Twenty years ago a group of approximately 3,600 “Lost Boys” would travel the 6,000 miles from Sudan to the United States. Their journey would inspire hundreds of others, including a young Cameron Kerr, who would go on to join the military, journey to Afghanistan and back, re-learn to walk, and then begin an arduous trek through the southernmost part of the globe.
Kerr’s parents had spent time in Sudan in the early 1980s teaching English and doing other volunteer work, so when the Sudanese civil war resulted in refugees to their area they wanted to help. He recalls that much of what his parents did was simply help them adjust to daily life in America. Teaching them skills like how to use a vacuum cleaner or how to pay taxes. “Skills that you learn just through growing up here,” Kerr said.
“My interacting with them at a young age was kind of formative in that it showed me that I’m super lucky to have everything that I have just because my parents happened to have me in the U.S.,” he said.
He decided that he needed to earn that privilege.
For him, the best way to earn it was through direct service. He decided to join the military, but made a deal with his parents that he would finish college first. So he headed to Dickerson College where he joined the ROTC, studied Arabic and earned a degree in Middle Eastern studies to help prepare him for where he’d be heading next.
Upon graduation, 1st Lieutenant Cameron Kerr was deployed with the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army, where he was stationed in Afghanistan. In February of 2011, with one month left in his deployment, Kerr stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), resulting in the loss of his left leg below the knee, and earning him a Purple Heart.
In December 2011, just nine months after his injury, Kerr re-learned to snowboard, as an amputee, with Disabled Sports USA in Breckenridge, Colorado.
“It was one of the first big ‘I can do this again’ type of things,” he said. “I started realizing that something that I had done as a kid with two legs, and that I had loved as a teenager, that I could get back into pretty seamlessly.”
It launched him into other adventures most people would only dare to undertake, including running the Boston Marathon twice, completing a 50 mile race through Norway, and trekking to Antarctica.
“I love helping motivate other people,” he said when recollecting a story about finishing the Boston Marathon to meet a man who had passed him earlier in the race and credited Kerr for giving him the motivation to keep going during the grueling 26.2 miles.
“If I can help be that motivation, and help redefine disability, then I’m all for it,” he said.
In January 2020, Kerr continued to redefine disability and disabled veterans with a trek to Antarctica, skiing the last 60 nautical miles to the South Pole with the 2041 Foundation. Founded by Robert Swan, who was the first explorer to visit both poles, the foundation looks to bring attention to the preservation of Antarctica beyond 2041, the year the continent is no longer protected by a treaty to protect it from mining.
Kerr, who lives in Annandale, Virginia, first connected with the group in 2012 as part of a larger group of about 50 people who visited the Antarctic.
This year, the group was much smaller. Swan and three explorers took a route to complete the last 300 nautical miles of the continent. Kerr, along with nine others, linked up with that group at the 89th parallel to complete the last section of the journey, known as the last degree (from the 89th to to the 90th parallel south in latitude). As a Warfighter Sports Ambassador for Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA), Kerr’s excursion was made possible via the Kirk M. Bauer Service Award, a fund that honors retired long-time DSUSA Executive Kirk Bauer and supports individuals with disabilities who exemplify a can-do spirit and commitment to adaptive sports.
“Being out there and being completely beholden to the elements, but also the master of the elements with all of the right gear and training. It’s just totally peaceful and Zen. I’m really looking forward to that. I love having time to be active, but also think,” he said before departing for the trek.
Kerr’s portion of the journey took seven to eight days to complete, traveling approximately 10 kilometers per day.
Just as the “Lost Boys” redefined their narrative with the help of people like Kerr’s family, he hopes to be a part of redefining views on disability and Veterans.
“So much of the discourse is steered by unfavorable news, and all of that is kind of an impression that people have of Vets, wounded or otherwise,” he said. “They think we’re all just damaged by the wars, but that’s obviously far from the truth.
“It’s all about reframing that discourse and that perception. Going out and doing audacious things, and showing that we can be missing our leg, but we can still do stuff that two-legged people would only dream of.”
Plus, he was looking forward to something else. “I get to fly the DSUSA flag at the pole,” he said with a smile. “That’s pretty cool.” Which, as you can see, he did!