Future Reflections Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness
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by Barbara Pierce
At 10:00 a.m., Nepal time, on May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind man ever to stand on the summit of Mt. Everest. He was part of an incredibly strong, talented, and cohesive team, almost all of whom summited Everest that day and all of whom had worked hard for years to make the fulfillment of this dream possible. The names of the team members are Eric Alexander, Luis Benitez, Brad Bull, Jeff Evans, Steve Gipe, Didrik Johnck, Chris Morris, Mike O'Donnell, Pasquale Scaturro, Erik Weihenmayer, and Dr. Sherman Bull, father of Brad, as well as videographers Michael Brown and Charlie Mace.
Four Everest records were set by the National Federation of the Blind-sponsored team of climbers on May 25: Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind man to summit Mt. Everest. Sherman Bull, a sixty-four-year-old surgeon, was the oldest person ever to reach the top. He and his son Bradford were the first father-son team to summit in the same climb. And the team of eleven Americans and eight Sherpas was the largest team ever to reach the top on the same day.
Backing Erik and his teammates were thousands of ordinary blind people who had helped make this extraordinary feat possible. Two years before the summit Erik Weihenmayer, his father and business manager Ed, and team leader Pasquale Scaturro met with Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, to discuss sponsorship of a training expedition to Ama Dablam in the spring of 2000 and the 2001 expedition to Mt. Everest. In the afterword to his book, Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See, here’s what Weihenmayer said about that meeting:
“I had an idea for sponsorship: the National Federation of the Blind, a consumer group of blind people fifty thousand strong and with chapters in every state. Their mission was simple and revolutionary, at first angering the bureaucratic establishment of blindness professionals--blind people working on behalf of themselves, taking their destiny into their own hands. When I visited their headquarters, the president, Dr. Maurer, was immediately elated. ‘Our goal has been to associate blindness with a sense of adventure, to wipe the dust off the image of blindness. If you are successful, the sighted world won’t envision a blind person pining away in a dark room anymore, but standing on top of the world.’”
Two blind men--Erik Weihenmayer, blind adventurer and mountain
climber, and Marc Maurer, leader of the largest organization of the blind in
the world--had the courage to dream and to risk. Erik's determination to achieve
his dreams and his refusal to let blindness stand in his way became a powerful
vehicle for the Federation's message that blind people can compete and can be
adventurers equal to any.
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