Last Friday, our film High Ground, highlighting the struggles of injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they re-enter a civilian world, was shown at USCENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) in Tampa. Major General Michael Garrett presided over our visit. We learned such a screening was unprecedented in USCENTCOM history, a huge honor for us all.
High Ground portrays our first Soldiers to Summits (S2S) program, culminating in the climb of a steep and icy Lobuche, 20,075 feet and eight miles from Everest. I was in Tampa with S2S participants Steve Baskis and Aaron Hale, both blinded on the battlefield. They added a lot of reality to this very powerful story. This showing was arranged by Major Brian Smith, an S2S supporter from the outset, now a member of our Advisory Board, who is based at USCENTCOM.
USCENTCOM is our military command for the Mideast (minus Israel), from Egypt to Pakistan. Security there was extremely tight, with frequent electronic screenings of individuals in between closed doors, and with rooms electronically swept for bugs after people exited a critical office.
High Ground was produced by Don Hahn of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King fame, and directed by Michael Brown, who produced the award-winning documentary of my Everest climb, Farther Than the Eye Can See. The power of High Ground was evident in the emotional response of MG Garrett – who has commanded many combat forces – as he made closing remarks to the mostly military audience.
High Ground engenders heightened respect for our service men and women who volunteer to serve our country, and especially for those soldiers who incur life-changing war injuries. We owe them all our great thanks.
Interested in blind skiing?
A couple of weeks ago, my guide Jeff and I taught a clinic for guides of the blind at Sugarloaf, Maine. I always love being a guinea pig, so check out some of the guides testing their new skills guiding me!
Meet my new friend Noah Carver!
It was fun getting to teach a clinic for some guides from Maine Adaptive Sports and we got to ski with a few of the blind participants.
Lesson 1: Follow the Leader
The second part of my Flash Sonar training with Daniel Kish focused on something I haven’t done in over thirty years, riding a single bike. My team, Daniel, and I took to the park and decided to give it a shot.
Daniel has come up with an innovative technique in which he ties a zip tie to the bike of the person riding in front of him, and it turns into a version of follow the leader … but Flash Sonar style. The zip tie attaches to the frame so that it strikes the spokes with each rotation of the wheel, creating a strumming noise that is constant and clear for my bat senses. To get my feet wet, my teammate Tanner attached his zip tie to my bike, and we were off and riding through the grassy park. Tanner would try to challenge me by doing zigzags, kind of like a game of cat and mouse. When we’d come to a stop, I quickly learned that braking on a single bike is vastly different than on a tandem; I made the mistake of using my front brake only and flipped over my handlebars. After recovering, I told my team this was the most fun I have had in a long time, and I didn’t want to stop. We had to, however, because it was getting dark for the folks with eyesight.
Lesson 2: Around the Block
Since riding in the park was such a success, we decided we should take it to the street. The street added a lot more speed, especially going downhill, and properly braking became more crucial than at the park. With practice, I got better at it with commands from my team. Tanner would say things like, “less brake, Erik,” as we rolled down the hill. I also used Daniel’s clicking technique to hear parked cars on each side as we rode by. Daniel has helped give me the chance to do something that I didn’t think I was capable of doing again.
I couldn’t help thinking back to when I was 12 years old pretending to be Evil Knievel as I launched off the wooden ramp in my driveway. Back then, we’d ride around the neighborhood with cards sputtering in our spokes. I’m a little older but it still sounds cool, and I’m loving the feeling of speed and independence once again. Thank you, Daniel.
Watch the video below to see me riding. I warn you, though, I look like a drunken sailor:
It is never too late to get back on the saddle, in my case, bike saddle… even after you fall off it a few times. And now is the time! As 2014 takes off, I encourage you to take the pledge to live a No Barriers Life and do something that excites, scares, and challenges you to be the best version of yourself. Follow the link here to make the personal pledge: http://nobarriersusa.org/eriksclimbersclub/ .
“What’s Within You Is Stronger Than What’s In Your Way!”
I love creating systems which break new ground. Lucky for me, an amazing sensory system for navigating as a blind person already exists. It’s essentially what bats do, a kind of echo location, mastered by the guru, Daniel Kish. Flash Sonar is the name Daniel coined, in which you make sharp clicks with your tongue and listen to how the sound echoes off objects to figure out their size, shape, and distance. Most blind people have learned to do this to some degree, but it’s passive and not developed with a conscious process. Daniel, blind himself from a year-old takes this technique to a stunning new level.
