Kilimanjaro Warriors: Another reason to be proud of pops

In May 2011, retired New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, former Tennessee Titans Coach Jeff Fisher and former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis took four injured service members on an expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.

Inspired by the project, my dad, Steve Connolly, a retired Air Force Reserve Lieutenant Colonel and current American Airlines pilot, decided to form his own Kilimanjaro Expedition called Kilimanjaro Warriors.

You see, my dad was lucky in the military. Taking prisoners and dodging open fire in Desert Storm, he was able to return home safely to see his first child be born. As he witnessed the harsh reality of the outcome of war for many people, he definitely realizes how fortunate he is and has embarked on this adventure as a way to give back. A way to show his gratitude.

 dad2

His goal is to give disabled veterans an additional motivational tool in their rehabilitation processes, and provide them with a monumental goal that, once achieved, will give them an incentive to lead a fulfilling life.  He plans to lead an excursion to climb Mount Kilimanjaro beginning February 10, 2014.

 dad4

Attempting to summit the highest freestanding mountain in the world with him are six disabled veterans, all above or below the knee leg amputees, and three other able-bodied wingmen climbers. Some will be learning to climb with crutches, some have prosthetics they are still adjusting to (what are you doing with your day, right?), but they fully intend to summit that mountain and have been training vigorously in the mean time.

Through my dad’s persistence, donations and support have come flying in from every direction. Retired Cowboy’s quarterback Roger Staubach and actor and musician Gary Senisi (below) are supporting the project, along with great family and friends from every aspect of my dad’s life.

 dad1

Until the expedition, the Kilimanjaro Warriors team will continue fundraising, rehabilitation and training for the climb.

You can track their progress by searching Kilimanjaro Warriors on Facebook, or visiting www.kilimanjarowarriors.com.

 dad3

If you are interested in becoming a wingman to Kilimanjaro Warriors, tax-deductible donations can be made at www.airwarriorcourage.org/donations.html. In the comments section, please include, “For Kilimanjaro Warriors.”

 dad

Dad, I couldn’t be more proud of you, your motivation, your selflessness, your positive attitude, your heart. Being your daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me and I can’t wait to grow up to be just like you! Thanks for being my best friend and my greatest inspiration. I can’t wait to know how your greatest adventure yet turns out!

Malaysia Day 1: Catching Malaysia’s Most Wanted

Malaysia Day 1:  It was an enchanting morning spent at the Temple on the Hill that began our promising first day in Penang, Malaysia. Escaping jetlag, we were ready and excited to continue exploring Gajen’s beautiful country. We ate dim sum, explored all of Gajen’s local digs and then headed to his home. His generous family was finishing renovating their charming home just for the American visitors (they even installed air conditioning for us…!) so there were still pieces of construction and piles of sand and concrete here and there.

217363_10151487356817725_1988386723_n

We exited the car and as I waited for the rest to pile out, I stood on the street side of his car, my left side to his home. I heard a motor bike approaching from behind, but I knew I wasn’t in the way, so I didn’t bother to turn around. Suddenly my cross-body bag and Canon camera flew over my head and away with the two men on the bike. Somehow I was able to keep a good grip on the straps, which threw their path off a little, (they were still able to rip away my belongings) and caused them to crash into a pile of sand a couple feet in front of us. My camera (aka my child) and bag flew about ten feet away.

The first man jumped up and ran off. Without hesitation, swearing and shaking, I sprinted to grab my belongings and quickly ran inside. THANK GOD my camera made it out with only a couple of scratches and bruises. The zoom on the lens sticks and the autofocus doesn’t work, but I will take that over the alternative any day.

The driver of the bike pretended to be injured until he realized we knew what was going on. He then jumped up and ran away, but our protective boys and a Chinese neighbor didn’t hesitate to chase him–Gajen with a shovel in hand.

I was sitting inside and trying to gather what had just occurred, so I wasn’t able to witness what unfolded next, but this is what I am told. The Chinese man caught the driver and tied him up with his belt while Xavier restrained him and tried to convince Gajen not to split the man’s head in two. G called the police and they quickly arrived to arrest the driver. I was so shaken up at the thought of my expensive camera-child, phone, money, and IDs, all disappearing on the first day. I grew extremely angry when I remembered Gajen mentioning how easy it is for people to pay off the police to escape any kind of punishment.

About an hour later, Gajen, Xavier and I went to the police station to file a report. The driver of the bike was handcuffed and sitting about 15 feet away from us, but directly in our line of vision. He proceeded to make disgusting faces and sounds at me, as I did everything I could to avoid looking at him. He could smell my fear, I’m sure. Gajen translated the incident as some police typed up a report.

Then, about four men in street clothes arrived and began talking to the driver. Beginning to panic again, I was under the impression that these were his friends and as soon as we left, they would be waiting for us in the parking lot. But suddenly, the men, who were actually for-hire, undercover police, began brutally beating the man. Right in front of us. This quickly became the most terrifying and uncomfortable situation of my life. They finally took him back where we couldn’t see him and he returned 15 minutes later with a swollen and bruised face and ripped jeans.

We finished the paper work, but still had to return to the station hours later to talk to an investigator.

It turned out to be a confusing and draining evening full of phone calls and translations… Originally, they wanted to keep my purse and camera for evidence, but we explained that wouldn’t be possible… Even though I’d get it back months later. Yeah, no thanks.

Turns out, this guy wasn’t able to pay off the police because he was on Malaysia’s Most-Wanted list.

Yes, Malaysia’s Most Wanted.

He was also on drugs and we learned that they had tried to do the same thing to a woman on the other side of the street, failed there but saw us on their way out and decided to give it one more shot. Another failure ensued, thank god.

When we returned to the station for the final time to speak with the investigator, they wanted me to sit in a small room with the man, as we both told our stories. I would then have to inform the police of the kind of punishment I would like for him to endure. I wasn’t comfortable with that plan for obvious reasons and they let me tell my story on my own with Gajen’s dad as a translator. THEN they told me once they catch the second man, also on the Most-Wanted list, they would require me to return to Malaysia for court in three to six months. I asked if I could attend via Skype, but I don’t think that translated well either… They simply said they would continue delaying the court date until I could come. So that should be a good time.

To top it all off, the next day our story was on the front page of the Chinese Malaysian newspaper.

The driver of the motorcycle would receive double the punishment if he didn’t reveal information about his partner’s location, etc. He apparently told the police everything, they executed a “sneak attack,” and finally arrested the second man as well.

 THAT, my friends, was Malaysia Day 1. I’m so grateful to still have my belongings and to have friends that will go to the extremes that they did, but man, what a rough start. Seriously happened four hours after we landed, but at least we left Malaysia a better place…

I’ll let you know when the big court date is.. Maybe they’ll let me bring a partner in crime.