptance is not as widespread in every country, and in addition to supporting Eli's personal accomplishment, the Reimers also have created a foundation to provide both support and opportunities, whether that means providing day-to-day support for families in Central Oregon or traveling to Ukraine to promote athletics for children with Down Syndrome.

"I call it adventure with a purpose—to stretch people's expectations," explains Justin.

Certainly, Eli's successful and impressive climb to 17,000 feet on Mt. Everest is part of that mission, as is the effort to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

On July 17, the Reimers depart for their nine-day trek.

From July 14 – 28, Newport Market will offer an opportunity with each purchase to make donations to support Eli's trip.

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