At age 7, Aron Anderson was diagnosed with cancer. Two years later, doctors removed a tumor from his lower back and the boy who once loved to play soccer lost the use of his legs. But his wheelchair “changed my life,” said Mr. Anderson, 29, a native of Sweden. He began wheelchair racing competitively and has participated in four Paralympic Games. To challenge himself and raise money for the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation, he began making expeditions, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, biking from Malmö, Sweden to Paris and, last year, skiing across Antarctica, a monthlong journey that raised roughly $800,000. As a triathlete, he plans to compete in the handcycle division of the Ironman World Championship race in Hawaii in October. As an inspirational speaker, he travels frequently and his autobiography, “Opportunities,” was recently published in Sweden. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Anderson.
Q: How did you adjust to competing without using your legs?
A: I went to Florida to get my first racing wheelchair, and I remembered feeling that freedom to be able to go really fast and push my limits again, to be out of breath. I missed that feeling and my friends. There were hardships physically, but one of the things I missed the most was what you get from sports socially. I really missed hanging out with friends. Sports became important to get back to life and to make new friends.
How do you climb mountains when you are in a wheelchair?
I used a mountain bike, which I hand-drive. I can also use crutches. Near the top I crawled and pulled with my arms. It’s a mix of everything. A wheelchair is not great on a mountain.
Do you have any advice for travelers in wheelchairs?
It depends on your disability and the kind of wheelchair. It’s easy for my wheelchair to get lost if it’s put in cargo. I try to put it in the cabin with me. I fly economy and my wheelchair often flies business. You have to be nice to the staff and ask. You have to flirt a little bit. Flying is the least problematic if you travel. There are rules and regulations and people to help you. Travel by bus and train can be trickier and not as accessible. For hotels, I use Handiscover, a website that rates exactly how accessible each hotel is [Mr. Anderson is a paid representative of the company]. I find it can be a huge problem in some countries. When I biked from Sweden to Paris, I booked a Paris hotel with an elevator. But it was tiny and old and it only stopped at every other floor, and not mine.
Where would you like to travel yet?
I would love to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat. I want to go to Everest base camp. I don’t want to climb Everest. I don’t think it’s worth the risk for me. A lot of people without disabilities can’t climb Everest. I would like to climb Aconcagua. I’d like to get to the North Pole. I want to travel more in South America and go to Machu Picchu. I think Alaska would be amazing for heli-skiing.
What’s most rewarding about travel?
For me, life is about seeing new things and getting perspective. I was in Afghanistan this summer. We met disabled children to see how their lives are.A lot of these disabled kids had been tied up or shamed in their houses, not because their parents were evil but mostly because their parents didn’t know what to do. At the same time, they thought it was a punishment from God. It was one of the most difficult travel experiences, but also one that I cherish the most. I’m superprivileged. I’m in a wheelchair, but so what? With travel, you can see what things can be like. At the same time, you can visit the most beautiful places on earth. I appreciate both.
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