Todd Huston understands the value of perseverance.
Last year the 33-year-old South Tulsan scaled the highest peaks in
all 50 states in record time -- and with only one leg.
Accompanied by a friend, Huston attained the highest elevations in
all 50 states in 66 days, 22 hours and 47 minutes, shattering the
world record of 101 days set by a two-legged mountain climber.
Since that accomplishment, Huston has become an overnight
celebrity. He has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN and has been
covered in newspapers such as The Los Angeles Times, The Washington
Post and The Wall Street Journal.
In January Huston spoke to an international television audience
when he was Robert Schuller's guest at The Crystal Cathedral. In
April he will be the subject of a feature article in `Sports Illustrated.`
Huston is also in demand as a motivational speaker, taking his
message of triumph over adversity to schools, churches and
businesses all across the country.
Leaving no mountain unclimbed, he recently co-authored `More than
Mountains,` an autobiography of his adventures in mountain climbing.
The book was released in January and currently is available
locally at Novel Idea bookstores.
When Huston was 14, he was involved in a boating accident at Lake
Tenkiller that nearly killed him and cost him the use of his right
leg. Huston was swimming in the lake when his legs got caught in
the propellers of a boat.
`I actually died twice, once in the emergency room and once on the
operating table,` Huston said. `Because I lost so much blood, my
heart had stopped.`
The accident severely damaged Huston's sciatic nerve, resulting in
paralysis of his right leg below the knee. He also had lost a lot
of muscle tissue.
Doctors told Huston's parents Huston probably would never walk
again. He proved them wrong, but the absence of feeling in his leg
resulted in a variety of health complications throughout the next
`I could step on a nail and not even know it,` he said. `And that
would literally happen sometimes. I'd pull my shoe or boot off and
there would be blood everywhere.`
Huston frequently developed sores and infections because of his
leg injury until, at 21, he decided to have it amputated below the knee.
`That took care of all the paralyzed part of my leg,` he said. `No
more sores, no more blisters, no more infections. I had to choose
to have a life and a lifestyle instead of a leg.`
With the help of a bulky and uncomfortable artificial limb, Huston
graduated from the University of Tulsa with a bachelor's degree in
business and moved to Balboa Island in Orange County, Calif.
In California he earned a master's degree in clinical psychology
and worked with young people in clinics throughout the Southern
California area. While there, he met and married a woman from New
Zealand who left him after two years of marriage.
`When her immigration status changed and she became a legal
resident of the United States, I came home one night after church
and she had disappeared,` he said.
Although crushed by this development, Huston emerged from his
despair with a new sense of purpose. After prayer and thoughtful
consideration, he decided to utilize his counseling skills to help
Before long, he was counseling amputees and speaking to groups of
physicians on how to best meet the needs of their amputee patients.
It was while doing this work that Huston learned about the 50
Peaks Project. The independent promoter of this project was trying
to find five disabled individuals who would climb the highest
elevations in all 50 states. Huston knew nothing about mountain
climbing, but the idea interested him.
`Before I was injured I had been an Eagle Scout, so I thought,
'Maybe I'd like to do it,'` he said. `So, I thought about it and
then, right at the deadline, I submitted my application. I prayed
about it and said, `God, if you want me to go I'll go, but if you
don't that's fine with me because these are some serious mountains.`
Huston received a letter saying he had been chosen as one of the
five people for the project. Over the next year, he trained
tirelessly in preparation for the climbs.
Assisting him was Fred Xalokar, a professional mountain climber
and an old schoolmate of Huston's from Memorial High School.
The first mountain climb was scheduled to get under way in April
1994, but one month before departure, funding for the project fell
through. Never one to give up, Huston found a way to continue the
project on his own.
`I said, 'Look, I'll just go get my own money and I'll do it
myself,'` he said. `I was able to raise about $12,000 in a few
Whit Rambach, a friend, accompanied Huston on the climbs. Xalokar
also joined him on several of the climbs.
The project was scheduled to begin with Hawaii and end atop Mount
McKinley in Alaska. Unfortunately, more than halfway through the
project, Huston learned that the original schedule had been planned
poorly and his group had to start over again.
`They said start in April, so I went ahead and started in April,`
he said. `All of a sudden it became very apparent to me that the
Northeast was really in bad shape. We couldn't even get into some
of the parks to go climb them, and the mountains in the Western
states were full of snow. We had started climbing way too early.
`So, I went and climbed Mount McKinley after doing 33 states and
started the clock over again on June 1 at 5:10 P.M. At that point
we hurried down Mount McKinley, went back and re-did all those
states, and then picked up the ones in the Northeast.`
Sixty-six days later Huston completed his quest by reaching the
13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's tallest mountain.
In January, Huston left California to return to Tulsa, where he
now shares a South Tulsa office with his father, Bill Huston,
president of Huston Lumber Sales. Through his newly established
business, Huston Resources, Huston coordinates his many speaking
and promotional engagements across the country and throughout the
Last week he spoke at events in Salt Lake City, Sun Valley, Idaho,
and New Orleans. Huston said he is happy to be back in Oklahoma.
`My family is here, and I realized there were a lot of economic
advantages to living in Tulsa,` he said. `One, the cost of living
is much cheaper than in California -- and also the cost of
business. Oklahoma is much friendlier to do business in than
`Tulsa is also more centrally located. I do so much traveling that
every time I do something east of the Rockies it's a full day, then
a full day to get back. It's not good time management to have to
spend so much time flying from one end of the country to another.`
In March, Huston will travel to Australia for several speaking
engagements. While there, he plans to climb the country's tallest
mountain, Mount Koscioski, to kick off his world mountain-climbing
His plans are to climb the highest mountain in every country in
the world. Unlike the 50 Peaks project, he will not attempt to
break any world time records accomplishing this task. Huston also
has a new woman in his life, a childhood friend he ran into at
Huston attributes his success to an inner fortitude and
determination that comes from his faith in God.
`With psychology you can change people's environment, but unless
they have something spiritual, a faith in God and a direction that
comes from a higher source, it's kind of like you have the whole
formula, but you're missing that one little piece and it all
crumbles,` he said.
`It may work to a certain point and then it crumbles, and it may
seem as if it's working but it doesn't. There is no solid ground to
`It's like going three quarters of the way up the mountain and
saying, 'We're at the top.' You don't get the feeling of being on
the summit until you are standing there.`