March 25, 2014
I’ve had the privilege of knowing lots of “climbers” over the years. One of them is Kyle Coon who I met when he was just seven years old. Kyle and his father, Steve, first met my dad, Ed, and me at an event I was speaking at in Jacksonville, Florida. After my presentation, Kyle seemed almost in shock. His reaction on that day still fills my father and me with emotion. When we sat down together, Kyle immediately hit me with rapid-fire questions like, “You climbed to the top of Everest??”, “You can jump out of airplanes alone??” Ed and Steve sat ten feet away silently smiling and exchanging heartfelt hope as they watched Kyle interrogate me with excitement.
Like me, Kyle is also blind; months before our first meeting, both his eyes had to be removed because of cancer. By the end of our conversation that day, Kyle was a little closer to knowing his life didn’t have to be about limitations.
Several years later, Oprah hosted a show with the theme of “Who was Your Greatest Inspiration in Life?” I went on the show thinking I was just going to tell my story about a bus driver who had a profound effect on my life. To my surprise, this wasn’t the whole plan. Waiting for his cue behind the stage was Kyle, who had come to thank me for my mentorship. Kyle stepped on stage and read a letter in Braille telling his story and expressing his appreciation. Tears came to my eyes.
When I refer to Kyle as a "climber", I don’t mean he climbs mountains, although he has climbed a fair number of peaks. After I met him the first time, he went on to join and compete four years on his high school varsity wrestling team; he hiked the Ankascocha Trail into Machu Picchu in 2006; in 2007, he and his mountaineering team summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa. Kyle is now moving into speaking and has presented at the University of Central Florida where he also graduated with a degree in Communications and met his bride-to-be. Over the years, I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from mentoring Kyle and witnessing him grow and transform. Just a few weeks ago, I got to catch up with him when I was speaking nearby.
Even though Kyle is a tremendous “climber,” he’s now ready to start his career and hasn’t been able to find a full-time job. Like so many people coming out of college today, Kyle is constantly sending out resumes without landing any prospects. The most-recent data from the National Federation of the Blind states that over 75% of blind people are not employed. So even for blind people as well prepared as Kyle, finding a job is especially difficult. I find it ironic that someone who has achieved so much at such a young age is confronting the biggest barrier yet, finding meaningful employment.
If you know of an employer that may be interested in interviewing Kyle, feel free to comment on this blog or on Facebook, and I’ll pass it along to him. Kyle’s work ethic and vision to succeed will drive any company forward. Let’s help Kyle to keep climbing.