Closing in on his goal to climb six of the world’s seven highest summits with amputee veterans, Tim Medvetz brought his message of hope and the power of the human will to Manhattan this past weekend.
The Los Angeles-based climber hosted a screening party at the Core Club Sunday for the Lara Logan-led “60 Minutes” segment that aired about his quest. More of a let’s-get-some-drinks kind of guy than a care-to-share-charcuterie-and-rosé one, Medvetz told guests that he had serious reservations about having a “fancy” Upper East Side party in a private club, primarily because he is accustomed to running his Heroes Project on what he described as “a beer budget.” (Save for one full-time employee, the Heroes Project runs thanks to Medvetz.)
Loyalists like Equinox’s Scott Rosen, actor Dean Winters, photographer Gilles Bensimon, Libra Leather’s Mitch Alfus and about 75 others turned up Sunday to hear about the Heroes Project’s just-launched Kickstarter campaign and other initiatives. With 300 hours of footage from his previous six ascents, Medvetz is now working with Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock on a documentary about him, a former Hells Angel biker who endured multiple surgeries from a motorcycle accident and overcame addiction to painkillers by getting into climbing after reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.” The aim is to release the film later this winter.
Committed as he is to veterans, Medvetz himself never served in the military nor did his immediate family members. “There are 50,000 veterans who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan that people just don’t hear about anymore,” he said.
About 12 years ago, while researching Hells Angels for his role on “Oz,” Winters met Medvetz through their mutual friends Richard and Laurie Stark of Chrome Hearts, and they have been close ever since. (Both the Los Angeles-based company and Equinox sponsor his ascents, and Chrome Hearts sells dog tags and baseball hats online for The Heroes Project.) Winters said Medvetz helped pull him through his own life-changing illness and 17 subsequent surgeries several years ago. “He’s just one of these guys with a heart of gold. What he’s doing with the Heroes Project is just beyond comprehension,” said Winters.
During next month’s press tour for his leading role on Vince Gilligan’s new CBS show “Battle Creek,” the actor said he plans to talk up Medvetz’s efforts as much as he can.
Medvetz’s message of inspiration is one that Equinox, the upscale fitness club chain, can relate to, but chief operating officer Rosen said his objective above all is to ensure that the documentary gets made to inspire more soldiers and the public at large. Like Winters, Rosen met Medvetz years ago through a friend — who told him how the climber does all his indoor training at Equinox. Unbeknownst to Rosen, Medvetz was doing all of his indoor training at Equinox’s West Hollywood location. (Cher was another person who supported Medvetz early on in his mountaineering quest.) “Tim is just an exceptional guy. He’s a very big, tough guy, very patriotic, very driven and he has a really soft heart. I knew he was the kind of person who, if he was committed to something, he was going to get it done,” Rosen said. “He cares about this country and these soldiers. Who wouldn’t want to be involved with this story?”
At the Core Club, the hulking mountaineer preferred to let the veterans who climb with him do the talking, USMC Staff Sergeant Mark Zambon among others. Zambon told guests how Sunday marked the fourth year since an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) with a 10-pound explosive main charge “took off both of my legs” in Sangin, Afghanistan. Eighteen months later, his exhaustive training and Meals for Seals refueling paid off, when he and Medvetz summitted Mount Kilimanjaro. During his military career as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, Zambon said he was “blown up” five times. Without being asked, he explained what presumably most of the crowd was wondering — “Why keep going back? One of my teammates gave his life in combat. That left a void, because I was never able to express my thanks to him,” he said. “Being that I lost my legs fighting for this country is something I am fiercely proud of.”
USMC Sergeant Charlie Linville, who will head to Everest in April with Medvetz, said his objective is pretty direct. “We all know a lot of people who feel they don’t have the hope to go on. If we inspire only one person, this is worth it,” Linville said.
All too familiar with the fact that 70 percent of attempted Mount Everest climbs end with defeat, Lindville and Medvetz were on the 29,029-foot mountain when 42 people were killed by an avalanche last fall. They nixed their climb out of respect to the sherpas who lost their lives, many of whom Medvetz knew.
Medvetz said the Heroes Project is exploring hosting a Cycle for Heroes event in New York around Sept. 11. Last year’s annual one on The Santa Monica Pier raised $230,000 and a Climb for Heroes — both of which Equinox supports — generated $150,000 for the nonprofit. The Everest climb alone, which will require spending two months on the mountain and paying a mountaineering-adept camera person $75,000, will be a $350,000 endeavor, Medvetz said.
While most elite climbers celebrate their ascents with a photo of themselves holding the flag of their respective country with their arms stretched overhead, Medvetz said that is the furthest thing from his mind. (Sunday’s event for the “60 Minutes” segment was a photographer-free zone). Thanking the crowd, Medvetz said, “None of this is really about me. All I ask is that if you see someone who has served this country, go up to them, say hi and thank them.”