Free The Children and Me to We Volunteer
Spencer’s amazing charisma and magnetic personality, combined with his unbreakable courage has enabled him to become a very effective speaker. He has attended and spoken in numerous events and conferences, and has addressed millions of people from all over the world, sharing the stage with some of the most influential people, such as Dr. Jane Goodall, Al Gore, the Dalai Lama, and his very own idol, Jason Mraz.
He is also an active philanthropist, having devoted his life to helping other people and inspiring them to never let their disabilities keep them from reaching their dreams and goals in life. He supports numerous charitable organizations such as Free The Children and Me to We, which are aimed at encouraging the young generation to become productive members of society.
In his speaking engagements, he always talks about how the youth are the change-makers of society, and how they should never give up in spite of how many difficulties they may face.
Spencer Answers the Question: “How does Spencer West Go to the Bathroom?”
Spencer is also an accomplished author, having written an autobiography entitled “Standing Tall: My Journey,” which became an international bestseller. Through his book, Spencer has reached out to more people than he ever could with his personal appearance, something that he greatly values. And it’s also in the book where he answered the question: “How does Spencer West Go to the Bathroom?” He wrote, “I understand the curiosity, but let me say this once and for all: All my parts are intact and I do everything everyone else does just fine, thank you very much.”
Born with Sacral Agenesis
Spencer West was born in 1982 in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada, as the child of Kenny and Tonette West. During the months of conception, his mother and father often went to the doctor (more often than they should) greatly excited about his birth.
However, there was one problem. According to the doctor, it appeared that while Spencer’s upper body was forming properly, the lower part of his body had a particular deformity. When his parents asked the doctor about the situation, the doctor did not sugarcoat and said, “I’m not sure if he is going to walk.”
In spite of this disturbing news, Kenny and Tonette did not lose hope for their child. The entire family was so excited that on the day Spencer was born, his aunt, who was an honor student, skipped her class that day just so that she could see Spencer and hold him in her arms. Almost everyone in both sides of his family came to see Spencer that day.
Spencer’s early childhood was fairly good. From age one to four, Spencer showed signs of improvement. Although he developed his walking quite slower than most kids of his age, Kenny and Tonette were very hopeful that what the doctor told them would not come to pass. In one of his interviews, Kenny recalled how his parents expressed their love and care for him even when he was around three, in a way that he would really understand.
Somehow, both Kenny and Tonette already knew that the improvement young Spencer was showing was not going to last. And by the time Spencer reached his fifth year, his parents started noticing that he had difficulty walking, even to the point of often falling when he tried to walk straight.
Spencer West Loses His Legs
Spencer’s parents brought him to the doctor for a check-up. After conducting a series of tests on the lower half of Spencer’s body, the doctors brought news to his parents that would forever change not just his, but also his parents’ life—Spencer was diagnosed with sacral agenesis, a physical deformity caused by abnormal development during the early stages of a child’s conception. It mostly affects the lower half of the spine, and thus involves the rest of the lower half of the body.
The doctors then advised his parents that Spencer’s lower half had to be cut off in order to prevent the upper half from being affected. Although initially reluctant (due to knowing how much pain and suffering it would bring to Spencer when he grows up), Kenny and Tonette eventually agreed, if it meant sparing their son from dying.
After the lengthy operation to amputate the lower half of Spencer’s body (from his Pelvis down) and having some time to recuperate, he was brought home by his parents. From that time on, they knew that everything would change, and they kept on praying that it would be for the better. Fortunately for Spencer, his parents never lost hope on him.
Growing Up sans Legs
Growing up, Spencer’s parents constantly showered him with the love and affection that would equip him to face the realities of life. He was often told by his dad how much he was proud of having Spencer as his son, and how he was certain that his son would do great things for the world. Spencer, in some of his interviews, went back to this moment whenever he was asked for the reason that kept him going even in the midst of tough times. He would often say, “My parents really believed that I can be someone great.”
Aside from the encouragement of his parents, his extended family and his friends also contributed in helping young Spencer build confidence in himself. Most kids with disabilities are often times ridiculed for their disabilities, but Spencer was fortunate enough to have friends and neighbors who did just the opposite—instead of mocking him and ridiculing him, they kept on encouraging and empowering Spencer. Whenever he went out of the house and met someone in the neighborhood, they would often ask him how he was doing and would encourage him to never let his disability keep him down.
But apart from the encouragement that he received from the people that surrounded him, Spencer was born with a gift and trait that seemed to be exactly what he needed—optimism, a good sense of humor and an unrelenting spirit. As early as five years old, Spencer learned to walk with his hands. In spite of his disability due to having no legs, Spencer did not allow his circumstance to discourage him from having a normal life.
His optimistic and whimsical attitude allowed him to rise above his limitations, even often joking about himself whenever he was around his friends and family. Because of this attitude, Spencer made a lot of good friends who supported and encouraged him.
Spencer attended school and acted just like any other kid would. One good thing that he remembered being child was how his parents treated him as if he had no disability at all. This helped him cope with his situation.
