||Erik Weihenmayer could have been just an
athlete. Just a teacher. Just a public speaker. He could have been remembered as just
"the blind kid." Instead, hes a hero.
Erik was born in 1968 with a rare
eye disease called retinoschisis. The disease rendered him legally blind. It progressed
into glaucoma, and by age 13 Erik was totally blind.
Eriks father, Ed Weihenmayer,
encouraged Erik to challenge the ideas of what a blind person can and cannot do. Ed took
Erik and his brother hiking often and sent Erik to adventure camps for blind youth where
he learned to mountain climb. The seeds were planted early for a life of exploration and
In 1987 Erik graduated from Weston
High School in Connecticut. As the schools wrestling captain, Erik represented the
state in National Freestyle Wrestling Championships. His efforts garnered national
attention and Erik was profiled on ABCs 20/20 with Barbara Walters. That same year
he became the first blind person to trek the 50-mile Inca Trail into Machu
Picchu. He was
also named "Connecticuts Most Courageous Athlete."
Erik attended Boston College and
graduated in 1991. Two years later he received a masters degree in Middle School
Education from Lesley College. As Erik learned the ins and outs of classroom control, he
continued learning how to master his own movement in nature.
In 1991 Erik trekked in the Pamir
Mountains of Tajikistan. In 1993 he crossed the Batura Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains
of Northern Pakistan. The same year he joined the staff at Phoenix Country Day School as
In 1995 the world was introduced to
Erik when he attempted Mt. McKinley, North Americas highest peak. Sponsored by the
American Foundation for the Blind, Erik reached the 20,320 summit. His triumph was
featured on Today with Katie Couric and the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw.
Television coverage of Eriks
miraculous efforts was just the beginning. He began touring the speakers circuit
addressing Fortune 500 companies and not-for-profit conventions as well as schools,
churches and community organizations. His subsequent honors read like a "Whos
In 1996 Erik carried the Olympic
Torch through Phoenix and was selected for the first annual Distinguished Arizonan Award
by the Governors Council. He was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame,
and received its first Medal of Courage.
A year later Erik climbed his
second continental summit, Kilimanjaro. He said "I do," in a marriage ceremony
at 13,000. Erik and his wife Ellen live outside of Denver, Colorado.
Besides his wife, climbing is
Eriks greatest passion. However, always eager to test himself, Erik is also a
certified sky and scuba diver. And in 1998, he rode a tandem bike from Hanoi to Ho Chi
Minh City with his father, a Vietnam veteran.
Last year Erik attempted
Argentinas Mt. Aconcagua. Poor weather conditions forced his team to turn around
just short of the summit. This January, he will again attempt the highest peak outside of
Asia. The Glaucoma Research Foundation sponsors his "Vision to Succeed."
Update: Blind Mountain
Climber Reaches Highest Peak in the Americas
Glaucoma Research Foundation sponsors "vision to succeed"
For Immediate Release SAN
FRANCISCO, CA January 20, 1999: Teacher and athlete Erik Weihenmayer has
the vision to succeed. Last week he became the first blind person to reach the
summit of Argentinas 22,850 Mount Aconcagua. His efforts, during
January 1999s Glaucoma Awareness Month, are sponsored by the San-Francisco based
Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF).
Weihenmayer, 30, was born legally
blind with an eye disease called retinochisis. The disease progressed into glaucoma
and Weihenmayer was totally blind by age 13. Although blind, Weihenmayer feels the
effects of glaucoma such as increased pressure in his eyes.
In fact, last year Weihenmayer
turned back short of Aconcaguas summit. He cited poor weather conditions and
pain in his eyes at high altitude among the reasons. (One characteristic of the most
common types of glaucoma is increased pressure in the eyes which ultimately damages the
optic nerve.) This year Weihenmayer had laser surgery treatments for his glaucoma
prior to the climb.
"It made all the
difference. I didnt feel pain until I hit 19,000. But when I did,
it felt like someone stabbed me in the eye with a fork. Drugs and eye drops made it
manageable this time," Weihenmayer says.
Weihenmayer is an experienced
climber, boasting Mount McKinley, Kilimanjaro and El Capitan among his conquests.
For Aconcagua, he and his climbing
partner and lead, Chris Morris, braved severe winds, minus 70 degrees below zero weather,
and a 4 a.m. departure time, to enjoy 20 minutes at the summit. At one point,
Weihenmayer spent nearly three hours climbing an exposed ridge, un-roped to his partner,
and unable to hear his lead due to high winds. His only guide was packed snow.
He knew if he was walking on rock, rather than snow, he was off the path.
