Breaking Barriers at the No Barriers Summit

I come away from every No Barriers Summit energized and inspired to double my efforts to build a community that has the tools and the mindset to break through barriers and make contributions to the world. The recent 4-day event at Telluride was no exception.  Here are my highlights:

My friend, Amanda Boxtel, in a wheelchair for 21 years,  was part of a panel demonstrating exoskeletons which enable her and other paraplegics to walk upright.  Importantly, the existing technology is rapidly advancing.  Speakers equated its progress to the once bulky cell phones which today are miniaturized with many applications.  It was pretty emotional for me when I heard Amanda’s voice as she approached me, and I realized for the first time she is 5 feet seven inches tall.

At the end of the session, Amanda looked down at her audience,  many in wheelchairs,  and said,  "For those of you in wheelchairs,  get ready to walk." Amanda has recently founded an organization to promote and advance the use of exo skeletons.


We climbed a via ferrata, a traverse along a massive rock wall, hanging from iron rungs in space. Along with me was my friend, Billy Lister who had a stroke as a young teenager. Billy attacks life and took on this activity in classic No Barriers style, completing it with limited use of the left side of his body.


My father, Ed, was looking for Courtney Blasius who like Billy, also suffered a stroke at a young age. With big mobility challenges, Courtney had amazingly climbed to 12,000 feet at our 2011 Summit in Winter Park.  When Ed found her at a meal,  he told her he had specifically looked for her on the hike that day.  She responded that she didn't go,  BECAUSE she had been rock climbing instead. (Courtney, celebrating a summit with some of our South Pole Allied Challenge Team, she is in black in the front row)



Mandy Harvey brought our community to tears at the opening ceremony when she sang in perfect pitch. Mandy had gone deaf as a music student and thought her singing career was over. She said she sings with the voice she hears inside her head, and the result is stunning!

Adrien Anantawan performed at our closing. Despite being born with only half an arm on the right side of his body, he has become a world-class violin player. When asked by an audience member why he chose the violin – an instrument that seems so difficult for a person without  the use of an arm, he replied that his parents chose the violin for him at a very young age; they didn’t pick the instrument on the basis of what would be easiest for a child with a handicap, but chose on the basis of what instrument they felt produced the most beautiful sound. Adrien also fulfilled his life-long dream to play his violin atop a mountain.

Kyle Maynard,  born as a quadruple amputee,  blew us away at the closing ceremony. Kyle, who had tried climbing for the first time at our 2011 Summit,  used that as a launching point to evolve his prosthetics technology ,  and went on to climb Kilimanjaro, tallest peak in Africa .  He gave us his thoughts about perseverance.  "If you're not dead,  keep going!" I heard from many participants after the summit that they were now using this mantra – when confronting setbacks: getting caught out in the rain on a bike ride, falling down, or feeling overwhelmed or exhausted.


Dr. Hugh Herr,  a double-leg amputee himself,  co-founder of No Barriers and a scientist at Harvard/MIT,  and developer of the most sophisticated ankle prostheses in the world,  received Our No Barriers Lifetime Achievement award. Hugh made a bold and memorable statement that “every person has a basic human right to a healthy body... and he predicted that most disabilities would be eliminated by technology by the end of this century.

See this video from the Summit featuring Penn Street, and watch her take on her "fear of speed" as she mountain bikes with our No Barriers Summit team.  This is the first of many video vignettes No Barriers will be sharing to continue to ignite in all of us the No Barriers Mindset. Thanks to our videographer Kim Johnson for the great work she did in pulling these together!

The absolute highlight for me was meeting the people who comprise our community, so many of whom surprised me by their stories of courage and perseverance.

I met Bob Woodruff, ABC news correspondent who suffered a traumatic brain injury while covering the Iraq conflict and has used that experience to champion our injured veterans; I met a visually impaired teacher who came alone from Connecticut not knowing a soul; I met a woman with a debilitating disorder who heard about our last summit a week too late and had been waiting ever since; I met a blind teenager who joined us on our hike – his first experience using trekking poles and following a bear bell; I met inventors sharing innovations for quadriplegics to kayak and do adaptive yoga. I met a couple (both little people) who approached me after trying paddle boarding for the first time to tell me how much they connected with our mission and felt at home with our community. The list goes on and on. It reinforced for me how this community is at the heart of our mission.

Congratulations to everybody who contributed. For me personally, I leave the Summit energized to take on the challenges ahead; it fills my cup and becomes a fuel source for all that we can achieve together.

Let’s keep climbing!