No Barriers Life Elements: A Story of the 2015 No Barriers Summit

At this year’s No Barriers Summit, we encouraged attendees to engage in various events and activities by earning pins that represent each of the key elements of the No Barriers Life. I like to think of these elements as a map that helps each of us take on our challenges, no matter what they are, and live a life of meaning and purpose.

Life Element 1: Vision - Define a purpose that inspires you to give your best back to the world.  It is difficult to fully appreciate the recent No Barriers Summit without looking back at how far we have come.

In 2004 and 2005, the Summit was held in Cortina, Italy. As we carved out our message and broke down our own barriers, I found myself, along with double-leg amputee Hugh Herr, carrying my good friend Mark Wellman to the base of Cinque Torre for an innovative climbing demonstration. Mark is best known for being the first paraplegic to climb El Capitan.

Squaw Valley, California in 2007 was the first Summit in the USA. Our keynote speaker was Major David Rozelle, the first amputee in modern history to lead a platoon in the battlefield.

Miami, Florida was the site of the 2009 No Barriers Summit. Here, we took the Summit out of the mountains to harness the healing power of the ocean.

In 2011, we hosted the Summit in Winter Park, Colorado. Mark “Big Toe” Goffeney drove to Colorado, set up his equipment, and played guitar for the entire audience- all with just his feet.

The 2013 Summit was held in Telluride, Colorado, where we met Mandy Harvey. As a completely deaf jazz musician, Mandy redefined what we knew about singing by performing songs she could not hear.

We began with a vision that has grown clearer and brighter. Your life's work may begin similarly. Start now.

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Life Element 2: Reach - Move beyond your comfort zone to grow and reach goals.

Cara Elizibeth Yar Kahn was a featured speaker at the 2015 No Barriers Summit. Her story begins as a purpose-driven and highly educated creator of service initiatives.

At age 30, fate dealt her a stunning blow: Cara was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (HIBM). HIBM is an adult-onset progressive muscle-wasting disease which affects all skeletal muscles, usually leading to complete incapacity within 15 years.

Cara’s reach moment came immediately after she was diagnosed. Rather than shrink from the challenge facing her, she decided to use her finite amount of time to expand her reach and shine brightly. Against the advice of her doctors and peers, she traveled to Haiti, Mozambique, Thailand, and all over the world. In these far-flung locales, she thrust herself onto the front lines of advocacy, raising funds and spurring programs to improve lives while overcoming her own challenges.

Today, Cara walks with the aid of leg braces and a walker. With a beautiful spirit and a determined attitude, Cara has embraced her life as a person with a disability. She has worked for UNICEF and the United Nations, serving as a disability advocate and working to promote causes around the globe. Cara is a true example of reaching her goals regardless of the barriers in her life.

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Life Element 3: Pioneer - Persevere through challenges to innovate.

I am proud to share the story of  Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs, and the recipient of the 2015 No Barriers Summit Award for Innovation. Mick has sparked a movement in Sudan through his pioneering attitude. In 2013, Mick learned the story of a boy named Daniel, who had lost both of his arms to a bomb in his war-torn village in South Sudan. Mick and his team traveled to the Nuba Mountains and set up a 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility.  After being fitted with his prosthetic, Daniel was able to feed himself for the first time in 2 years, regaining his independence and confidence. Mick and Dr. Tom Catena then set about teaching the local villagers how to print and assemble the prostheses, and the lab began producing an arm per week. We need more pioneers like Mick Ebeling and his team at Not Impossible Labs. Get out there and innovate!

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Life Element 4: Rope Team - Collaborate and connect with others to build strong communities.

This element is best represented by the team at No Barriers. From the Executive Team, to the new staff and interns working on groundbreaking projects and ideas, these dedicated individuals are a Rope Team in every sense of the word. They collaborate to dream up programs that empower individuals and improve lives. They connect with others to invite them onto the No Barriers Rope Team.

My own Rope Team has enabled me climb the highest peak in the world, navigate the rapids of the Grand Canyon, and encouraged me to be a better husband, father, and friend. Rope up with a great team and live the life you have imagined.

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Life Element 5: Alchemy - Harness life experience into optimism.

Alchemy is the ability to take lead and turn it into gold, and Henry Evans is an alchemist.  In 2002, Henry Evans was rendered mute and quadriplegic by a stroke-like brain stem disease. After 5 years of struggle and despair, Henry decided his life was worth living, and went on to create Robots for Humanity with the help of Menlo Park robotics firm Willow Garage and Professor Charlie Kemp at the University of Georgia. At the 2015 No Barriers Summit, Henry was a featured No Barriers University speaker. With an introduction from No Barriers Ambassador, Heather Thomson, Henry Evans took the stage from thousands of miles away using a telepresence robot controlled with his eyes, and wowed the audience with his message of hope, possibility, and Alchemy.

Alchemists don’t avoid adversity. They don’t just deal with it or overcome it. They harness the energy of adversity to propel themselves to places they could never have gone to in any other way. Thank you, Henry Evans, for showing what it means to be an Alchemist.

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Life Element 6: Elevate - Impact the world as a leader who serves.

July 26, 2015 was the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act - Introduced by Senator Tom Harkin in 1990, the ADA has improved the lives of those with disabilities by paving the way to better employment, better service, and better opportunity.

We are here on this earth to elevate others, and the Americans with Disabilities Act has enabled millions of underutilized, underserved people to do just that.  At the 2015 No Barriers Summit, held in Park City, Utah, inspiration was everywhere. From Mick Ebiling's Pioneering ingenuity, to Cara Elizabeth Yar Kahn's Reaching spirit, to Henry Evan’s groundbreaking Alchemy, to the No Barriers Rope Team’s camaraderie, the 2015 Summit was a success. We started the No Barriers Summit with a Vision to serve the world, and we have only just begun.

Elevate yourself, Elevate the people in your life, and join us next year at the 2016 No Barriers Summit!