Finding True Heroism with Joe Pugliese
For the last couple years, Charlie Linville has been attempting to summit Mount Everest, but between tragic earthquakes and avalanches, nature kept getting in his way. Last April, while Charlie and The Heroes Project were preparing for their trip that they ultimately took this May, Joe Pugliese went along. He joined to document some of the training that Charlie and his trainer were doing, offering a glimpse into what it takes to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world. “When we first photographed them together it was pretty clear that Charlie had this insane work ethic that I attributed to him being a marine,” says Joe. “It did go somewhere deeper for him and I didn’t really get that until we were on the hike.” Joe and Charlie climbed Mount Baldy for hours, a simulation of the early elevations in Nepal, and while they were up there Joe got to know Charlie on a deeper level hiking together as adventuring partners.
What we haven’t mentioned yet is that Charlie is missing half of his right leg. As an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician in Afghanistan Charlie was caught in a explosion that ultimately led to the amputation of his leg below the knee. But Joe doesn’t think that missing limb is slowing him down at all. “He alludes to the fact that he already should be dead,” Joe says. “He feels like he already avoided death so many times that it’s just not scary to him anymore. The prospect of doing anything dangerous like going up Everest is just sort of something he can manage mentally, and obviously physically, so it was pretty interesting to hear his motivations.”
As a photographer Joe was there to witness what was happening for Equinox, one of the sponsors of The Heroes Project, but he also had to keep an eye on the story. Just from a logistical standpoint, there’s a challenge in telling a story that takes place in two very different places: in the gym and on the trail. But Joe found the center of the story right in front of him. “For me, the through line was Charlie,” he explains. “He was fully committed and didn’t complain about any of the workload. They were sleeping in oxygen-depleted chambers at night and climatizing before they even went to Nepal. I think it’s just really his determination, I think he wore it on his sleeves, and every time I pointed the camera at him you could see it in body language and expression that he was totally, 100% all in for this.”
On May 19th, Charlie became the first combat wounded amputee to scale Mount Everest. There are lessons in Charlie’s story. He reminds us what service members sacrifice for their country, what kind of people they are – filled with determination and focus – and that we still need to take care of those who have come home. And finally, Joe reminds us, “Your limitations are totally in your head, you know?”