July 21, 2011— -- Chris Waddell's face was inches from the ground, coated in volcanic ash. He was exhausted, drained from the previous days of climbing the varied terrain of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. But there was a mountain he needed to climb, so he turned the crank on his handcycle one revolution, and then another, and then one thousand more times until he reached camp for the day.
A skiing accident two decades before had left Waddell paralyzed from the waist down. But because of a hand-cranked wheelchair, he was able to achieve what many assumed was impossible, becoming the first person to summit Mount Kilimanjaro using a handcycle, a trek documented in the 2010 film "One Revolution."
"The idea of climbing a mountain, people could understand that," Waddell, now 43, told "20/20's" Deborah Roberts in an interview. "That's the metaphor for life: This idea that we're all climbing a mountain."
After his accident, Waddell said, he refused to focus on what he could no longer do, telling Roberts that the accident was the best thing that has ever happened to him.
"I felt like a transformed person," he said. "I felt, in a lot of ways, like the person that I'd always thought I was, like the best form of myself."