When Spencer West was born his parents were told he would never live a normal life – a genetic disorder had stopped his spine developing properly.
By the age of five, he had both legs amputated. In high school, he joined the cheerleading team. At college, he studied communications and later got a job as operations director for a chain of spas. So far, so normal.
Then at 31 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on his hands to raise money for sustainable water projects in Kenya. And then, tomorrow, he will take to the stage at the We Day show in London to talk to 12,000 students about how everyone has the power to help others.
He is one of more than 30 inspiring speakers and performers, including Malala Yousafzai, who was shot for campaigning for girls’ education, who will be appearing at the We Day show, organised by the charity Free the Children as a celebration for students who have been involved in voluntary projects.
Other speakers include Prince Harry, who is involved with the charity Sentebale for vulnerable children in Lesotho, and Al Gore, the former vice-president of the United States who has campaigned on climate change. There will also be musicians, including Ellie Goulding and Dizzee Rascal, as well as the actors Jennifer Hudson and Evanna Lynch.
West, who was a target of bullies in high school, got involved with Free the Children after a friend suggested he volunteered for a trip to Kenya to help build a school with Free the Children.
“I told him he was crazy,” said West. “But the more I thought about it, I thought maybe I should go. So I went and it changed my life.”
He met a girl there who told him that she didn’t realise white people could be disabled.
He said: “Up until then, I hadn’t seen any value in not having any legs or in talking about myself. It always seemed arrogant, but then I realised that I had learned to look at challenges differently from other people.
“One of the most important lessons I learned is that we have to ask for help. For me, asking for help meant I was weak, I was not a functioning member of society. But nobody gets anywhere in life by themselves. Everyone has the support of someone at some point that helps them.
"I couldn’t have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro without help. Free the Children provides a support network for kids to help them make a difference.”
We Day will be streamed live on the TES Connect website on Friday.