The Blind Leading: Weihenmayer has helped guide vets to the top of peaks in the Soldiers to the Summit project. Photo: Cameron Martindell/offyonder.com
Erik Weihenmayer, the first, and, as of yet, only blind person to climb Mount Everest, is the chair and a co-founder of No Barriers USA, an organization dedicated in part to “…inspire people with challenges to live full and active lives.” We talked with Erik about what he’s doing to accomplish that goal.
What is the philosophy behind No Barriers?
What I care about is for people to have the tools, the mindset, the knowledge and the empowerment to shatter the barriers in their lives. We’re building a community around this through problem solving, innovating and the human spirit. Sports, recreation, art, whatever their catalyst is, it doesn’t matter—they all represent innovation. Climbing was the thing that sparked me as a kid when I went blind. I hear people say “hey, scuba diving saved me” or “skiing saved me after I got hurt.” It’s different for everybody, but it’s all the same in that these things were the catalyst that taught them that they can control their life and that they have power over their future. And that, to me, is the real key.
It’s one thing to overcome your own barriers, in your case, going blind at the age of 13, but you’ve gained a vision, if you will, to find ways to help others. What inspired that?
At first when I went blind, I didn’t know what to do. I sat at my sad little table by myself in the cafeteria in high school thinking, what am I going to do? I don’t know anything about blindness, I don’t know any blind people. I want to be having food fights and living a large life. Since then, I’ve really been lucky to have people around me who are believers who have said, “I’ll help you achieve the things you want to do. I don’t know how far we can take this idea, but I’ll help you take it as far as we can together.” And that’s what it was like for me summiting Everest. I had a whole team of believers that helped me get to the summit. It wasn’t just a matter of me being strong enough; it was about that team helping me. In that trip in particular, along with my other adventuring trips, I recognized they believed in me. I think it’s a natural step then to not just think about myself, but to move beyond and to think about the world and society and how to nudge it forward.