Spencer Graduates from University
Kenny and Tonette neither pampered Spencer nor saw him as someone incapable of doing anything by himself because they believed that if they did, Spencer would grow up either hating himself or being dependent all his life. Instead, they instilled a sense of normality in Spencer, and made him understand that he was just like anyone else save his different manner of walking.
Having this semblance of normalcy, Spencer grew up confident and secure. In his high school and college years, he became a proficient speaker and was often asked to speak to large audiences for his amazing ability to draw his listeners’ attention through his witty jokes and anecdotes.
When he entered a university in Utah to study journalism and communications, Spencer exhibited traits of leadership and excellence. He was among the school’s brightest and most excellent students, which brought him a lot of respect from his fellow classmates and professors. He graduated and earned his bachelor’s degree with high remarks from the University of Utah.
Soon after he graduated, Spencer moved to Arizona, where he applied for several jobs to earn a living. Because jobs were quite difficult to find, Spencer had to make do with working at a local salon and spa. Although it was not what he wanted, he settled for the job with an optimistic attitude and worked his way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming manager and afterwards a department head. He became very rich, and had everything material that he wanted—a wonderful job, a large house with a pool, and a cool car.
Yet in spite of having material wealth, there was something missing inside Spencer—a void that, regardless of what he has achieved, could not be filled by all the material wealth that he possessed. In a span of four years, from 2004, Spencer would go through the day to day ‘rehearsed’ life that he was accustomed to, just existing, but not really living. In a later interview, he said:
“I wanted something that was more meaningful and did more for society… I really struggled for four years. I literally just existed.”
Getting Involved with Me to We
It seemed that his life was going to go like this forever, until in 2008, when his mentor and friend Reed Cowan invited Spencer to join him on a charitable trip to the country of Kenya to build a school for orphaned children, which was sponsored by the Me to We foundation. Initially, Spencer rejected Cowan’s offer outright, but after a few days of thinking, called Cowan and told him that he was going to come to Kenya.
There were some doubts lingering in Spencer’s mind as to what change he could really make, but he put them all aside and stuck to his decision to participate. Spencer thought, “What have I got to lose? I need to do something. I need to take a risk.” This decision would later on affect Spencer greatly, changing the course of his life and finally getting him out into something that he really wanted to do.
Upon their arrival in March, Spencer was somehow immediately liked by the more than 200 children who were being taught in the school that Spencer helped establish. He was surrounded and treated like a celebrity by the Kenyan children who were very curious as to why Spencer did not have his legs.
Spencer also took a liking to the children and started caring for them and encouraging them. But amidst all his experience working with the children, there was one little girl who said something that stood out that really made a huge impact on Spencer’s life.
“I didn’t know that things like this happened to white people,” the girl said to Spencer while he was interviewing her one time. This one statement made Spencer realize how fortunate and favored he was all this time, growing up in a country where he had access to healthcare and to the doctors who could help him. He thought, “If I grew up in Kenya, I would have thought differently, and my life would have been a lot different.”
Spencer’s conversation with the Kenyan girl helped him determine which part of his life he was greatly missing. His friend Cowan had always encouraged Spencer to become a motivational speaker, but it was not until his conversation with the girl that Spencer realized that his story was worth telling. He then realized what he was really here on earth for, and what his real calling was—to become an inspiration to people all over the world.
History of Free the Children Organization
Upon his return to the United States in July 2008, Spencer immediately sought a way that he could take to the big stage and become a motivational speaker. After a few days, he saw an advertisement for a motivational speaker needed for the Free the Children organization. He readily applied and was accepted to the organization. He packed his bags and left for Toronto the next morning.
From that time on, Spencer began speaking at numerous Free the Children events and conferences, and occasionally spoke at various charitable events hosted by organizations such as Me to We. He was an on-demand speaker, and often spoke to very large audiences that would number thousands upon thousands.
Spencer Successfully Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro
In 2012, during the great drought in Kenya, Spencer proposed something to his friends that nearly caused some of them to pass out: as a means of giving something back to the nation where his life changed, Spencer decided to raise funds for the people of Kenya by climbing to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest single standing mountain in the world. Although his friends were initially hesitant to allow Spencer to do this, they eventually realized how determined he was and decided to support him in his attempt.
His amazing feat attracted the attention of worldwide media, and soon later his journey was broadcast to all over the popular international news stations, such as CTV, CBS, and BBC. He was able to successfully climb to the top, and with his victory he was able to raise more than 500,000 dollars, which was used to provide clean and sustainable water for the people affected by the severe drought.
Spencer released his first book which he titled “Standing Tall,” which is his autobiography. In this book, Spencer illustrated his childhood life and how he was able to keep himself optimistic and determined in the midst of all the obstacles that he faced while he was growing up. Since its release, “Standing Tall” has become a bestseller and has earned praises from numerous critics for Spencer’s attempt to share his life to others through writing.
Spencer’s life-changing story brings great encouragement to many of us who feel like we do not have anything special to offer the world. In times of discouragement, when we feel like we are not special, that we cannot make any significant changes to this world we live in, let us remember that Spencer West, despite his huge disadvantage, never let his disability break his resolve and determination to become the person of destiny that he was born to be.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Free the Children
- Me to We
- Go Global
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Became the first person with a disability to reach the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro