BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The hum of workout equipment and thudding of weights dropping greets you as you enter the doors at Planet Fitness in Inverness. The purple and gold décor takes some time for your eyes to adjust, and then you see something even more eye-catching. Greg Hasberry, a former professional bodybuilder and a current mountain of a man, is huffing and puffing up a stair-climber. “This is something I would do even when I was competing,” he explained as another flight of stairs slowly slipped from beneath him. Next to him is Bob Kuykendall, who, although less imposing than Hasberry, is eating up step after step with a backpack in tow. “It’s just steps,” he says in the middle of the workout.
Steps that lead to nowhere are training the two for the climb of a lifetime. Hasberry and Kuykendall aim to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in June of 2017, an endeavor of just less than 20,000 feet. “That’s a lot of levels. Thanks. Thanks for that,” Kuykendall says in response to a question of how many stair-climber levels make up the mountain.
While Kilimanjaro is imposing to gaze upon, Hasberry has looked steeper odds in the face and overcome them with the aid of Kuykendall. In 2011, Hasberry was struggling with tasks that should have been a breeze for a professional bodybuilder. He was short-winded and constantly tired. He was admitted to UAB where he received a devastating diagnosis: he was in stage four renal failure. He started dialysis immediately and began the pain-staking wait for a kidney transplant. “There aren’t enough kidneys for all the people that really need them,” says Dr. Mark Deierhoi, a professor of surgery at UAB. After almost four and a half years of treatment, Hasberry thought the end was in sight. “Driving was becoming an issue, my sight was an issue,” he recalls. “Picking up a five pound grocery sack was an issue.”
“I had pretty much come to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to be here much longer.”
Hasberry and Kuykendall were only acquaintances at this time. They had known each other for more than a decade, but saw and spoke to each other rarely. Hasberry reached out to Kuykendall to discuss a business proposition, and that’s when his friend noticed scars and ports in his arm. “Well, at that time I would have been the guy to have said, ‘Hey if God wants to work out this maybe it shouldn’t have happened to begin with,'” reflects Kuykendall. For some reason, this time was different. Kuykendall knew immediately he wanted to donate his kidney to Hasberry. He anonymously went through the screening process to avoid getting Hasberry’s hopes up. It came back that he was a match. “This wasn’t just about Greg’s kidney, this was about my faith,” he emphasizes.
All that was left was to tell Hasberry. He called and asked the bodybuilder turned personal trainer to meet him at a Starbucks. Hasberry thought the meeting was a follow-up to their prior conversation about the business deal. “He [Kuykendall] says, ‘Well hey, I’m — I’m your donor,'” remembers Hasberry. “I felt like God reached down, picked up these buildings off my back, and put them to the side.”
The two underwent successful surgeries in April of 2015. Shortly after they realized their new calling was to share their stories. Many times the fear of surgery or post-donation life drives people away from becoming living donors. The vehicle for their message came in a routine conversation Kuykendall had with a friend shortly after surgery. “I said, ‘Well how’s it going? I haven’t seen you in awhile,’ and he said, ‘Ah man, just climbing,'” says Hasberry, noticeably lighting up as the conversation steers towards the climb. “So we came up with our own climb and when you think about climbing, Kilimanjaro is just the icon of climbing. Except for Everest. No way we were going to do Everest,” he says laughing with Hasberry.
The importance of the journey doesn’t lay at the top of a mountain for the two aspiring climbers. It’s the journey, the fact that one man can donate a kidney and still accomplish such an amazing feat and that another can step back from the door of death to reach a place higher than few will ever know. “I may sound a little cocky when I say (this) but no it’s not that tough,” Hasberry says of the task before them. “Fighting for your life every day for four and a half years — close to five — that was hard.”
Kuykendall’s son, Cade who is an 8th grader at Chelsea Middle School, will join them on the hike. As they train together at Planet Fitness after Hasberry leaves to go back to his gym to meet morning clients, Kuykendall notes the relative ease that’s associated with the Herculean task. “You know, I could be trying to climb the stairs of the UAB hospital to get my blood spun around in a machine for a couple hours,” he gasps between steps.
To donate to the two men’s climb, visit this link . The climb is scheduled for June 3rd-11th.