Marine Staff Sergeant Mark Zambon will be traveling to Africa to climb its highest peaks on Friday. NBC 7 reporter Greg Bledsoe talks with Zambon about his inspiring story.
One San Diego-based Marine refuses to give in to a life-changing wartime injury and is about to travel halfway around the world to do something most people will never do.
Marine Staff Sergeant Mark Zambon, 27, was a bomb technician, basically responsible for taking apart the countless number of homemade explosives hidden all over Iraq and Afghanistan.
He had been injured in explosions four times but it was the fifth time, on January 11, 2011 near Sangan, Afghanistan that changed everything.
"I ended up stepping on it, detonating it under my feet. And basically took off both legs right then and there, did a forward somersault, landed on the ground," Zambon explained.
Getting back up has taken almost 18 months.
In just a matter of days, Zambon leaves Tuesday for Africa to hike Mount Kilimanjaro with legs with no knees, as he says.
Preparing for the climb has required waking up at sunrise six days a week for a five-hour climb up a mountain.
He’s also been doing a lot of strength training including swimming and yoga to build his upper body strength so he can maintain correct body position and give his body the propulsion that it will need for the arduous climb to the highest point in Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro is more than 19,000 feet above sea level.
He’s thankful for the work despite pain at almost every step along the way.
“It’s the loss of your legs but then a loss of how you’ve known your job up to that point. There were points early on in the recovery where I really kind of missing the job and wanted to be back out there.
“But like the grieving process you move through it and get on,” he said. “And you look at what’s next after that.
“It’s been very meaningful and purposeful,” he said.
He's being helped by The Heroes Project, a group that takes wounded warriors from all over the country to climb mountains all over the world.
And while this climb is part of the healing for his legs, Mark's inspiration is not at the top of any mountain.
It's hanging around his neck - dogtags of two friends and fellow Marines killed in action.
Sgt. Mike Tayatao and Staff Sgt. Josh Cullins, were close friends, fellow Marines, and bomb technicians each killed in separate explosions.
"Start getting tired, want to back it down a little bit, I just think of them and go for it, push it harder and keep it going," Zambon said.
While he’s training, he visualizes them alongside him.
"I'm going up Killy for Josh and for Mike, and I'm burying their dog tags on the top of the mountain," he said.
So, he says maybe getting up at sunrise six days a week to climb a mountain is not such a big price to pay.
"What can we do but live life so fully because that's what they would want us to do," he says of his fallen comrades.