Daniel recently flew out to my HQ in Colorado for a few days to help me improve my bat skills. We kicked off with a simple exercise of Daniel holding plates up to my left or right and me trying to identify which side. Then we walked around the neighborhood investigating the different sounds like parked cars, mailboxes, houses, trees and bushes. Daniel is also an expert teacher, and sped up the learning process with a series of questions about each object to help me form images in my mind. He’d ask, “Describe how that sounds… How does it sound different from the tree you just heard?” I’d answer with, “It somehow sounds softer than the tree, and not as tall. Maybe it’s a shrub?” Afterwards I’d reach out to feel it and confirm with my hands.
We then tested my skills in the park by trying to identify trash cans, water fountains, picnic benches, and rocks, all things blind people would like to be aware of during their average day. “Sounds like a wall of some kind over there,” I’d say, and Daniel would reply, “Let’s go investigate and find out.” I wish I’d known Flash Sonar a few months ago when I was walking through the airport and slammed my forehead into an overhanging metal beam. I hit the deck with blood pouring down my face and into my eyes. I still have a big scar and worst of all, I lost my latte. So it was especially gratifying when, by the end of the day, I was finding metal poles in a pavilion and even locating thin metal sign posts. It all took immense concentration, but the good news is that it’s fully possible, and only gets better with practice.
Check out the video blog of our training together.
Also, check out this video clip of Daniel’s protégé, also blind, riding his bike through a maze and setting a new world record.
In a couple days, we’ll be posting Part 2 of our training when I learned to do something I hadn’t done since I went blind 30 years ago. Stay tuned, and I hope you use this to set your own ambitious, and slightly scary, stretch goals for the new year.
Touch the Top announces we are selling our REACH Pendants again this year. Last year we took a big reach ourselves by embarking on this new venture, and it was so wildly popular, we’ve decided to bring it back for the holidays. All proceeds will go towards a scholarship for a deserving teenager to participate in a No Barriers – Leading the Way experience. These trips take teams of kids: blind and sighted, deaf and hearing: on multi-day journeys down the Grand Canyon. The mission is to help youth learn to tap into the human spirit, push through adversity, and embrace a No Barriers Mindset. “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way.”
Here’s a link to learn more about Leading the Way 2014: http://nobarriersusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Final-Sound-Academy-2014-1.pdf
My friend Cheryl Cutting designed this beautiful sterling silver pendant to inspire everyone to reach towards their own possibilities. The word REACH is spelled out in the Latin alphabet on one side and Braille on the other.
The hand symbol encourages you to reach into the unknown, to strive for greatness, and to find purpose. The mountains represent both audacious goals and the possibility of reaching personal summits. The stars in the sky symbolize dreams coming true, success, light in the darkness, and navigating your way through the wilderness.
The REACH pendant is tough yet beautiful. It is for men and women, athletes and non-athletes, abled and disabled. It is the perfect gift for anyone facing adversity in their life—or anyone who has overcome it.
Here is the link to submit your order:
Important: We have nine pendants up for grabs to arrive by Christmas but you must place your order by the end of the week on Friday, December 20. If you want to use them for kicking off the New Year, we have more pendants available and will continue to sell them after Christmas.
It is utterly amazing to witness individuals who push themselves to show the world what determination, teamwork, and a common vision can accomplish.
Imagine cross-country skiing nine miles a day with a total of 208 miles over the course of 16 days in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit and winds blasting against you at 50mph. To add icing on the cake, put yourself in the shoes of someone pulling 154 pounds on an arctic sledge with your eyes and hearts set on the vision of reaching the South Pole.
As some of you know, this is the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge, a project No Barriers has taken on. Three teams of wounded servicemen and women are challenging themselves mentally and physically to show the world the courage veterans have after sustaining physical and cognitive injuries. Their ability to take on adversity after serving in the military, and facing life-altering injury is in itself inspirational. The teams departed on November 14, 2013. Their aim is to reach the South Pole around December 17, 2013. Way to go No Barriers and the staff for supporting such a great cause!
Back in August, at the No Barriers Summit in Telluride, I met the entire team. Just last week they were honored to meet the Queen of England. I have been telling my friends I am only two people away from knowing the Queen of England! I am figuring out if I can make this into one of my good jokes or not . . . jury is still out. Either way, it gets me talking about the South Pole Allied Challenge and what a significant expedition this is, to reach across the globe and along the way touch civilians, active service members, and veterans.
