In association with American Express
Standing on the summit of Aconcagua on her 44th birthday, Kelda Wood looked out across the vast landscape and took a deep breath. The air was crisp and the surroundings silent, barring from the sound of her teammates cheering with joy in the background.
After three gruelling weeks, on 19 January 2017, the para-athlete had conquered the mountain.
There, on top of the world, she felt something she hadn’t in years: inner peace.
This moment of serenity became the trigger for helping the now 48-year-old come to terms with a life-changing injury she’d suffered years earlier, as well as inspiring a solo journey across the Atlantic.
“It was pretty damn cold,” Kelda, from Shrewsbury, recalls, laughing.
“We had all been affected by the altitude and I was exhausted, but stepping onto the summit was life-changing. Not just because I’d finished this amazing physical challenge but something in my mind shifted that day.
“Years earlier, a freak accident had shattered my dream of becoming an Olympic horse rider - with my ankle crushed under a bale of hay - and I’d been carrying anger and resentment ever since.
“Sport had been my life and I could no longer run, my movement was limited and my future had changed in an instant.
“But up there, those feelings evaporated.
“I’d just climbed a mountain in sub-zero temperatures using crutches! Nothing was impossible.
“I’d been living with the mental attitude of ‘I can’t’ but after that experience, I just kept thinking ‘how can I?’. I realised that all I needed to do was to adapt to the situation in front of me.
“Then and there, I decided that enough is enough. Life isn’t fair but you just have to accept it and get on with it.”
An Atlantic adventure
And get on with it she did. The following year, Kelda, who has always been an active person and loves the outdoors, went on to become the first adaptive rower to sail across the Atlantic solo.
In 2018, she headed out from the Canary Islands and spent 76 days unsupported on the open water before arriving in Antigua.
“I wanted to do something to inspire and encourage other people so I made the decision to do the journey by myself,” she says.
“When I was in the thick of it, there were both good and a lot of bad days, but now, looking back, it feels awesome.
“I would row from 5.30am to 11.30pm, with four 30 minute breaks, then sleep for a few hours, which was a little scary because all you can do is hope that you drift in the right direction.
“But you’ve just gotta roll with it. That’s been my ethos since that day on Aconcagua.
“Sure, I was lonely some days but I also felt complete and utter peace.”
Following the impressive feat, Kelda was praised across the globe. While she appreciates the attention that helped her raise over £50,000 for Climbing Out, a charity she founded in 2010, it’s not what motivates her in daily life.
Her passion lies in helping others, working with people who have suffered adaptive, mental or physical trauma.
“I want to motivate people struggling with their own personal challenges, like I did,” she says, “by giving them the tools to tackle what they’re going through, manage their mind and find a new way forward.
“I know what it’s like to feel stuck, I’ve been there. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as seeing someone get ‘unstuck’.
“It’s taken me a long time to get to the point of saying this but injuring my leg - and everything that has followed since, has given me so much appreciation for what’s really important.
“In a weird way, it’s added value to my life.
“If I had my time again, I wouldn’t change a thing. That’s what I learned on Aconcagua, that’s the feeling that has stuck with me ever since.