Amputee EOD tech tackles Africa’s tallest peak
By: Gina Harkins Marine Times Staff Writer
A Marine has reached the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain just 18 months after losing his legs to an improvised explosive device — and he did it at the pace of an able-bodied climber.
Staff Sgt. Mark Zambon, 27, had some rough deployments. As an explosive ordnance disposal technician, it was his job to locate explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Humvees in which he was riding blew up in 2007 and 2008, and he lost parts of his fingers in an explosion in 2010. But in January 2011, while supporting 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, in Afghanistan, Zambon stepped on the pressure plate of an IED and lost both of his legs above the knee.
A year and a half later, Zambon did a headstand 19,341 feet in the air atop Mt. Kilimanjaro. He brought with him the dog tags of two of his closest buddies who were killed in separate IED attacks : Staff Sgt. Josh Cullins and Sgt. Mike Tayaotao. Zambon wore their tags around his neck as he made the climb and, once at the top, dug a hole with his own EOD knife to bury them.
“It was such a great thing to be able to repay in a small way and to remember them for their sacrifice at the top of that mountain,” Zambon said.
The months following Zambon’s injury were not easy. In addition to losing his legs, Zambon, now with the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West in San Diego, suffered broken bones in his left arm. When his cast was removed, his arm was weak, so using his wheelchair wasn’t easy.
“I was pushing my wheelchair up this small hill at the hospital one day, and I was struggling,” he said. “This lady had to get out of her truck and — with a sympathetic look in her eyes — she pushed me up the hill.”
Zambon said that day had a profound impact on him. So when Tim Medvetz with The Heroes Project approached him a few months later about climbing mountains as an amputee, he was receptive to the idea.
He began training for climbs just seven months after losing his legs. He had to try various prosthetics to get the best leverage for climbing.
“My center of gravity was too high in traditional prosthetics; I needed to be lower to the ground,” Zambon said. “I dropped about a foot, a foot and a half in height and went with prosthetics that have no knee joints.”
The training for the climb was intense. Zambon swam, did yoga and hiked, doing practice runs on the weekends with Medvetz in California.
With one challenge behind him, he’s already looking ahead toward a 15-day Race2Recovery in South America in January. After that, he plans to resume his career in the Marine Corps by teaching others how to do his job at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Florida.
“It’s very real when you get injured like this,” he said. “You come to a crossroads — you will let it define you or you will define it. Be thankful that you’re still breathing and realize that there’s still a chance to enjoy the future.”