Only 20 percent of climbers made it
to the top that same day.
"When you go blind, you wonder
what you will be capable of. Climbing begins to answer those questions,"
In the same way, "Part of my
motivation on this climb was trying to understand this disease and its limitations.
What can one expect from their life, living with glaucoma?" Weihenmayer
explains. "If I can go to such high altitudes with such high pressure in my
.thats pretty encouraging for everyone living with glaucoma."
Tara Steele, Executive Director of
GRF, agrees, adding "For me, what is so impressive is that this was Eriks
second attempt. It shows that success takes vision, skill and persistence.
"Its a wonderful
reminder when we are tempted to give up too soon. In the same way, GRF wont
give up until we have found a cure for glaucoma."
Erik has was interviewed by
EverestNews.com and took Questions from You, our readers of Everest News ! Go here to see Erik's Q&A.
Update: Erik has announced he will
attempt Everest in Spring 2001.
Federation of the Blind (NFB) has announced that it will sponsor Erik Weihenmayers
climb of Everest in 2001. Weihenmayer, a 30-year old former teacher from Denver, will be
part of a team which will conduct an environmental clean-up of one of the high camps.
Additionally, Erik will attempt to become the first blind person to step onto the top of
Weihenmayer is no
stranger to daunting challenges. In 1987, at age 18, he became the first blind man to trek
the 60-mile Inca Trail into Machu Picchu (Peru); in 1988, he represented Connecticut in
the National Freestyle Wrestling Championships; in 1995, he reached his first Continental
Summit, Mt. McKinley (20,320) in Alaska, and later that year became one of two blind
solo skydivers; in 1996, he scaled Yosemites famous 3300 rock face, The Nose
of El Capitan; in 1997, he summited Kilimanjaro, the Roof of Africa, where he was married
at 13,000 on the Shira Plateau; in 1998, he biked tandem with his father from Hanoi
to Ho Chi Minh City (1200 miles) and ran his first New York Marathon; and last January, he
climbed Aconcagua (22,834, Argentina), the highest peak in South America and the
highest peak in the world outside of Asia.
road to Everest begins this October with a 100-mile Himalayan run at high elevation in
northern India, an event sponsored by World T.E.A.M. Sports (WTS) of Charlotte NC. WTS is
a visionary non-profit group which works to bridge and build communities through sports,
which provides greater access in sports for all people, especially those with
disabilities. The second day of the run takes him 20 miles at elevations over
11,000, with 4 of the worlds 5 highest peaks (Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse,
and Makalu) visible from the route along the India-Nepal border. He is currently training
this run, in early November, Weihenmayer will confront another challenge, this one of a
personal nature: major eye surgery, evisceration, to relieve painful pressure in his right
eye caused by glaucoma. He lost his left eye to glaucoma in 1988. Counting on a quick
recovery, Weihenmayer is slated to climb Ama Dablam (22,500, Nepal) in Spring 2000.
Ama Dablam is visible from Everest and is touted as the most beautiful peak in the world.
This precursor to Everest will further acclimate Weihenmayer to the Himalayan area.
In April/May 2001, as
part of an 8-10 member team, he will attempt Everest (29,031) from the South Col in
the Kumba region of Nepal, a route given recent prominence by Into Thin Air. Only
10% of climbers attempting Everest reach the top, but this expedition includes three
climbers who have already stood on top of the world.
The NFB will use these
Himalayan climbs to dramatize the capabilities of blind people, to shatter the
public perceptions of their limitations and to inspire them to even greater
accomplishments. Weihenmayer enjoys breaking through perceived barriers, believing that
these public perceptions are often more limiting than blindness itself. But his message
about "daring to fail" and "not letting obstacles stand in the way of the
dreams of our lives" resonates with all people, blind and sighted.
Federation of the Blind, headed by Dr. Marc Maurer, is a grassroots consumer and civil
rights organization headquartered in Baltimore MD. NFB is the largest membership
organization of blind people, with over 700 local chapters in the U.S. Its powerful voice
is heard in State Houses from coast to coast; and from Congress to the White House. It is
considered the most effective advocate for blind people in the world.
Weihenmayers feats have
earned him Connecticuts Most Courageous Athlete Award, ESPNs ARETE Award for
Courage in Sports, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the honor of
carrying the Olympic Torch through Phoenix. He is a professional speaker at companies and
schools across the country. His own articles appear frequently in national publications;
and he is currently working on an autobiography.
Update 7/21/2000: Erik
Weihenmayer will lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the Republican National
5/2001: Erik Summited Everest read it here: Erik
Weihenmayers Life Story Heads For Small Screen