July 15, 2011
The 2011 No Barriers Summit was definitely our best yet! It had a big impact on everyone who attended. We had so many great participants who took advantage of their own adversities propelled themselves forward to new heights.
Over the four days, the opportunities for adventure were mind-boggling: whitewater rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, horseback riding, downhill mountain biking, skate boarding, and on and on. It didn’t matter if somebody was paralyzed, or missing a limb, or had post-traumatic stress, or was able-bodied and had never tried something. Everybody’s eyes were opened to new possibilities! My dad, a tough-as-nails retired Marine fighter pilot, had a blast peddling around in a handcycle just because it looked like fun.
The technology on display at the summit was truly amazing. Among the highlights of the scientific discussions was by Hugh Herr, a professor at MIT and a fellow No Barriers board member, who demonstrated his incredible bionic foot. Hugh is a bilateral below-the-knee amputee who, along with his students, developed a powered foot that attaches to a prosthetic and allows the wearer to walk with far greater efficiency than current feet. As amazing as that was, most of the kids were far more impressed by Kandu, the adorable little dog who was born without front legs and pushes himself around on a wheeled cart.
I loved meeting new people! There were so many wonderful stories at the Summit that are incredibly inspiring; far too many to recount them all here. Wherever you looked that weekend in Winter Park, you could see dozens of people in wheelchairs, or using crutches, or with a white cane. And it was all perfectly normal!
We had a lady named Melissa from Denver who has deteriorating arthritis so bad that she hasn’t driven, or even left the city, in a couple of years. Coming to No Barriers was a breakthrough for her: she climbed, she rafted, and she hiked with Leki poles. Melissa cried as she told me about her realization that she can still do amazing stuff and live a fulfilling, active life.
My friend Koba, who is an amazingly talented rock climber that happens to be blind, flew all the way from Japan to attend the Summit. We had another participant who came down from Anchorage, Alaska with her wheelchair so she could raft and bike and explore the outdoors.
And there was the remarkable Courtney Blasius, a beautiful young girl from Vermont who suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after graduating from college. It was nearly 30 minutes before she was resuscitated and the lack of oxygen to her brain left Courtney in a vegetative state from which doctors didn’t think she would recover. Shattering all expectations, Courtney came to the Summit and went off-road handcycling, and skateboarding, and did a 5-mile run, and hiked with us to over 11,000 feet! She says No Barriers was life changing for her and she is now planning to move to Colorado and work with others who have special needs.
Perhaps the person that best represents the spirit of No Barriers is my new friend Kyle Maynard, who was born without arms or legs. Now 25 years old, Kyle was a champion wrestler in high school (something common in our backgrounds) and now runs his own fitness gym (No Excuses Crossfit near Atlanta, Georgia, http://www.noexcusescrossfit.com/).
Kyle decided to attend the Summit, along with his friend Dan Adams, to see what all the excitement was about. On the last night of the event, I happened to bump into Kyle and Dan. They’d already had a great time and Kyle had tried kayaking for the first time but now he was wondering if he could join me on a hike to the top of Winter Park the next morning. Of course I said, “Yes.”
What I didn’t know at the time was neither Kyle nor Dan had been to high altitude before and they hadn’t planned to be on this hike so he didn’t have any prosthetics. After our impromptu conversation, they dashed off to the supermarket and bought some towels and several rolls of packing tape. As Dan put it later, “With no prosthetics on hand, Kyle and I would create our own solutions.”
On Sunday morning, forty of us drove up to the midway restaurant to begin our hike. Along with my family, our team included Jordan Romero (the youngest person to climb Everest) and his dad and stepmom.
We were fortunate to have a beautiful Colorado day and everyone hiked at their own pace up the service road to the halfway point at Lunch Rock. Here we took a break before the more challenging climb began. Up to here, Dan had pushed Kyle in a wheelchair but that would soon become impossible, even with the assistance of the Romero’s. So Dan wrapped a towel around each of Kyle’s arm stubs and taped it in place with a massive amount of packing tape. The rest of us were looking at this and wondering what on earth were they doing.
Well just a couple hundred yards later, we encountered the first section of trail that was too rugged for Kyle’s wheelchair. The next thing we know, Kyle rolls out of the chair and starts crab walking on his four stubs! And I’m not talking at a slow pace, he was moving along over steep, rocky terrain as fast as any of us could walk.
For the next two hours, Kyle crabbed along through mud, over rocks, and across snowfields until we reached 12,000 feet. While I’m used to hiking behind my friends who jingle bear bells, I could easily hear the crinkle of Kyle’s tape on his improvised prosthetics. We were quite the team, the gimp leading the blind while all the able-bodies struggled to keep up! As we were hiking, Kyle told me about his plan to become the first quadriplegic to climb Kilimanjaro under his own power—I have no doubt that he will make it.
Everyone reached his or her own summit that day. It was incredibly moving to witness so many people overcoming so many obstacles. I am sure that all of us will long remember not only their personal experience but also be motivated by the action of others.
People often tell me that I am their hero. But I want to tell you that my heroes are people like Melissa and Courtney and Kyle who demonstrate that No Barriers is all about everyday! These aren’t people who sit around waiting for something to be plopped in their lap. Instead they actively pursue the kind of life that they want and that entails 1) problem solving and innovating 2) exploring the possibilities in life 3) building your systems, your strategy, your team and 4) seeing physical or mental barriers and working tirelessly to shatter them into a million pieces.
It’s this pioneering mindset that permeates this amazing, powerful community that comes together to interact and build and grow. Thanks everyone for making this the best No Barriers Summit yet! Huge thanks to all of our sponsors, especially Alteryx and Lumber Liquidators. We are already getting amped to make the next one even better!!
PS all photos by Clyde Soles