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Keck School student helps at-risk youngsters reach new heights

Christopher Czaplicki, front, and his team scale Pico de Orizaba, the third highest mountain in North America, earlier this year. (Photo/Courtesy of Christopher Czaplicki)

When Christopher Czaplicki was an undergraduate, he helped his girlfriend move from New York to California and caught his first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains along the way. Seeing Grand Teton for the first time was a life-changing event.

“You come through the valley out of Dubois, Wyo., and all of a sudden it’s just there,” Czaplicki recalled. “When you’re a little kid drawing mountains in a picture and you don’t even know what a mountain looks like, that’s what you draw. That’s what it looks like. Just so perfect.”

A third-year student at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Czaplicki has developed a passion for mountaineering over the past two years and has discovered a way to use his newfound avocation to help others. He became involved with Climbing for Kids, a program of Oakland, Calif.-based Bay Area Wilderness Training. The nonprofit organization aims to literally expand the horizons of at-risk and underprivileged youths by getting them out of the city and into the wild.

Czaplicki has a goal of raising $3,800 through private donations as he scales the very mountain that inspired him during that road trip years ago. He leaves on July 25 for a five-day climb up Grand Teton with five others. They will all pay their own travel expenses; the gear will be provided by sponsors. The $25,000 being raised by the team will directly benefit children served by the program.

Climbing and immersing himself in nature has kept Czaplicki grounded throughout his medical education, and he believes it will serve him well as a physician. He hopes to have a career that involves some form of international medicine.

“Studies have shown that physicians and climbers have a lot in common because climbers aren’t really thrill seekers — they’re very meticulous in their planning,” Czaplicki noted. “A lot of physicians later in life take up climbing as a hobby.”

Czaplicki has nearly met his fundraising goal but still needs help. Donations can be made at Those who donate $25 or more will be able to have a special message written on a Tibetan prayer flag that he brought back from the Himalayas, where he participated in an international medical clinic last summer. The flag will be flown on the summit, and each donor will receive the piece containing their message in the mail.

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