Connecting at the 2016 No Barriers Summit

It’s hard to believe that we’re already on our 8th No Barriers Summit, this year hosted at Copper Mountain, Colo. It was almost ten years ago when Mark Wellman, Hugh Herr, Jim and Connie Goldsmith, and I gathered to plan our first U.S. Summit and dreamed how amazing this celebration could be. We hoped it would become the world’s premier adaptive event, as well as a movement of people seeking to shatter barriers.

Kyle Maynard, a congenital quadruple amputee, came to the Summit as a participant in 2011 to learn some techniques for hiking mountains, and returned to emcee the event this year. He crushed it. A natural showman and authentic storyteller, he joked and told stories of his own No Barriers journey to the top of Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua.

Kyle captivating the crowd.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

At Opening Ceremony, professional musician Mandy Harvey ... who happens to be deaf ... opened her set with a story about her struggles when she felt sad and isolated after losing her hearing. Her charge to the audience was to keep reaching and to dream big, no matter the obstacles in your way. To conclude, she sang her rendition of “What a Wonderful World” and the audience joined her during the chorus. Mandy joked that there was no pressure, since she couldn’t judge our singing ability anyway.

Mandy’s lovely voice filled the Copper base area at the Summit.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Comedian, Maysoon Zayid, brought a little levity to the event with her hilarious stand up.  She introduced herself as a Muslim female comic with Cerebral Palsy . . . whose biggest challenge was being from New Jersey!  Maysoon is as sharp as they come and a pioneer in the media world, bringing attention to the lack of representation from people with disabilities on TV and in movies.

Comedian Maysoon cracking up the audience on stage at opening ceremony.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

In addition to the clinics and great speakers, the Summit is brimming with innovation and new technology. Each year I look forward to the University sessions and hearing from thought leaders like Suman Kanuganti, CEO of Aira.io, a company that develops technology for wearables for blind and visually impaired people.

Essentially they are glasses hooked up to GPS and a live remote agent who provides you direct feedback of your surroundings. Suman demonstrated the technology on stage, and later I had the chance to wear the glasses on a tour of Copper. I amazed my friends by commenting on the color of their shirts and their hair styles. The agent read me signs, described landmarks, and helped me navigate through the crowded plaza.

Myself and Suman (far left) hanging out at Innovation Village.

Photo Credit: Suman Kanuganti

An Archery clinic at the Summit.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Participants at the Summit.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Other highlights included the opportunity to hear Chris Klein, a speaker born with Cerebral Palsy who uses "augmentative" technology to communicate. From his sensational message about the spirit that resides in each of us, to the positivity emanating from closing speakers, Grant Korgan, a world-renowned skier and professional athlete despite being paralyzed from the waist down, and No Barriers Warrior, JR Martinez.

Chris Klein climbing the rock wall with Mark Wellman, co-founder of No Barriers.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Mario Allen (bottom row, second from left) and Jeremie Thomas (bottom row, far right) of the Miami Heat Wheels, an adaptive wheelchair basketball team featured in Shaina Allen and Mike Esposito’s film The Rebound.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Grant Korgan, founder of the “Choose Positivity Now” movement.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

JR Martinez, No Barriers Warrior and charismatic Dancing with the Stars winner.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

I had the honor of being the final speaker at our Closing Ceremony on Saturday night. To illuminate the spirit of No Barriers I brought a few individuals up on stage, including a new friend, Karen Kennedy.  I’d just met Karen that weekend on a hike to the top of Copper Peak and was touched by her story. Karen’s son took his life after returning from his service in Iraq. After struggling with his death, Karen became a mentor as part of our No Barriers Children of the Fallen program, which supports youth who have lost a parent to war, as well as the aftermath of war. She was presented with our June Reach Award for her proud courageous work.

Karen climbing Copper Mountain.

Photo Credit: Pauline Shaffer

Karen Kennedy, mentor and friend.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

Each member of the No Barriers community has their own story of challenge. They come to No Barriers to connect, to share, and to unite. At it’s core, the message is that we are not alone.  Although struggle is real, and hardships often hurt, collectively, we get stronger. The Summit ties together this seemingly disparate group and illuminates our similarities; we are all reaching into darkness, searching for light. By coming together, our movement builds into a force that will elevate the world.

Speaking at Closing Ceremony.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA

A beautiful double rainbow formed over over our closing ceremony on the final night of the Summit.

Photo Credit: No Barriers USA