Spencer West is a man of many accomplishments.
He was a state champion cheerleader in his senior year of high school. He’s walked 300 km. and scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity. He is a renowned speaker and author who opened for the North American leg of Demi Lovato’s 2014 world tour.
He also had his legs amputated just below his pelvis at age five.
The incredible treks he’s taken on his hands might seemingly overshadow his public speaking, until you witness his charisma as he rolls out on stage.
“Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way,” he says casually to a crowd of almost 200 people at The Commons Theatre on Oct. 30.
“Yes, this is a new sweater.”
Just like that, the crowd is enthralled by the young Toronto-based activist who works for the organization Me to We promoting social change and charities like Free The Children.
His speech at the Algonquin Commons Theatre was about how to live a more fulfilling life and become a force for social change. He centered on three points: finding the lesson, asking for help and creating social value.
He was quick to admit that his accomplishments and his disability were incredibly difficult to overcome, but they were necessary for his development as a person.
“A true leader knows when to ask for help,” he says.
West relied on his family and friends during tough times at school and adventures around the world. He admits at times it was tough to swallow his pride and ask others for help, like the time he had to be carried up the stairs to a temple in India.
Creating social value refers to finding a cause that improves the lives of others. West refers to a time in his life where he merely “existed”, working at a good job, and having material wealth but not contributing enough to society as a whole.
When a friend asked him to go on a volunteer trip to Africa, he was a bit hesitant. He jokingly recalls being concerned about the local wildlife.
“I don’t want to be meals on wheels, thank you.”
The trip ended up inspiring him to continue his volunteer work and eventually his climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
Media and Communications student Isaiah MacLeod was one of the first in line to meet West in at the AC Hub lounge after his speech. He was visibly excited and had nothing but praise for the event.
“We’re given challenges for a reason, it’s how we grow,” West says.