William Todd Huston (HYOOS-tuhn) (born 8 April 1961) is an author, mountain climber, inventor, and motivational speaker. In 1994, Huston broke and set a world-record in mountain climbing. Huston was born with a cleft pallet which gave him a speech impediment and hearing problems as a child. On 2 July 1975, at the age of 14 years, he was involved in a boating accident on Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma. As a result of the accident he suffered massive blood loss, and had to be resuscitated twice at the hospital. A laceration of the sciatic nerve in his right leg caused paralysis below his knee. Huston contracted a bone infection, which led to a below-knee amputation at the age of 21 years. In 1994, at the age of 33, he became the first leg amputee to climb the highest elevations of each state in the United States and broke the able-bodied world record of 101 days and set a new record time of 66 days, 22 hours and 47 minutes.
Huston was born on 8 April 1961 in Hot Springs, Arkansas at St. Joseph’s Hospital, now Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. Huston is the oldest child of William Oran “Bill” Huston, born 22 February 1937, and Barbara Ann Hollis Huston, born 23 February 1937. Huston’s father went into the lumber business upon graduation from college and later started his own business as a lumber wholesaler, Huston Lumber Sales in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father had a twin sister Susan M. Huston and an older brother Charles Dix Huston (born in 1935). Huston’s grandfather was Thomas Dix Huston (1911-?) and grandmother was Anna Marguerite Harrison (1911-?). Census records indicate his grandfather’s occupation was a salesman at a lumber company and worked for 60 hours per week for 52 weeks in 1939 and earned $1,800.00.
Huston’s mother, Barbara Ann Hollis is the daughter of Lynne Estile Hollis (31 August 1907 – 31 November 1987) born at Hollis, Harmon County, Oklahoma. Lynne Estile Hollis was the son of Edwin Joseph Hollis and Lena Thurman. According to the 1930 U.S. Census records, Lynne, age listed as 22, lived with his mother Lena Hollis, age listed as 39, marital status listed as divorced and brother Edwin Hollis, age listed as 12. They lived in Quanah, Hardeman, Texas. Lena Hollis worked as an operator at a beauty parlor. Edwin Joseph Hollis was the son of George Washington Hollis and Nancy Jane Sapp. George Washington Hollis was the founder of Hollis, Oklahoma. Huston’s mother, Barbara Hollis Huston, was among the first female computer programmers in the state of Oklahoma when the federal government hired her for a computer project in 1960. She later went on to be an assistant professor of computer science at Southeast Missouri State University, and in 1999 was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
Huston is the oldest of 4 siblings. His brother Scott Hollis Huston, born 21 October 1962, attended the University of Tulsa and Princeton University Graduate College and is currently in the restaurant business. Stephen Thomas Huston, a Presbyterian minister in New Jersey, attended Brown University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Huston’s sister Jennifer Lynn Huston was born 15 July 1975, just two weeks after Todd’s boating accident. She graduated from the University of Tulsa and works in the mortgage industry in Houston, Texas.
Childhood and education
When Huston was born the doctor gave his mother the option of putting him up for adoption because he was born with a unilateral cleft lip and cleft palate, but she refused. He incurred several surgeries as a child to repair the birth defect. The cleft pallet caused Huston a severe and life-threatening ear infection at age 7 which was repaired with a radical mastoidectomy by renowned ear surgeon John Shea, MD. His final surgery for the cleft lip and nose repair was at age 21, while he was recovering from his leg amputation.
Huston’s family lived in Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, and settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was 11 years of age. As a youth he enjoyed playing football as a running back, baseball, and wrestling. Huston earned the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America at 16. In 1979, he graduated from Memorial High School. While a student at Memorial H.S., he met and became friends with world-class runner Fred Zalokar who later helped Huston plan and execute the world-record mountain climbing expedition. In 1984, Huston graduated from the University of Tulsa with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. In 1992, he graduated from National University with a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology.
On 2 July 1975, Huston, his father, two brothers, and a group of friends were boating on Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma. He was behind the boat waiting to go inner tubing when the boat slipped into reverse causing him to get sucked up into the boat propeller. According to a report published on 10 July 1975 in the Stilwell Democrat-Journal of Stilwell, Oklahoma:
“Tulsa Boy is Injured at Lake. Todd Houston, 14, Tulsa, sustained critical injuries last week at Lake Tenkiller when the propeller of a boat hit him when he was sitting on an inner tube waiting his turn to be pulled. The state highway patrol said the boy was hurt at Elk Creek Landing as the boat that was supposed to pull him on an inner tube jumped from neutral to reverse.”
