After becoming the first Special Olympian to summit Mount Washington in Pinkham, New Hampshire, the highest point in the Northeast, in March 2010, Avon resident Patrick Kral and his expedition team celebrated their success in a nearby restaurant, drinking beer and eating barbecue. One of the first things he said to his climb leader, Walter Hampton in the restaurant was, “I want to go skydiving.”
If anyone else had said that, the reaction might have been, “yeah, sure,” but that is not so with Kral, 31, who is going skydiving at the Ellington airport with Stephen E. Morris, executive director of Canton's The Arc of the Farmington Valley, Inc (FAVARH), on Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. Connecticut Parachutists, of Ellington, are facilitating the tandem jumps, so Kral and Morris will be jumping with trained skydivers.
Morris admitted that he is terrified to go, but he said, “If I don’t, he might never be able to.”
Is Kral an adrenaline junky? Maybe. He loves the “adrenaline rush” of climbing mountains. Summiting the 6,288-foot Mount Washington in the snow, 50-mile-an-hour wind gusts and air 5 degrees below freezing is no easy feat. Many have died trying. What goes up, must come down, but in Patrick’s case, going from standing on top of a mountain to jumping out of a plane helps him soar even higher toward his dreams.
“It looks exciting. I’ve seen it on TV,” Kral said Wednesday, referencing a scene in the movie, Point Break when Patrick Swayze goes skydiving.
Is he fearless? No, but as Patrick puts it, “Life’s an adventure.”
“It’s not that he’s fearless. He’s not,” Morris said. “He has fear and recognizes he has limitations. He recognizes he has unique abilities. He recognizes he can overcome fears.”
Kral embraced the training for Mount Washington, which required several months of learning how to use ice-climbing crampons, walking on a Stairmaster while wearing a backpack full of weights, hiking in Riverton and other local trails, and exercising to get in shape.
When it came to the climb on a sunny, clear day, Kral was often ahead of the pack, which included Morris, Hampton and his wife, Ann Hampton, Jim Seddon, of Harwinton, and Andy Lopuchowycz, of Hebron.
“Patrick was the star of the show. He was thrilled the most to be there. It was his dream,” Morris said. “Partaking in his dream has its own rewards.”
The climb was not Kral’s first time at Mount Washington.
He previously did a 7.6-mile run up the mountain, which he and Hampton could only describe as a constant incline. Kral placed within the top 30 percent of racers.
Running was where Kral got his start in outdoor adventures. He was on the cross country team at Guilford High School and currently is on a Unified Sports running team that is competing in Rhode Island this weekend. In 2003, Kral was one of two Americans, including Sean Waddlinger, also of FAVARH in Canton, to run the marathon in the Special Olympic World Summer Games in Ireland. He ran again with Waddlinger and his brother, Kyle Waddlinger at the World Games in China in 2007 in 90-degree heat.
Morris has facilitated many of Kral’s adventures, serving as a hiking and running buddy for his friend. FAVARH’s home page has three tabs that read “helping people grow,” “helping people succeed” and “helping people thrive,” all parts of a mission to help “children and adults with intellectual disabilities achieve their personal best,” which the organization has been doing since 1958. But many times, Morris finds that Kral is the one inspiring him and others. Morris said that he might never have climbed Mount Washington or decided to go skydiving, for instance, if Patrick hadn’t asked him.
“It’s all because of Patrick,” Morris said. “Who can ask for a better friend?”
Morris said it is more beneficial to focus on developing Kral’s talents and strongest skills than to hone in on his intellectual disability. Kral may struggle with a lot of things that many of us take for granted, Morris said, like living independently, driving and balancing a check book, but he does not let that hold him back and he thrives in outdoor physical activities. Walking along the Grand Canyon was one of his most memorable hikes.
“It’s nice to breathe the air and see the environment,” Kral said, who also has adopted a portion of the Farmington Valley Greenway trail in Avon to clean up. “I don’t want to work at a desk.”
Hampton, a Canton resident, said he was initially skeptical about taking an inexperienced mountain climber up Mount Washington, noting that the climb is one of the most challenging in New England because of the height, the inclement weather and the wind gusts, which are quite possibly the highest in the world. Mount Washington is often a training mountain for serious climbers preparing to summit Mount Everest. Every time Hampton climbs it, he is aware of the danger. As soon as he met Patrick, his doubts dissipated.
He opens his new book, Journeys on the Edge about living life to the fullest with a quote from Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” That is something he and Morris both said Kral personifies. Chapter 18 in the book, entitled, “Patrick Power” tells Kral’s story of the Mount Washington climb and lessons Hampton learned from him, like overcoming fear, persisting, believing anything is possible and always thinking about your next goal once you accomplish another.
“I found myself instantly engaged by his passion: his passion to climb, but more than that, his passion to experience life,” Hampton writes in his book. “… Patrick Power. Would that we all could have it.”
“Would you go skydiving?” Kral asked Hampton and his interviewer.
Hampton said yes and as for the journalist? The thought can make one’s stomach turn in fearful anticipation, but the question was thought-provoking. And that’s the impact that Kral has on people in all of his modesty – while striving to fulfill his own dreams, he can’t help but encourage people think about theirs.
“If they want to try it, they should try it,” Kral said of running and mountain climbing. “If it doesn’t work, at least they gave it a try. Live like it’s your last day.”
After skydiving, what’s next for the adventurer? Mount Everest? Possibly, Kral said. Pike’s Peak in Colorado and Mount Rainier in Washington are dreams for the near future. Both are about 14,410 feet tall.
“I think you could do that,” Hampton said to Kral.
Based on Kral’s vast accomplishments at age 31, Hampton is probably right.