Andrea Lanfri: the limit is only in your head

"I don’t believe in the impossible, at most I believe I’m not ready for something"

Andrea Lanfri: the limit is only in your head

He describes himself as a country boy from Lucca, where he was born and still lives. Andrea Lanfri has always loved the mountains, and before his illness he used to climb hard and challenging routes. Then came the day, the 21st of January 2015. In the morning he wakes up feeling cold and has a fever. He immediately calls the family doctor who visits him and tells him to take a paracetamol. After lunch his dog wants to play, Andrea feels really tired but manages to take him out. The dog is happy but at every contact with the animal, Andrea feels as though he is being stabbed with a knife and the very strong pain frightens him.  When he takes off his clothes, he sees that his skin is covered with black blotches. He can no longer walk and quickly calls the doctor. In the meantime he measures his temperature; the thermometre reaches 43 degrees. It’s the last thing he remembers.

Andrea wakes up from the coma two months later, in hospital.  He is confused, he can’t move any of his limbs, which are still bandaged. He can barely open his eyes, his face is full of scabs and he cannot speak. Slowly his face starts to heal, he is able to open his eyes and starts talking again, one of his first conquests. Once medicated he is able to see his feet, which are in worst condition. Even his hands are in necrosis: he can’t move the right one and still today he can only move his thumb. He is conscious that his limbs will never return as before: they are all dried up, similar to those of a mummy. The situation remains stable for about four months and doctors do everything to avoid amputation. Then suddenly in spring, septicemia sets in.  Andrea has hallucinations and is put into a pharmacological coma.

After seven days he wakes up,  his limbs have been amputated: the fulminant meningitis with sepsis meningococcal has led to the loss of both legs, and seven fingers. Following the amputation of his limbs, Andrea starts to recovery quickly. Many new challenges await him: he must learn to do everything, from writing to eating. However, right from the start, he is sure of one thing: he will go back to doing everything he did before the illness. He will return to the mountains. He has a piece of rope taken to the hospital to learn to tie different knots, with three fingers. When he leaves the hospital his mind is light years ahead of the body that can’t keep up with him.  While  in hospital, Andrea had lost over 25 kg, and had spent over six months in a bed. He starts taking the first steps with the prostheses and learns to walk again, putting all his into the endeavour. He wants to go back to running around with friends in the mountains. Every day he uses his prostheses learning to walk which is extremely painful. He then slowly starts to set himself goals, such as reaching the summit of a mountain in the Apuan Alps, often only making it halfway, due to extreme fatigue and discomfort. He also tries climbing but can’t manage to get off the ground. What was once considered simple before his illness is now extremely difficult. But Andrea’s greatest desire is to run: a challenge against "destiny" and the bacterium that wanted to stop him. The problem is that the suitable prostheses are extremely expensive, and Andrea, who before the illness was an electrician, has had to close the company. So he launches a crowdfunding campaign, and on his birthday the fundraising reaches twice the amount he needed, allowing him to purchase three pairs of prostheses.

From then on he has been training seriously on the blades, and has begun his career as a Paralympic athlete of the Italian national athletics team, which will lead him to conquer a series of records, European medals and a silver medal in the world championships London, in addition to reaching many other important goals, and to becoming the first Italian athlete in history to run with double amputation of the lower limbs in the 100 meters flat in under 12 seconds. Meanwhile, he also returns to the mountains and he is invited to climb Monte Rosa.  When Andrea reaches Capanna Margherita, feels he is ready to start all over again. He then meets a girl, who is also passionate about the mountains, and they start climbing together.

The mountains thus come back overwhelmingly into his life, as a personal challenge. Over the years, peak after peak, the project to climb Everest was born, a dream realized by the athlete also thanks to the contribution of La Sportiva, who believed in Andrea, supporting him with clothing and shoes.

