MANILA - Ameer Sanchez Ahid, 20, had an active lifestyle as a kid, playing different sports, even joining his dad in routine jogs around their place in Molino, Bacoor, Cavite.
He was getting the hang of the active lifestyle when, at age 13, something completely unexpected happened—he was diagnosed with bone cancer.
"We thought the pain in my right leg was just muscle cramps. We had it checked up by a doctor in HSI (De La Salle Health Sciences Institute). I went through x-ray and biopsy, and after the results came out, I was referred to an oncologist who diagnosed it as osteosarcoma," he told ABS-CBN News in Filipino.
Not only did Ameer stopped playing sports and jogging, he also stopped attending school for two years as he underwent chemotherapy, while his family tried to combat financial woes.
"We were trying to complete payment for a new house that time. We stopped until we lost it. Then my brother who was in college had to stop, too, for some time," he shared.
The remaining ray of hope was that his cancer was treatable, but he had to pick from the only two options available: have his bone replaced with steel or to have his affected leg amputated.
They chose to cut off his leg.
"The problem with the steel bone replacement was it was really expensive and there's a high possibility that the [cancer] cells will come back quick," he said.
Ameer admitted he almost fell into depression but decided to speed up his rehabilitation.
"Yeah, I would envy those boys who run, especially thinking that I used to run before. I even went as far as blaming other people for what happened. But what's the sense? This is what is given to me," he said.
Life of an amputee
Slowly, steadily, Ameer and his family recovered and he was able to continue his studies. He eventually took up Architecture in De La Salle University - Dasmariñas in Cavite.
But the struggles of being an amputee was not over.
"At first, it was fine with me (living without one leg). But it started to sink in when I was in the recovery process—it was actually hard," he said—hard even with prosthesis.
Ameer admitted there were times he felt different, especially when teachers give him special projects instead of the usual activities his schoolmates were tasked to do.
"They don't show you directly, but you'll feel it when they will give you other tasks to do. I thought my teachers felt that I am limited when it comes to physical capabilities because of my condition," he shared.
"But it was okay with me. I thought that if I insisted, they will have a hard time. I did not want them to have a hard time on me anyway. " he added.
Ameer said things felt normal again after his first semester in college, when he was allowed to join the usual activities in their Physical Education classes.
"I took adaptive PE at first. Then, I was allowed to compete with my classmates in table tennis, swimming, and even basketball in our PE classes," he said.
The first summit experience
Confidence soon caught up with Ameer and in September last year, after their exams, he and a couple of friends decided to climb a mountain in Batangas.
They sought the help of one of their professors, Tony Gutierrez, a member of a defunct mountaineer group in Dasmariñas, Cavite, in their quest to climb Mt. Talamitam in Nasugbu, Batangas.
It was a minor climb—around 3 or 4 over 9 difficulty level, shared Ameer—but it was his first time and he was climbing with just one real leg—the other one, of course, being prosthesis.
Just like the recovery and rehabilitation process he's been through, the climb was slow and steady for Ameer and his friends.
"It took us hours," he said about their climb that started at around 9 a.m. and ended after they descended at about 7 p.m.
"The prosthesis leg was very uncomfortable, that's why I did not use it in my next climbs," he said.
At his first summit, Ameer admitted that he became a bit emotional—mangiyak-ngiyak (teary-eyed) as one of his friends joked.
And the first thing he did? "I called my family and told them, 'I am at the top of a mountain!'"
"If you are on the summit, you'll there's a different feeling to it, it's like you've accomplished a lot of things. That there's a lot of things that you can do. It's overwhelming on the top of a mountain," he added.
More mountains to climb
After that climb, Ameer and his friends decided to form a mountaineering group, with their professor as their adviser.
Their group, the LaSallian Mountaineering Society (LMS), has now over 20 active members, with dozens more applying.
Ameer proceeded to climb Pico de Loro, Makiling, and Maculot. Makiling, according to him, was his hardest climb so far.
Because he cannot jog like his peers, a co-member developed a special training for Ameer so he could improve his upper body strength.
Just last June 4, Ameer and his group joined the 3rd National Mountain Cleanup Drive, organized by mountaineering groups in coordination with the PinoyMountaineer.com.
That is where his iconic, viral photo posted in the Pinoy Mountaineer Facebook Page was taken.
While he's not used to being on the spotlight, Ameer embraced his new fate as a viral sensation because he is able to inspire others.
"It feels good to inspire other people. That's what I wanted to do, to inspire others that despite the obstacles, if you want it, you can do it," he said.
Asked about the one perfect word that best describes his summit experience, Ameer said: "Perseverance. I learned that you have to endure a lot of things, and you'll become stronger because of that. There's always something better after all the hardships."
Just last weekend, Ameer and his group successfully reached the summit of Mt. Ulap in Benguet. Ameer the fighter is definitely not through with mountains yet.