BLIND ADVENTURER VISITS UH OCT. 18
During his 21-day journey kayaking the entire length of the Grand Canyon, Erik Weihenmayer had to cross a section called Lava Falls, one of the largest and most notorious areas of the river. As he made his way down the turbulent water, he flipped over and was thrown out of the kayak and tossed around in the waves.
But instead of retrieving his boat and continuing down the river from there, he did something that seems a little crazy: He hiked back up and tried Lava Falls again.
He flipped three times before he finally made it to the end of Lava Falls in his boat. It was, he admits, a little frightening, but he just felt like he could do better.
Weihenmayer did all of that without being able to see — he’s been blind since he was 13. But despite that (and in some ways, maybe because of that), he has become a noted adventurer — his hobbies include skiing, rock climbing and scaling frozen waterfalls. He’s climbed the Seven Summits — the tallest summit on each continent —and he’s the only blind person to have reached the top of Mount Everest.
“I really do love this learning process of trying to figure out whether something can be done or not … and trying to figure it out when there are barriers — and there are tons of barriers. How do you not allow those to stop you in your tracks?” says Weihenmayer, who lives in Colorado.
It’s that message that Weihenmayer will share during a free talk sponsored by Hawaii Pacific Health, titled “The No Barriers Life,” at 1 p.m. Oct. 18 at Stan Sheriff Center at University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Weihenmayer has created a nonprofit around this mentality called No Barriers USA, which he founded with two other men — a paraplegic and a double-leg amputee — as a way to encourage others to break the barriers in their own lives. Weihenmayer, who also is a motivational speaker and author, stresses that it’s not just for people with physical challenges; it’s for anybody and everybody. While No Barriers USA does work closely with war veterans, Weihenmayer says that the concept of living with no barriers is just as applicable for a teen who feels lost or an adult who wants to start living healthier.
“I think sometimes that people see a blind guy kaya-king down the Grand Canyon … and they sort of write it off as, ‘Oh, well, that is very inspirational,'” he says. “And that word ‘inspirational’ is fine, it’s a great word, but I think it can separate people. It’s like, ‘Hey, those are the inspirational blind guys over there, but I am just a normal person over here.’
“But there is a lot more possible for all of us,” he adds.
The drive to help others going through a difficult time comes, perhaps, from Weihenmayer identifying with them. When he first went blind, he admits he wasn’t sure which direction his life would take.
“There are things that knock you on your butt,” he says, “and you have to figure out how you are going to break through those things and keep moving forward.
“Instead of allowing it to stop you, use it as a catalyst and harness that energy and use it to propel you to a new place,” he says. “And sometimes it is a better place than you ever thought.”
To take your own No Barriers pledge, visit kayakingblind.org. For more information on the event, visit hawaiipacifichealth.org/nobarriershi or call 535-7674. Doors open at noon. The event is free, but tickets are required.