Standing On "High Ground"
Mountain climber George Mallory coined the simplest reason to climb a mountain.
“Because it’s there,” he said.
But former College of DuPage student and employee Steve Baskis has a different reason: “If I climb to the top of the mountain and achieve such a strenuous, physically and mentally taxing activity, I feel less disabled.”
Baskis is what his former boss, Shelly Mencacci, COD’s coordinator of veterans and military personnel student services, calls “inspirational.”
Baskis has climbed mountains and volcanoes, completed triathlons and half marathons, trained for a Paralympics cycling team and more.
And he’s done it all blind—literally.
Baskis is featured in a 2012 documentary film called “High Ground,” which chronicles a group of U.S. military veterans climbing Lobuche, a 20,000-foot peak near Mount Everest.
“High Ground” got a sneak preview at COD. Baskis was on hand to answer questions.
In the film, Baskis and his fellow climbers face more obstacles than the mountain before them. There are veterans with artificial limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and more. We learn about their struggles and the wartime events that triggered them.
Baskis, for example, fell victim to a roadside bomb that killed his buddy, Staff Sgt. Victor Coda, who was riding next to him. Baskis was blinded in both eyes and has limited use of his left hand.
But “High Ground” isn’t the story of Steve Baskis getting knocked down. It’s the story of Steve Baskis ascending.
Before departing for Iraq, says Baskis in “High Ground,” “My father…made me promise him that if something were to happen to me and I was to come back a different person physically or mentally, that I would not give up—that I would try my hardest to live my life.”
So following treatment and rehab, Baskis started doing just that—by enrolling in classes at COD and working for the College as a Veterans Administration work-study student employee.
“Speaking and listening to veterans who attend COD reminds me of how resilient service members can be,” said Baskis. “I feel that if an individual has the drive and motivation to continue learning, then nothing can keep them from pursuing their dreams. Not to say it’s easy, but if they keep that goal in mind, they can go anywhere they want to go.”
While the film showcases Baskis’ perseverance, his emotional honesty is especially compelling. At one point, he chokes up while talking with his fellow climbers.
“It doesn’t matter how much pain, suffering, blood, sweat, whatever,” says Baskis. “I’ll push as hard as I can. It’s like this deep dark black abyss I stare into. It’s like never ending. I wish I could see everything that’s around us. I wish that I could see the sunset, the sunrise. But I can’t. But I could see. And I’m glad. I could see for so long.”
The film cuts to beautiful images of raindrops on rooftops, smoke from a chimney, snow covered peaks.
While the viewer is crushed that Baskis can’t see this, you shed your own tears when he fords streams, scales rocks, works ropes with one good hand and reaches the summit anyway.
Besides feeling less disabled, Baskis says he climbs for Victor.
“His death changed my life forever,” Baskis says in the film, “I have my bad days and my good days. If I don’t make the summit, it’s not the end of a life, you know. It’s all in your mind at that point. How do you assert your mind over your challenges? When I feel sorry for myself, Victor always comes into mind.”
At top: Steve Baskis overcomes extreme physical challenges to reach the summit of Mt. Lobuche in “HIGH GROUND,” now available on Netflix, directed by Michael Brown, produced by Don Hahn and Michael Brown. Photo credit: Rex Pemberton
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