By T. Anthony BellJuly 27, 2017
FORT LEE, Va. (July 27, 2017) -- The self-described adventurer Keith Ferguson nearly ended his exploits nine years ago when he crashed his sport bike into a tree on a rural Spotsylvania County road.
Air-evacuated to the Virginia Commonwealth University trauma center, he was met by a doctor who was in no mood to sugarcoat the extent of his condition.
"This is the type of accident in which you can lose your leg," the doctor told him.
Ferguson's limb was spared, but nine operations following the crash left it one inch shorter. Thus, he experiences such incapacitating pain that others are mistakenly convinced his adventure days are over.
Ferguson also walks with a limp and has been accommodated with a comfort-enhancing stand-up desk within his cubicle at the Army Logistics University where he works as Basic Officer Leaders Course instructor.
The 60-year-old, however, although technically disabled, has shown no signs of accepting his status. In fact, he has literally spit in its face, traveling all over the world taking on all sorts of demanding adventures, defiantly refusing to be cornered by his injury.
"I said to myself, 'I am not going to let this interfere with my life,'" he said. "It was a mental decision, not an intellectual one."
Not long after he uttered those words, Ferguson decided to climb 19,341-feet Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya.
That was merely a warm-up, as was a trek through the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal last year.
Ferguson -- chronic pain, limp, age and all -- is set to scale Island Peak with a group of eight others in late September. The mountain is a 20,000-foot hulking mass of icy rock that is part of the Himalayas in eastern Nepal. It is considered by experts to be a technical climb, requiring ice axes, crampons, ropes and luck.
"I'm excited and a little worried," he said, "but I'm preparing for it."
Ferguson said he walks 5-10 miles a day, with and without a backpack, and sometimes with Soldiers assigned to the schoolhouse during their ruck marches. In terms of readying his mind, it's safe to say Ferguson has been preparing all his life. As a child growing up in the Northeast, Ferguson suffered from scoliosis and severe pigeon toe that required prosthetic shoes, he said.
When he was no longer confined by the correctives, Ferguson began to grow into his true self -- someone who is devoutly spiritual, committed to learning, supportive of people and owns a propensity to test his limits. Those attributes moved him to teach at Christian schools, visit more than 50 countries and risk his life building schoolhouses in the Third World.
ALU's chief of education, who has known Ferguson three years, said his sense of commitment is exceptional.
"Keith is very passionate about education and training, family and his faith," said Terry Robinson, who also is a minister. "He feeds off of seeing folks synthesize and assimilate information and seeing growth and learning take place."
Ferguson manifested his love of teaching with the Training and Doctrine Command Civilian Instructor of the Year nod in 2015.
"That was pure joy," said Robinson. "He had been through so much that year that he questioned himself."
Robinson also said Ferguson is extraordinary in a sense that he always wants to do more.
"There's a part of him that makes him feel like he's not doing enough; there's a part of him that wants to make a difference; and there's a part him that loves a challenge," said Robinson. "When you bottle all of that up, you've got the Keith who is about to go climb a mountain, or go on a fishing trip and do all these other things."
Adventure, said Ferguson, has not only been his relief and comfort but life's constant companion.
"It makes me smile, and it makes me feel happy in the moment," said Ferguson. "Is some of it self-serving? Yes, it makes me happy, but if I could do something that helps somebody else while I'm on an adventure, then that's pretty cool."
Some of what he has accomplished may seem "cool" now, but not so much at the time. He and his wife, Jan, once spent time at a Mother Teresa charity in Calcutta. India, trying to bring the last measure of humanity to the sick and dying. As exhausting as it was, he said it changed his life.
"It was a very important time ... They were not necessarily trying to help people get better; they were trying to give them dignity in death," he recalled.
The service work in India also pushed him out of his comfort zone.
"I love people and that's a paradox, because I'm not a people person," he said.
Ferguson seems unafraid of learning more about the world or himself. It is the basis for his daring -- his will to challenge himself. The latest endeavor, however, is more than just a challenge. This is not a trivial motorcycle ride down a winding road or a hike up a relatively sloped mountain. It is a difficult climb even for the adventuresome, an undertaking that has demanded Ferguson's careful consideration of where he stands in life.
"It is a maturity thing, but I'm also hoping I can get the mountain climbing out of my system," he said. "It will be the highest mountain I've ever attempted -- 20,195 feet."
If that sounds like an adrenaline junkie trying to cool his heels, it is, somewhat. Ferguson seems to get a thrill out of conquering risk but has become sober enough to know he cannot always beat the odds.
Moreover, what if Island Peak does not douse his desires for reaching mountain summits? Will he find something else to satisfy his need for challenge?
Ferguson will tell you he is not sure.
"I'm looking for something, but I don't know what it is, yet," he said.
More importantly, what if he fails?
"If I make it to the top -- 'wow, terrific!' I want to shoot a picture with the Fort Lee flag at the top," he said. "If I don't make it to the top, will it disappoint me? Immensely, but at least I gave it my all. I challenged myself rather than being so afraid to fail that I said, 'No I'm not going to try this. I'm going to do this.'
"It's going to challenge me. It's going to make me work hard. It's all going to be fun while I'm doing it."