20 Minutes With: Blind Adventurer Erik Weihenmayer


25th March 2019

20 Minutes With: Blind Adventurer Erik Weihenmayer

bu Brent Crane

One day when he was a boy, Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind person to have summited the highest peak on every continent, had a basketball thrown at his face by the driver of a special needs van. The future adventurer, having only recently gone blind, was stubborn in adapting to his disability, constantly resisting assistance. The driver threw the ball to prove to the boy that he could not do everything on his own. It struck Weihenmayer in the face and changed his life: He learned it was OK to ask for help.

Today, at 50, Weihenmayer is a living legend. Beyond bagging the prestigious Seven Summits challenge, the American adventurer, who is wholly blind, has kayaked the full 277-miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon; scaled the infamous nearly-3,000-foot “Nose” route on Yosemite’s El Capitan; and completed some of the globe’s most punishing endurance races.

When not shattering expectations about the limits of disability, he runs No Barriers, a disability-empowerment nonprofit co-founded in 2003 by Mark Wellman, a paraplegic climber, Hugh Herr, a double-amputee and visionary prosthetics engineer, and Weihenmayer. He also regularly speaks on leadership and adversity at Fortune-500 companies around the country. Recently, No Barriers expanded its corporate training with new outdoor programming called Leading Beyond Barriers.

While working through a plate of avocado toast at his home in Golden, Colorado, before heading out to ski with his teenage daughter, Weihenmayer spoke with Penta about translating adversity into success, how independence and community overlap, and The Weight of Water, a new documentary about his record-breaking Grand Canyon trip that won the Grand Prize at the 2018 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Erik Weihenmayer: When pursuing big goals, whether as a company or an individual, barriers get in the way. They shove people to the sidelines; they get stuck there. I tell people to stop and look at the template of the journey they’re on, the map of growth. What are the different elements you’re going to have to harness along the journey to reach your goal? If you figure out how to use adversity right and respond to it in a different way it can actually become the energy you use to propel yourself forward.

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