My friend, Charley Mace, with whom I climbed Everest, has been training the US Team for the last year. Thanks Charley for helping the Team! The three teams taking on the challenge are the US Team, which No Barriers is supporting, the second is from the UK, and the third is a combination of Australians and Canadians, referred to as the Commonwealth. To show support for veterans, Prince Harry, who is an active duty Captain in the British Army is accompanying the team.
The South Pole Allied Challenge is truly a living testimony of the No Barriers Mindset, “What’s inside of you is stronger than what’s in your way.” To give you an example of one of the individuals on the team, meet Mark Wise.
Mark served as an (Army) infantry officer in the First Battalion. During his time in Afghanistan in 2009 Mark was involved in an IED incident where he suffered from partial hand/forearm amputation, facial damage, and burns. Mark doesn’t see his experience as a reason to take a step back from serving but rather as another reason to keep going. Here is a quote from Mark, “As a leader of soldiers your responsibility never ends. I feel obligated to continue to set the example for those who follow not only in my footsteps as a wounded service member, but also for those returning home from combat.” To learn more about the team click here.
To learn more about the SPAC Challenge of 2013 and see current updates please visit the link to Walking with the Wounded’s website: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013/
If you would like to support the US Team please visit the link here: https://nobarriers.fundraise.com/southpole
Below are some of the videos on the South Pole Allied Challenge of 2013
A short video describing the SPAC of 2013: http://www.soldierstosummits.org/The-Program-Allied-South-Pole-2013-Challenge.aspx
Video on the departure of the teams on November 14, 2013: http://walkingwiththewounded.org.uk/southpole2013/video/
If you happen to be in the Portland Oregon area, check out the new Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It features the BrainPort device that I have been testing to let me “see” using a sophisticated camera and tongue display.
Here are some photos of the display.
National Geographic interviewed me for an article on the World’s Best Hikes. I recommended Peru’s Ancascocha Trail, which is an alternative to the more crowded Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu. Sometimes called the Super Inca Trail, this is a real workout but a great way to visit the world famous ruins. Read more about the hike here (this is the direct link but you may have to copy and paste to get it to work: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/trips/best-trails/worlds-best-hikes-dream-trails/#/ancascocha-trail-peru-best-hikes_68706_600x450.jpg).
Hope you’re having an adventurous summer!
A year ago, the parents of then five-year-old Fernando Caled Alvarado Rios gouged out his eyes for a satanic ritual. He and his older brother Kevin, who witnessed the attack, survived but are now in a children’s shelter. The parents and five others are in jail, hopefully for a very long time.
When a friend first told me about this horrific story, I sat on it for a longtime because it was so inhuman I didn’t even know how to react. I think we all have the tendency to look away from such cruelty and brutality.
Then I started thinking, “What can I do?” I can’t change what happened to Fernando but maybe I can bring a little bit of good into his life. So perhaps donating and helping spread the word will help Fernando understand that there is love in the world.
My friend, Laura-Osorio Gonzalez, has contacted the shelter and was told both brothers are adapting well. They say that Fernando is well cared for and he sings in the choir and plays violin. The Mexican government is currently covering all their expenses but we can send letters, books, toys or clothing. And a trust fund has been established for when Fernando turns 18.
Item donations and letters can be sent to:
Lic. Maria Isela Avila or Enriqueta Alonso
In care of: Fernando Alvarado Rios
Address: DIF – Atencion Ciudadana
Paseo Colon, Esq. Paseo Tollocan, 2do Piso
Colonia Isidro Fabela, Toluca, Mexico
Money can be sent to:
DIF Edo. de Mexico
Account Number: 4054723887
In care of: Fernando Alvarado Rios
If you make a donation, please provide them with contact information so that they can keep track and send thank you letters.
A lot of friends have called me recently to say they thought they heard my voice or got a brief glimpse of me on a TV ad. They wanted to know if I’m the blind guy climbing while they were watching Dancing With The Stars and other prime time shows. Yes! It all came together quickly, and I’m psyched to be represented, along with the Wright brothers, Rosa Parks, and the Mars Curiosity landing. Very cool and an honor to be working with Wells Fargo.
They’re right. Conversations lead to some amazing things!
PS the sound works in some browsers but not Safari.
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