Legless Legends: Double Amputees Climb Pikes Peak to Raise Awareness for Veteran Organization

August 22, 2019Maggie BenZvi
Photo courtesy of Mandy Horvath’s Instagram page, @lifeproofbionicwoman.

Photo courtesy of Mandy Horvath’s Instagram page, @lifeproofbionicwoman.

Mandy Horvath’s father proudly presented her with her 1-year-sober chip last Sunday, August 18, after she summited Pikes Peak in Colorado.

After losing both her legs in a train accident in 2014, Horvath has traveled a path of literal highs, such as when she first climbed the Manitou Incline with just her hands in 2018, alongside many lows, including her arrest for driving under the influence just weeks after that achievement.

“I was self-medicating so heavily that my partner had to go hang a bear bag full of wine so that I did not go through withdrawals on that mountain,” Horvath told KOAA TV in Colorado Springs this past spring.

This time up the mountain, she was clean and sober and working alongside another double amputee, Travis Strong. The ascent was documented by a photographer for the local newspaper.

Double amputees Horvath and Strong climb Pikes Peak using only their hands. Photo courtesy of Mandy Horvath’s Instagram page, @lifeproofbionicwoman.

Strong, a U.S. Army vet who lost both legs when his Stryker armored vehicle was torn apart by a bomb in Baghdad, made it up the Manitou Incline in March, climbing 2,744 steps made of wooden railroad ties in five hours to raise awareness for veteran suicide and mental health. 

“He made it to the top with shorts soaked with melted snow and his own blood,” according to the American Military News website. But he didn’t attempt to go all the way to the summit of Pikes Peak until last week.

The specter of mental illness is relevant to Horvath, who struggled with dissociation and suicidal thoughts following the accident that took her legs. Apparently drugged at a bar on her 21st birthday, Horvath flatlined after passing out on railroad tracks and having her legs severed.

“None of this I remember, and most days I am thankful for that, but I do wish I could remember how I got on those tracks,” Horvath wrote on Imgur. “Before waking up in the ambulance, all I remember was stepping outside for a cigarette, petting horses nearby.”

This joint climb, however, raised money for a different veteran cause. Under the moniker Legless Legends, Strong and Horvath were climbing on behalf of Cars4Heroes, a charity that gives used cars to veterans and first responders unable to procure transportation on their own. 

“A lot of these veterans don’t know where to go or where to turn to, they’re just stuck,” Strong told KOAA. “So at least being able to have a car and get around … that puts such a huge relief on them.”

Following the climb, Cars4Heroes presented a Ford Expedition to Army veteran Dennis Michels.

Strong is a decidedly less public personality than the gregarious 25-year-old Horvath, a chef and student. Her Tinder profile went viral earlier this year, adding to her public profile and helping garner more followers for the Legless Legends team.

“I’m curious, are y’all ready for one of the most epic races the incline has ever seen? Me & @strykerinf are taking off August 15th in a battle for bragging rights. Then we’re continuing up the mountain.” Photo courtesy of Mandy Horvath’s Instagram page, @lifeproofbionicwoman.

“Felt cute, might roll over your toes later, IDK,” reads the caption on her profile picture.

“I don’t really like to think of myself as disabled, just different,” she told the website Bored Panda. “Humor has always been a release for me, I like that I can make someone else’s day better with a simple laugh.”

Horvath and Strong plan to participate in the Tunnel to Towers 5K in New York City this September, and Horvath has said in the past that she intends to someday climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Writing on Reddit in 2017, Horvath summed up her philosophy: “I was raised to believe it takes faith the size of a mustard grain to move mountains and I intend to move them.”

Maggie BenZvi
Maggie BenZvi

Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!

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