A Conversation with Blind Activist Erik Weihenmayer

I had the pleasure of speaking with Erik Weihenmayer during a scheduled phone conversation this week. I can best describe Erik as a blind adventurer. He is a Unicorn in the blind community. In other words, there is nothing else like him. He’s a rare breed and when you come across someone like him, you want to learn as much as you can.

Erik is the first blind person to summit Mount Everest. He has also successfully completed the 7 Summits, the highest mountain peaks on the 7 Continents. It’s considered a mountaineer or explorers grand slam. He did them all blind. His latest adventure was traveling a near 300 mile stretch of dangerous rapids along the Colorado River in a one-person kayak. Erik has appeared on Oprah, Larry King and is an international speaker who has shared the stage with Al Gore. He has written several books, produced several movies on his life experiences and is the founder of No Barriers, a nonprofit company that teaches people with disabilities how to live a life without limits. Erik is also the host of the No Barriers podcast. I could go on, but my fingers are getting tired from all the rapid typing.

How about our conversation? What did we talk about? We shared our experiences living life while being blind. We talked about skiing. He is much better than I am, but I got excited when he said if my wife and I were out in Colorado (where he lives) he would ski with us.

Erik teaches a different guiding technique where the sighted guides ski in front of the blind skier as opposed to skiing behind. On all of my previous skiing trips, my sighted guides ski behind me so this will be interesting to try this new approach.

Erik and I share a love of exercising. We talked about running on a treadmill. I explained my rail tapping technique that I developed when I run on a treadmill and he told me about his method of securing exercise bands to the rails and running while holding onto the bands. I liked his method and want to try it. He also told me about some of his favorite adaptive devices such as Aira, a pair of sunglasses with a camera that connects to a person who can see through the camera and direct you in whatever you need. Erik then told me about Microsoft Soundscapes, free software that can provide very detailed walking directions and will even let you know when a curb is approaching. 

If my wife and I can’t make it out to Colorado in the near future, Erik may be in Bloomfield, CT in the spring. He plans on attending a fundraiser for Fidelco. Erik has received his last five guide dogs from Fidelco and is a supporter of the organization. Last spring, my wife and kids attended an event at Fidelco where we all got to walk with a guide dog to feel what it’s like. My wife and kids were blindfolded. It was an excellent event that gave us all an idea of what it would be like to have a guide dog be a part of our family. I currently do not have a guide dog. It is something we are considering. At the event, we also got to meet Alan Gunzburgg and his Fidelco guide dog. Alan is an active advocate for the blind community in Connecticut.

My conversation with Erik Weihenmayer was truly an eye-opening experience for me. I hope to stay connected with him and to meet him in person one day. I want to learn more from him as we both are on a mission to live with No Barriers.  

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