Published DateOn Thursday, retired reconnaissance Marine Keith Zeier will make a historic ascent of Mount Washington in support of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The aptly-named ‘Ascents of Honor’ project is the latest of several extreme pursuits the wounded veteran has undertaken for the charity, and will be documented in a forthcoming film directed by Jackson-based Thom Pollard of Eyes Open Productions.
“Zeier is a true American hero,” says Pollard, who is producing the piece pro bono in what he refers to as a "labor of love."
“Some stories just have to be told.”
Zeier’s story begins when his best friend’s father, a New York City firefighter, was killed during the Sept. 11 attacks. At the tender age of 17, he turned down a professional soccer offer to enlist in the Marines. Zeier quickly rose through the ranks and was accepted into the Marine Special Operations Battalion — an elite, highly-trained unit tasked with some of the most important, and often highest-risk missions.
Then, in 2006, Zeier’s life was forever changed. An IED explosion hit his humvee, leaving him with numerous injuries and permanent nerve and muscle damage in his left leg. The four other men in the humvee were killed.
The incident ended Zeier’s military career, but in doing so, it provided the catalyst for his next great challenge: to raise awareness of wounded veterans and the issues they face.
In 2009, Zeier completed a 100-mile ultra-marathon to help support the families of his fallen comrades. “Even if my legs weren’t working, I was going to crawl to the finish,” Zeier recalls. “How could I quit on my friends who had made the ultimate sacrifice?” In 2010, he completed the New York City Marathon with a 50-pound rucksack.
After eventually losing his leg to damage from the shrapnel, Zeier again persevered through months of physical therapy, and went on to summit 14,411-foot Mount Rainier just two years later. Now, he plans to climb the mountain known as the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather:” Mount Washington, New Hampshire. Zeier hopes it will be the first of many similar "Ascents of Honor," which will showcase the abilities of wounded veterans while raising funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
To date, Zeier has raised more than $100,000 for the charity, which provides financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families, as well as family counseling and scholarship grants to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die while serving.
“Some people just have it,” says Andy Politz, an Ohio-based professional climbing guide who began working with Zeier during his Rainier summit. “Humbled by their limits, but born to never stop pushing, these are the heroes among us who answer to a higher calling. Their lives become the catalyst for a sense of honor comparable to nothing most of us will ever experience.”
It is these qualities that Pollard plans to capture in his "Ascents of Honor" film. “We want to show that returning veterans are capable not only of recovery, but the highest goals they set.”
Politz will lead the Mount Washington ascent, with the help of several other volunteer climbers and videographers. The group will ascend via the ice falls of Huntington Ravine and spend the night at the Mount Washington Observatory summit weather station.
To support the Mount Washington climb, contact Thom Pollard, creative director at Eyes Open Productions, at (603) 733-6184 or eyesopen@eyesopenproductions.