A golfer with no legs summits Mount Everest.
In an untidy London dwelling, a 33-year-old considered the stumps that were his legs and poured himself another whiskey. He hadn’t been outside in days.
Eleven years later, in May 2023, this same man was atop Mount Everest. If not for the treacherous weather on the way up, his plan was to hit a golf ball.
How did Hari Budha Magar climb out of depression and to the top of the world? It sounds ridiculous to suggest golf had much to do with it – compared to mountaineering the stakes are so low that even referring to both as “sports” feels off – but Hari is unequivocal: “Absolutely golf gave me the confidence to start climbing.”
Hari hit his first golf shots during a three-day class offered free to wounded veterans by the On Course Foundation, which was founded by John Simpson, who managed Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer. In addition to promoting golf as therapy, On Course also places participants in part-time and full-time jobs within the golf industry.
Balancing on his prosthetics while swinging, negotiating sidehill terrain and bunkers, and learning these skills in the company of other veterans who teased each other – for Hari these were invaluable first steps.
“We were playing a Texas scramble, and the other guys whose injuries were different joked that they were going to take away my prosthetics if I kept hitting the ball better than them. Being out in nature, enjoying camaraderie, this did so much for my mental health.”
Hari was already a man of strong stuff. Having grown up in a remote village in Nepal, where he married at 11 and regularly carried loads of food and kerosene on his back for miles, he would see Mount Everest and dream of one day climbing it. Similarly, when he landed a coveted spot in the Royal Ghurka Rifles division of the British Army, he saw other officers playing golf and hoped to try that one day, too.
Then while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2010, an explosion took his legs.
Let’s not linger on the surgeries and despair, nor on the rounds of golf that led Hari to further explore his physical limits with kayaking and wheelchair basketball. Here, just the main question: how does a double-above-the-knee-amputee summit 29,029 feet?
It began, actually, with the bureaucratic task of getting Nepalese lawmakers to reverse a policy banning double-amputees from Everest in the name of safety. Then there was raising money from companies and people who believed in you but didn’t want to be associated with your accidental death. Next was engineering two sets of prosthetic legs – longer for the approach and shorter for the ascent – that connect with crampons. Installing battery-powered heaters within his suit wouldn’t keep Hari’s sensitive stumps comfortable, but they might prevent frostbite. Because he was essentially crawling most of the way, his hands in contact with the mountain much more than other climbers, Hari brought six pairs of gloves.
“A major factor of climbing Everest is staying healthy for two months in a hostile environment, and the only way to do that is with confidence. I’m curious how he kept himself positive,” says Sid Pattison, a guide for Alpenglow Expeditions who has shepherded several clients up Everest successfully, including the oldest Westerner at age 76.
“Every morning I did yoga, meditation, push-ups, exercises holding rocks,” Hari says. “None of us is ever 100-percent ready for anything we do. Hopefully people with disabilities will see me and feel they can pick up and move on rather than feeling sorry for themselves.”
This can also include those whose disabilities aren’t so visible. We all have our struggles. I don’t think it’s audacious to co-opt Hari’s story to assert that more people should recognise the power of golf to give us each the confidence to be our best selves.
Hari is looking forward to the next Simpson Cup, where injured veterans from the United States and Great Britain battle in a Ryder Cup-style format. To get ready, you might see him at the range with his three kids, two of whom really have the bug.
As golfers, let’s be proud to claim an extraordinary individual like Hari Budha Magar as one of our own.