Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times / (TNS)
MOUNT WHITNEY, Calif. — Five words: Jack Ryan Greener muttered them over and over as he hiked the rocky mess of a trail toward the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S.
Rage on. Stay focused. Believe.
The words shut out everything else.
He didn’t speak to his buddies, didn’t look at the views, didn’t acknowledge anything that would distract him from pounding through the pain. Each step, every jab of his walking poles needed to be precise and deliberate.
Other hikers could slip into autopilot as they struggled to reach the 14,505-foot summit. Greener could not.
He had obsessed about this trail and this peak for 2 1/2 years, ever since an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, since he left the hospital on a gurney, since he wallowed in dark places, since he taught himself to walk again, since he pulled himself out of his trauma, visualizing over and over stepping onto the top of Whitney.
Pounding the terrain justified all the training, fear, pain, stress and tears.
But he had miscalculated.
The route was harder than he had expected. Large boulders and rock scree slowed his pace — terrible terrain for someone with limited strength in his arms and legs. The heat was worse than he had expected too, raising fears of dehydration.
The miles felt long, the peak farther away than it should be. Greener was trapped in a hell of his own making. He could do nothing but trudge on, double down on the pain and tweak his mantra:
Rage the f— on. Stay focused. Believe.
‘Old Jack died’
Greener, 26, grew up in San Diego, active, athletic, riding waves, working as a surf instructor in Nicaragua.
“My entire life was devoted to tides and winds and swell charts, and I just knew that I would make this my life,” he wrote on social media after his accident.
“To be honest, I had never spoken to somebody in a wheelchair, or an amputee, or …….