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Meet Erik Weihenmayer, the World’s Most Accomplished Blind Adventurer

Erik Weihenmayer became blind at age 13, but he has never let this life-altering event limit him in any way. He is one of those rare individuals who have not just managed to overcome a disability, but live like it never happened. He is also the only blind person in the world to have scaled Mount Everest, among other achievements.

At age 44, Erik is the world’s most accomplished blind adventurer. To be honest, his accomplishments are on par with any other exceptional normal person. He is a role model even for people with normal vision. He has managed to completely disregard his blindness; it’s like he’s been everywhere and done everything. Mountaineering, wrestling, cycling, skiing, kayaking, paragliding, skydiving – the list of Erik’s activities are seemingly endless.

When he was younger, Erik focused on just one sport – wrestling – and he was brilliant at it. He represented his state in the US National Freestyle Wrestling Championships. He graduated college in 1993 with a Master’s degree and soon became a school teacher. This was when he took up rock climbing and trekking on the side. He was amazing at that too – he summited Mount McKinley (the tallest peak in the US) and then Kilimanjaro (tallest in Africa).

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Photo: Erik Weihenmayer/Facebook

In 2001, Erik climbed Mount Everest, and since then he has climbed all the remaining Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.

In 2003, he took part in the Primal Quest – the toughest multi-sport adventure race in the world. The race is physically demanding; it spans 457 miles and 60,000 feet of elevation gain through the Sierra Nevada over nine days, with no time-outs. Erik and his team competed with 80 teams from 17 other countries, and was one of the 42 teams to make it to the finish line.

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Photo: Erik Weihenmayer/Facebook

One of Erik’s most recent and challenging goals was to become the only blind person to kayak down the Grand Canyon – a 226 mile stretch that includes more than half-a-dozen thumping Class IV rapids. He spent four years training for the challenge, but nothing could really prepare him for the experience. It was terrifying, even for Erik’s standards.

“I’m paddling along, and all of a sudden I feel the river boil beneath me,” he said. “I’m paddling for my life. I’m completely hyperventilating, in a total panic because I know what’s coming. The river is going to yank my bow, flip me, and suck me out of the cockpit. The first time, I was lucky enough to grab onto a safety boat. But next time, who knows? When I get sucked into a whirlpool, I’m not like other people. I can’t see the light. I don’t know which way is up.” Let’s just say he was incredibly lucky to get out of that one alive.

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Photo: Erik Weihenmayer/Facebook

Erik is also a motivational speaker, writer, and teacher. He taught mountaineering and rock climbing to blind students at the Tibetan school, Braille Without Borders. The first book he wrote is called Touch the Top of the World, published in ten countries and six languages. The action-packed memoir was made into a film in 2006. Thanks to his unbelievable accomplishments, he’s been featured on Oprah, Good Morning America, and on the covers of Time, Outside and Climbing Magazine.

If you’d like to watch Erik in action, his Everest mission was extensively covered in the award-winning documentary, Farther than the Eye Can See. You could also view his training videos on his website; they show exactly how determined and focused he is towards his goals.

 

Surprisingly, Erik isn’t all about adventure. He’s a family guy too. After a day’s hard work of training and adventure, he goes home to his wife, Ellen, and two kids – 12-year-old Emma and 10-year-old Arjun.

Sources: Touch the Top, Outside Magazine

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