As the mountaineer says, the bond with the company has materialized over time thanks to common values, such as respect for nature: many of the garments chosen by the Tuscan athlete are in fact sustainable. Andrea's motto is: "The limit is only in your head": he does believe in the impossible, at most he believes he is not ready for something.



Andrea, what does Everest represent for you and how did this dream come about?

It was an idea born in 2019, as a challenge to myself and as a spite against the illness, which has always tried to hinder me in everything. In the mountains there are no excuses, you’ve got to succeed. The hard lessons learnt  are important.


What were the hardest moments on Everest?

Everything went very well, even if it was extremly challenging! I tried to remain focused on the problems that I might have, in particular I treated my limbs to avoid bruises, blisters, inflammation, and I paid attention to the prostheses, which were designed and built specifically for this expedition…


Did you encounter any particular difficulties with your prostheses and stumps due to the altitude?

The variation in temperature from day to night were considerable, and this caused swelling of the stumps so I had to be careful to make a correct assessment, because if the prosthesis had hurt, walking on it every day I would not have been able to continue. Crossing the icefall downhill after the summit was a challenging moment. After the Hillary Step I started to walk badly, and I thought I had broken the foot. I had brought a spare but at eight thousand meters it would not have been ideal to tinker with the Allen wrench to change it. So I continued on hoping it would hold up and arrived at the South Col. I took it apart and saw that it wasn't broken, but snow had entered it and it was frozen, blocking the blades. This was the only drawback, and in fact I suffered a bit on that downhill stretch because I loaded the left leg a lot and used the right one badly.


Before reaching the summit of Everest, you had already brought home another record from this adventure of yours, running the highest mile in the world on blades in just 9 minutes and 48 seconds ...

We were in a small village and the ground was sandy so it was particularly tiring. On the first attempt I stopped because it was really tough. Then I tried again, I knew I had to stay under ten minutes, I succeeded and it went well! I also put on a bit of a show, for the Nepalese to see a person running on quite showy blades at that altitude is not an everyday thing, I have been the protagonist of videos and photos, we had fun .


Tell us how the ascent and descent went.

It started with a trek with some friends and my father, climbing some mountains up to five thousand meters, and then we arrived at the Base Camp. Later,  together with the Trentino Mountain Guide Luca Montanari, we began acclimatization by climbing a six thousand metre peak. Then we returned to Base Camp and continued with the other acclimatization phase, which involved the first crossing of the Icefall, which we completed in eight hours. We arrived at C1 and the next day we reached C2, crossing the Valley of Silence, and we were stopped for one day. The next day we reached C3, and then we returned to C2, doing another day of rest. We then returned to Base Camp, skipping C1. Here we recovered our energies for a week and then we lowered our altitude, returning to civilization for a few days. Then, when we had planned to go back up, the bad weather arrived which made us a little worried and we postponed our departure for the summit. Then finally there was a period of good weather from May 12th to 15th, and so on the morning of the 9th we left from Base Camp, heading straight up to C2 because bad weather was expected on the 10th. It took us twelve hours, quite a bit. Here we recharged a bit, and then we continued to C3, where we slept, and then from C3 we went up to C4 at 7,900m, where we arrived at about two in the afternoon. At 19.30 we left and reached the summit on Friday 13th May at five forty Nepal time. A nice climb! Then the descent began and we arrived at C4 at three. At C3 we didn't want to stop but we were too tired and so we slept there, even though there was a lot of wind. The next day we arrived at C2 and then back to Base Camp .. It was done!



What emotions did you feel on the summit?

We tackled the whole climb at night, and when we arrived at the Hillary Step it was the most exciting moment: on the right I had a unique sunrise, while on the left I saw the shadow that cast the shape of the perfect pyramid of Everest. At that moment I saw the summit and I started pushing because I couldn't wait to get there, even if I then paid for this acceleration for the last fifty meters: I was out of breath and kept stopping. I have had this dream for years, also postponed due to the pandemic. It was the closing of a circle, the top was a simple geographical point that enclosed a long journey. I was very happy, and in a certain sense I felt that the summit had been “given” to me a little: I was the one who “physically” arrived there but it was a goal made possible thanks to all the people who believed in me: from the prosthesis technician, to those who donated with the fundraiser. It was a bit like paying back all these people.