Huston was transferred by ambulance to Tahlequah General Hospital and then to Muskogee General Hospital. He suffered multiple lacerations to both legs, massive blood loss (6 pints), and had to be resuscitated twice, first in the emergency room and again after being taken to surgery. The injury severed his sciatic nerve causing paralysis below his right knee. He was released after 6 weeks of hospitalization. After being released from the hospital, Huston received multiple surgeries, including skin grafts to the wound sites. The same plastic surgeon who repaired his cleft lip when he was an infant transferred a skin graft from his stomach to the back of his right leg. This was done to prepare him for an experimental nerve transplant in hopes of restoring movement and feeling to his paralyzed leg. The procedure was unsuccessful, and eventually the paralyzed foot developed osteomyelitis which led to a below-knee amputation when he was 21. In April 1981, the surgery was performed by orthopedic surgeon Roger H. Emerson, M.D. at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The Fifty Peaks Project
The Fifty Peaks Project involved a team of five physically challenged individuals with the goal of climbing the tallest peak in all 50 states in 100 days. The climb would champion a different health cause in each state. The group’s primary purpose was to inspire other people and to raise donations and public awareness for disability concerns. The initial climb was Mauna Loa in Hawaii and the final climb was scheduled for Denali in Alaska. Utah’s governor, Michael O. Leavitt honored the project on 2 June 1994 with a proclamation marking when the group climbed Kings Peak, Utah’s highest peak.
- Todd Huston from California, psychotherapist and director of Amputee Resource Center, lost his leg as a teenager
- Mary Ann Racanelli from Chicago, lost her sight from congenital glaucoma at the age of 5 years
- Helen Klein from California, marathoner, holder of American and world records in marathons and ultrmarathons
- John Goggin, asthmatic, Boulder Mountaineering School director
- Erik Safewright from Charlotte, North Carolina, has muscular dystrophy
Summit America Project
- Received support from REI, North Face, and Wings of Calvary.
- Flex-Foot Reflex VSP
- Sponsors: PacifiCare, NovaCare, TEC, Flex-Foot, North Face, and Hooked on Phonics
In 1991, Huston married New Zealand native Jesse DeVere Stokes, cousin of the actress Jane Seymour. They divorced after 2 years of marriage. In 1996, he married Cindy Loveless of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Huston and Cindy have two children, Joshua born 1998, and Zachary born 2002. The couple divorced in 2006. Huston and his girlfriend of three years, Julie Dunbar, currently have a home together in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Awards and honors
- Eagle Scout, Boys Scouts of America, 1976.
- Pi Kappa Alpha, Beta Omicron Chapter, 1980.
- Memorial High School Hall of Fame 1997, 2011.
- Class Act Award. Phillips Petroleum, 1995.
- American Red Cross Everyday Hero Award, 1999.
- Energizer Hall of Fame, 2007.
- The Power to Dream Achiever Award, 2011.
- Elected and served as City Councilor, District 8 for Tulsa, Oklahoma 2000-2002.
- Distinguished Oklahoman, 2002.
- Ten Outstanding Young Americans, 1999.
- Ten Outstanding Young Tulsans, 1997.
- Chairman’s Award. Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete of the Year Award, 1997.
- World Record, U.S. 50 State Highpoints. Highpointers Club, 1 June 1994 - 7 August 1994. 66 days, 22 hours, and 47 minutes.
- Leadership Award. National University, 1990.
- National Speakers Association
- Lower pylon prosthetic device. U.S. Patent #5,984,972. 1999.
Books by Todd Huston
- Pathways. Strategies for Life Management. 2005.
- More Than Mountains: The Todd Huston Story: One Leg, Fifty Mountains, an Unconquerable Faith.
Books featuring Todd Huston
- A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul: More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit, 2012.
- Unstuck: Your Life. God’s Design. Real Change. 2012.
- Tribe, A Warriors Heart, 2004.
- Distinguished Oklahomans, 2002.
- True Tales from the Mountains, 1999.
- Sports Trivia Devotional: Inspiration for Kids from Sports and Scripture.