My Origin Story

Hi — my name is Phil and I’d like to tell you about my story. My journey began thirty-six years ago, when I was born two and a half months premature. During birth, I didn’t receive enough oxygen, which resulted in minor damage to the part of my brain that controls motor function. Fast-forward eighteen months and I was diagnosed with hemiplegia cerebral palsy. Growing up with cerebral palsy was difficult. As a kid, I went through numerous braces, multiple casts, many hours of physical therapy, and even a surgery to manage some of the symptoms. It set me apart from my peers and I often felt like an outcast. As a kid, a common story I started telling myself was that “I am broken.” This story became a part of my identity and caused me a lot of emotional pain.

By the time I was twenty-five, this had taken its toll on me. I was tired of feeling broken. I knew it was limiting my true potential and so I made the choice to change this story. In doing so, I turned my cerebral palsy from what I considered to be my weakness into a great source of strength — a strength that I could draw from to push my limits and help others push theirs, too. At that time in my life, I was also discovering my passion for hiking and climbing. I had a eureka moment when I realized that I could combine my passion for hiking and newfound desire to help others who have cerebral palsy. I decided I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, and raise money for a Boston non-profit that specializes in helping those with cerebral palsy and similar disabilities. That was how Climb for Cerebral Palsy was created.

In February of 2013, I became the third person with cerebral palsy to summit Mount Kilimanjaro without assistance. More importantly, my three friends and I raised over $14,000 for a Boston non-profit, United Cerebral Palsy of MetroBoston. I believe that rewriting my story freed me from a limiting belief and encouraged me to take the first step in creating Climb for Cerebral Palsy.

I am now embarking on a new challenge: to become the first person with cerebral palsy to climb the tallest mountain in South America. This is so much more than a world first attempt; the climb will be a platform to raise awareness of a new cause I am advocating for. My new mission is to provide more opportunities to individuals living with a disability to get outdoors and experience nature’s health benefits. Being in nature is a transformative and powerful tool to promote self-growth and self-confidence. I’ve personally gained so much from the countless hours I have spent outside. For this reason, I have cofounded a nonprofit called Expedition Empower. We are still in the early stages of building the nonprofit but in the near future it will provide experiential outdoor programs and outdoor educational resources to individuals living with a disability. I invite you to join me on my journey to make the outdoors more accessible. This is the start of something truly special.

To learn more about Expedition Empower’s program, please feel free to visit https://expeditionempower.org/.

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Phillip Berenz

Phillip Berenz

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Disability Advocate & Adventurer. Cofounder of Expedition Empower. In Dec. 2021, I will attempt to become first person with cerebral palsy to summit Aconcagua.