How would you describe Everest to someone who will never get the chance to travel to the Himalayas?

A mountain with many climbs! It is fascinating but truly infinite. You seem to have arrived, but instead it never ends. After the icefall you can see the summit and it seems really close, instead it is immense.


In the past you sided with No Cav positions in defense of the Apuan Alps, do you think it is possible today to climb an eight thousand peak in a sustainable way?

I think a lot of progress has been made, there seems to be more respect now than years ago. Today the oxygen cylinders are all marked and the agencies are asked to bring them back and  are also charged large deposits to ensure that this is done. I didn't see a lot of rubbish around, only at the South Col there was a “cemetery of tents”. There are also several projects that have the aim of cleaning up the mountains. On the Apuane there are some mountains full of garbage: taking it away there would not be a problem!


Did you meet with long queues of climbers?

We did not encounter traffic and we never stopped moving, on the day of the summit we were the third to reach the top, we were lucky.


Do you think the mountains are for everyone or just for a few?

Some mountains are not for everyone, not just in the Himalayas but in general.


Who do you dedicate this ascent to?

I’ve thought about it, and I think I’d like to dedicate it to my dog Kyra, my lucky charm: if the day I went into a coma she hadn't insisted on getting me out of the house, I would have stayed in bed, I would not have noticed how ill I was and I would not have called the doctor. I was alone in the house and would probably never have made it through the night. Kyra was a Siberian Husky and the snow has always been her element: whenever she smelt it she went crazy.


How did La Sportiva support you in making this dream come true?

I think the pair of La Sportiva Crossover I was wearing are the first trail shoes to reach 8,849 meters! They are specially designed for running on the snow and I used them all the way, then changing them for the approach. Unlike an able-bodied person, in fact, I did not wear high altitude boots, but cramponable trail shoes. As for clothing, up to C2 I used the down jacket and trousers and thermal shirts from the company from Ziano di Fiemme (Trentino, Dolomites), while from then on I continued with the mega jumpsuit. As for the gloves, the idea was to use La Sportiva leather gloves for maneuvers with the ropes and put the big mittens on top of them, but in the end I never used the latter and I reached the summit wearing La Sportiva leather gloves.


When and how did the collaboration with the brand begin and what are the values you have in common?

I met Fabio Parisi in 2019, later we spoke and the collaboration began in 2020, initially focused on my project "From 0 to 0", which combines bikes, running and mountains. The feeling with the brand has always been positive, and many of the garments I use are sustainable, so I would say that we certainly have love and respect for nature in common. The jackets I have in organic kapok cotton are exceptional.


Which La Sportiva product do you prefer and why?

The shoes without a doubt! I hope that La Sportiva will always continue to make the Crossovers, otherwise if they stop production, I have already told the company that I want to order three hundred! They have incredible grip on rock, which is very important when in action.



Do you think you inspire people with your projects and your story?

I hope so, a good part of my satisfaction comes from transmitting the strength that allowed me to be who I am today to people who have encountered a 'hitch' similar to mine and just needed to see that everything is possible, it manages to give me even more motivation!


Who is the best alpinist ever in your opinion?

The one who makes it back home! Not the one that reaches the summit.


Will you continue with mountaineering or do you want to go further? What attracts you?

I have many climbs on my list and I don't think I'll be bored! Now I'm struggling with the Seven Summit project, but I don't hide the fact that there could be another eight thousand ...


Who will Andrea Lanfri be in a hypothetical next life?

A wild animal, I have a great desire for freedom! A free spirit, a wolf perhaps, at ease in the snow and in the cold.



Foto: Ilaria Cariello

Autore: Marta Manzoni