As Chad Fallentine took the final steps of the most difficult journey of his life, tears rolled down his mom's face.
Krissy Fallentine, Chad's mom, cried in joy as her son -- who was born with Spina Bifida -- reached the bottom of Half Dome. He had made the trip up and back, a challenge for Chad, who used a wheelchair to get around until his freshman year of high school.
Chad, 16, a junior at Oakdale High now, often speaks about the climb, which he made with his father and other climbers in June, 2006. It was a milestone for him, a goal he set in part to raise money to go to a camp for kids with Spina Bifida, in part to challenge himself.
"Chad always has a positive attitude," his mother said. "He doesn't let his disability hold him back he goes above and beyond his limitations. He looks for things he can do, not things he can't."
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Chad was born with a small hole in his back that causes nerve damage from the waist down, making it difficult to walk. The day Chad was born his parents, Krissy and Chris Fallentine, didn't realize he had Spina Bifida, but after the nurses finished weighing him and turned him around they noticed a hole in his back about the size of a silver dollar.
Learning to walk was an uphill battle. Chad first started to walk when he was 2, about a year later than other kids. He used a walker. Then, slowly, he was able to walk with the support of crutches.
By age 5 Chad could walk on his own, but not without a struggle. Of kindergarten, Chad said: "I was able to play on the jungle gym and in the sand box but I couldn't really go out and play soccer ... I could try and block the ball but I just couldn't really go out and run with them."
When he was 8, Chad's parents told him about Cub Scouts and he joined a troop. He eventually worked his way up into Boy Scouts.
He enjoys hiking and backpacking trips with his troop. His friends carry his backpack. He walks on his own.
"You have to find different ways to do things, but there aren't really limitations," he said.
In fifth grade Chad had surgery on his back because he was losing mobility in his legs and the doctors wanted to prevent it from getting worse. He had to take two months off school, and learn to walk again.
When Chad hit his freshman year of high school, he made a decision. He would leave his wheelchair behind.
He walked to and from classes, but was often tardy. The teachers excused him. It wasn't until this year that he has been able to get to class on time.
The summer before his sophomore year Chad decided he wanted to raise money to go to a Spina Bifida kids camp. Chad turned to a friend to help him come up with a plan to raise the money he needed for the camp. That's how he got the idea to send out letters to businesses and put an article in the newspaper to have people sponsor Chad to climb Half Dome, an 18 mile hike from Glacier Point.
Chad immediately started training for the climb. He took short hikes along the river near his house three to four times a week, gradually hiked a little bit longer each week.
When the big day finally arrived, the group left Oakdale at 3 a.m. and began climbing at 6:30 a.m. Chad went with a group of capable climbers, including his father, a massage therapist (there to assist Chad because he would get severe back pains). Chad also brought along his doctor, and a few other hikers. His mom was eagerly waiting at the bottom of the mountain for his return.
The climb was extremely long and, at times, too much for Chad to handle. Every two miles or so, Chad would hop into a wheel-barrow looking cart, also known as the "Chad Mobile," for a half hour or so to regain his strength.
When they reached a long stretch of stairs with sand on them, they had to leave the Chad Mobile at the bottom. Chad says that was the hardest part.
Chad attracted attention along the way when a group of hikers not from his group recognized him from the newspapers and started cheering for him on the side of the trail. This encouraged Chad to continue the difficult climb because it reminded he had the support of friends, family, and his community.
Another difficult stretch of the climb was the actual vertical part of Half Dome.
"Going up the cables took a lot of upper body strength and it was real hard to keep your feet on because it was a pretty vertical climb," Chad said. "I was pretty tired when I got to the top but it was an amazing feeling."
Through sponsors, Chad raised the money he needed to go to the Spina Bifida kids camp. He also fulfilled his goal.
"I never thought I could do something like that," he said, "but when I got up I couldn't believe I actually did it."
As for Chad's future?
He's planning on hiking Mount Whitney this July with his Boy Scout troop. He hopes to raise money for other kids who can't afford to go the the Spina Bifida camp he had the opportunity to go to.
"I will do more hikes," he said, "and try to do more fund-raising for causes such as Spina Bifida."
McKenzie Becker is a senior at Oakdale High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.