Missouri woman becomes first climber without legs to reach top of Mount Kilimanjaro

Local News

SMITHVILLE, Mo. — A Smithville native without any legs climbs one of the tallest mountains in the world. Mandy Horvath climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro despite what’s happened to her. 

She immediately set up an appointment to get a tattoo to mark her accomplishment. It’s a reminder of the mountains she’s climbed and the obstacles she’s overcome. 

Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, is 89 times taller than the Liberty Memorial. It’s the largest free-standing mountain in the world at more than 19,000 ft. Horvath climbed it despite being a double amputee.

“I did enough crying on the mountain,” Horvath said. “Super emotional.”

In 2014, Mandy Horvath lost both her legs in a horrible train accident. The Smithville native went camping with friends. She said paramedics found her lying on a set of train tracks. She’d been hit by a coal train and she had no legs.

Horvath believes someone spiked her drink when she and her friends went to a bar.

Since then, the 28-year-old has battled PTSD and alcoholism. But through perseverance, she found peace on the mountain.

Horvath set a record tackling Pikes Peak. Her tattoo artist took a picture at the bottom of the Manitou Incline in Colorado. Her story inspiring others.

“I hike up mountains but not like that,” said Taimewalker Tattoo artist Kevin Vorndran. “She’s out there killing it. Going all over the world. Hiking crazy mountains.”

Horvath described the experience.

“The first day, I was climbing through the rainforest with monkeys… swinging from tree to tree above me,” Horvath said. “We got to see the Lamagia fly above us.”

A rare sighting for a rare venture. But it wasn’t always pretty. It was an eight-day crawl on her hands.

“There’s no way that I could have done that climb without the tourist team,” Horvath said. “My hands were so swollen I could barely get my bags open at some points.”

Her tattoo reads, “Pole Pole,” which is “Sowly, slowly” in Swahili. “Kazi mbele” is “Work forward.”

Horvath had the Ahsante Tour team on her side — including Julias John White. He would carry her through the high risk areas. His nickname? “Giraffe” — an endearing term Horvath’s mother used to call her before the accident. 

The video above shows her favorite picture of them comparing wingspans. 

“Me and Julias John with our arm-spans out because they’re almost exactly the same,” Horvath said. “And it’s incredible because he’s 6-4. So, maybe I would have been very tall.”

On the journey, she learned there’s strength in numbers, and people need each other. 

“I already miss my friends,” Horvath said. “I developed very strong relationship and bond with people a half a world away.”

She said the climb and getting the tattoo don’t compare to the sting of some people’s opinions. 

“Maybe be a little kinder,” Horvath said. “For the first time in 8 years since my amputation, I was helped in a grocery store over there. Imagine that.”

She said the lesson learned in Africa are almost more valuable than the dream itself. 

“Take things a little slower,” Horvath said. “‘Pole, pole,’ and there’s always work ahead.”

You can get inspired by Horvath’s journey on Instagram @lifeproofbianoicwoman.

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