February 21, 2023 by The Foundation For A Better Life
Even as retinoschisis began to rob him of his vision by the age of 14, Erik resisted the idea that blindness would sweep him to the sidelines of life. He established himself as a formidable wrestler in high school, representing his home state of Connecticut in the National Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championship in Iowa. As a teenager, he also discovered rock climbing and a natural dexterity for the tactile aspects of scanning the rock with his hands and feet for holds.
"Shortly after going blind, I received a newsletter in Braille about a group taking blind kids rock climbing. I thought to myself, who would be crazy enough to take a blind kid rock climbing? So I signed up! Although there was a lot of flailing and struggle in those early days, the freedom of attacking a challenge and problem solving my way through it invigorated me and helped me to feel less trapped by blindness. It was this early seed of adventure that fueled an ambition in me that would eventually lead to hundreds of ascents around the world and all the way to the summit of Mount Everest.”
After graduating with a double major from Boston College, Erik became a middle-school teacher and wrestling coach at Phoenix Country Day School. Yet it was atop the highest point in North America, the mountain known in the native Inuit language as Denali, where his quest for adventure began to take shape. Erik’s triumphs over some of the world’s most formidable mountains were fueling a growing aspiration to take the lessons he learned in the mountains to help others shatter barriers in their lives.
“As a blind adventurer, I have been lucky to experience a life of meaning and purpose – of breaking through barriers. After I had safely come down from the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001, becoming the first blind person to reach the highest peak in the world, my team leader told me something that would change the course of my life: “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.”
These words stuck with me, and I have spent the last 16 years trying to live up to that challenge: climbing the tallest peak on each continent; kayaking the Grand Canyon; authoring three books; and starting a nonprofit movement, No Barriers.”
Erik is a remarkable example of overcoming challenges and helping others do the same.
For more information about Erik and his latest adventures, visit: https://erikweihenmayer.com
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