HONG KONG – Lai Chi-wai was plagued by the cold and dizzy with vertigo, and kept slapping his helmet to keep vigilant.
It went on, move by hand, as he tried to climb a skyscraper in Hong Kong with a rope while he was in his wheelchair.
At 800 feet, however, the gusts became stronger and more relentless. The wheelchair began to turn. Mr. Lai, a former master climber who was never afraid of heights, began to fear for his life.
After swinging in the wind for almost an hour, he stopped the climb just before his destination. He was overwhelmed with disappointment. In doing so, he had inspired a city tired of political unrest and a relentless pandemic and raised more than $ 700,000 for charity.
During an interview on Monday, 38-year-old Lai watched workers two days earlier remove the ropes and anchors he was using for his ascent along the glass facade of the 1,050-foot-tall Nina Tower – a building as tall as the Eiffel Tower – had used.
“When I look up, I can see the adverse circumstances and feel the fear and helplessness when I was suspended in midair,” he said. “I also saw how close I was to my goal.”
Mr. Lai said he exceeded his own expectations for strength, resilience and decision-making during his 10-hour ascent. Still, he said, “I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be able to finish when there was still some strength in my body. As an athlete, I have no excuses to give. “
Mr. Lai is a four-time winner of the Asian Rock Climbing Championship and once finished eighth in the world in the sport. He was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident nine years ago.
Determined to keep climbing, in 2016 he climbed Lion Rock in his wheelchair, a steep ridge that reflects Hong Kong’s resilience in difficult times.
A skyscraper became his next target. He tried, as he put it, “to express the Lion Rock spirit in an urban jungle” by “rising steadily”.
It began its ascent on Saturday morning with blue skies and a gentle breeze. But in the afternoon, high winds confused the ropes he used to climb. His wheelchair rocked back and forth and sometimes threatened to ram into the building.
He climbed another two dozen floors as the gusts continued to explode in five to ten minutes, pausing to untangle the ropes.
At eight hundred feet, when the wind whipped him relentlessly, his arms cramped and his bandaged fingers shimmered with bubbles. He also felt his body temperature drop. A team of supporters and rescuers sent him messages on his walkie-talkie asking if he wanted to stop.
Days after taking the time, scenes of the ascent still filled his head and kept him awake at night. Back at the skyscraper on Monday, his fingers were raw so he only used the tip of his thumb to turn the tires on his wheelchair.
As of Monday, his efforts have helped raise $ 735,000 to research a robotic exoskeleton for patients with spinal cord injuries.
Well-wishers showered him with praise online. But what many viewed as an unimaginable feat of endurance was still the stab of an unfulfilled dream for him.
“I can only accept this version of events,” he said. “But as an athlete, I don’t know if this is the best ending. I don’t have a degree yet. I’m still looking for answers. “