Originally I planned to do a half marathon (13.1 miles) yesterday up at the Gunstock Ranch – the same one I did two years ago with the cows and the donkeys. But then I found out about Erik Weihenmayer and plans immediately changed. After seeing a blurb about him giving a speech at UH Manoa that was open to the public and free, I picked up his book Touch the Top of the World, about him summitting Denali, and was enthralled from page one.
This man has been everywhere and climbed everything. He’s one of very few people to conquer the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each continent including Mt. Everest! – he’s made his way up The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite, he skis, skydives, kayaks the Colorado River and the list goes on and on. So OK there are a lot of adventurous climbers in the world, what makes Erik so special? Well, he’s blind. 100% completely and totally blind since age 13. And he didn’t start doing any of this until after he lost his vision.
He travels the world speaking about living a No Barriers Life. The motto is:
What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.
I hated bailing on the half but couldn’t miss the opportunity to see him speak so I devised a win/win plan. I put my running clothes on, laced up my sneakers and ran six miles to the event in a delicate rain. Afterwards Tropical Storm Ana was really kicking in but I ran home effortlessly in a downpour, adrenaline coursing, easily completing twelve miles on the fuel of his words.
Erik Weihenmayer’s accomplishments are extraordinary but what really hits home for me on a personal level, is that he does something very few motivational speakers do: he acknowledges the struggle and the suck. So many mystics and speakers will tell you it’s all so easy, anything is possible, you just have to “let go”. It can feel condescending, not to mention incredibly frustrating, when you’re having a difficult time with something that’s holding you back. But Erik says something more along the lines of, “No this is hard and it takes strength and commitment and discipline. A lot of times it’s gonna totally suck.”
He’s funny and sarcastic and human.
He continues saying, “We’re gonna rope up and get through it together.” Roping up is what climbers do in extreme environments like two foot wide ridges above 20,000′. If one person falls, everyone’s falling. So you dig in your ice ax and catch them.
Suffice it to say I was blown away on a much deeper level than anticipated. I feel like I found a kindred spirit. Maybe I don’t succeed as often as I’d like, and I’m certainly not climbing Everest with my eyes closed anytime soon, but what I’m always trying to do is show the whole picture: the success and the failure and all the work in between.
I went online and took The No Barriers Pledge:
After perusing their website I laughed when I realized the No Barriers organization is located just outside of Boulder, CO. So now I have a new unexpected goal: figure out how to work with these guys when I get there.