August 13, 2015
Last weekend at our No Barriers (http://www.nobarriersusa.org) What’s Your Everest event near Breckenridge, Colorado, my team and I joined a community who were all there for the same reason; What’s Your Everest asks every participant to tackle their own barriers and push past them to achieve something they might not have thought possible. Individuals from very different abilities and backgrounds came together at the base of three “14ers” to try to achieve a mountain trifecta. Here are three stories that symbolize the spirit of No Barriers and the heart of What’s Your Everest.
Perhaps most memorable for me was hearing the sound of heavy breaths and footsteps, almost drowned out by cheers, as Ryan Garza reached the summit of 14,154-ft. Mt. Democrat. I first met Ryan on our 2013 No Barriers Warriors Expedition to Peru. As a Marine, Ryan served 4 tours in Afghanistan. On his final tour he was hit with an IED, which severely injured his right leg. After two years of hideous pain and deterioration of tendons and ligaments, he made a courageous No Barriers decision and chose to have his damaged leg amputated. Only five months after his surgery, Ryan joined the No Barriers team to struggle up his first 14er. Congratulations, Ryan, on reaching your first summit. There are many more to come!
Carlos Santos was also finding his own path up Mt. Democrat at What’s Your Everest. A natural athlete and passionate football player, Carlos was the quarterback for his high school team in Frisco, Colorado. During the school’s homecoming game 15 years ago, he suffered a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed.
Facing a daunting future, Carlos made a No Barriers decision to fight forward on a quest to walk again. He believes that the harder he pushes himself; his recovery will be faster and more profound. His progress proves his theory. Carlos now walks, albeit with discomfort and difficulty.
On his ascent of Mt. Democrat, Carlos experienced at least a couple of big tumbles, one that landed him right on his face. However, Carlos understands deeply that when you face off against barriers, there is no easy way up or down; falling is just part of the process. Thank you, Carlos, for showing us how to summon up the courage to keep reaching and improving.
Not all summits need to end at the top of a 14er. Cara Elizabeth Yar Khan showed us all her determination and grit when she took on her own “Everest”- the two-mile trail up to Kite Lake. Many people would take for granted a two mile hike, but for Cara, whose condition requires her to use a walker for stability, this would be monumental. I first met Cara at the No Barriers Summit this year where she spoke about living her life with a rare genetic condition called Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (HIBM) that causes a degeneration of her muscles and skeletal system. The prognosis is complete incapacity within 15 years. I listened to her story, blown away by her courage and drive to make a difference in the time she has left. Cara embraces her disability and channels her energy towards helping others in the developing world through her work with UNICEF and the United Nations and founded her own consulting firm, RISE Consulting Services, LLC.
At the recent No Barriers Summit, Cara tried everything from scuba diving to kayaking, and at the end, excitedly announced that she was ready to attempt the two-mile trail to Kite Lake.
The next day, Chad Jukes, a veteran, single leg amputee, and No Barriers alumni joined Cara. Chad was recently chosen as part of an all-Army team to attempt Mt. Everest. So Cara was in good hands. Chad quickly realized Cara would need to leave behind her walker, which would become a hindrance on the narrow, rocky trail. Chad, along with Pauline from my Touch The Top team, joined Cara on either side as she leaned on their arms, and without a moment’s hesitation, the three started forward.
Cara worked hard for each and every step. Yet even as she struggled, Cara told stories from her adventurous life. After many hours, Cara found a flat rock amidst a bed of wildflowers, looked around, and made the announcement that she had reached her "Everest.” Gazing back down from where she had started, Cara was deeply affected by how far she had climbed.
Cara, welcome to the No Barriers rope team. We wish you a life full of purpose and impact. There is no limit to how high you can climb.
At one point it got so steep Cara had to get down and bear crawl her way up!
Chad, Cara and Pauline formed a mini rope team.
Our team at the top.