Future Reflections Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness
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by Maryanne Davis Silve and Marty Greiser
“Even before Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb to the top of Mount Everest, was in the news, my then twelve-year-old son, Cody, was talking about climbing mountains,” remembers Cody’s father, Marty Greiser. “He was asking if there were mountains nearby, what were their names, and which ones could be climbed and when could we do it? In western Montana where we live, a mountain is always nearby and they can all be climbed, weather permitting.”
So why was Marty reluctant to take his son mountain climbing? After all, he has been to the top of many a mountain in the area over the years and thoroughly enjoys hiking and climbing in the mountains.
“I know what it takes to prepare and I am aware of the risks and hazards involved, some of which can be very serious,” Marty said. “As I considered taking Cody up a mountain, worrisome thoughts pounded my mind. What if something happened? What would his grandparents think, or his mother? What would the neighbors say? I had visions of it.”
“That careless, reckless father, what was he thinking? Doesn’t he know better than to take a blind kid mountain climbing? That’s just asking for trouble.”
But Cody had been raised with a “can do” philosophy, Marty said. “Plus, I had always preached that the broad umbrella of overprotectivism has bad consequences. I knew this was something Cody really wanted to do, not because he was blind and not to prove anything to anybody. He just wanted to climb a mountain, just like any other teenage boy might want to do.”
Marty remembers the interest and excitement that came after hearing about Weihenmayer’s adventure to the summit of Mount Everest. “When he heard Weihenmayer had made it to the top and back, he was excited,” said Greiser. “When he learned that Weihenmayer was going to talk about his climb up Mount Everest at the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Philadelphia, there was no way Cody was going to miss that. At the convention, an hour before Weihenmayer spoke, Cody was right up front with his own tape recorder.”
Cody’s goal to climb a mountain was fueled with another burst of enthusiasm after listening to Weihenmayer’s talk. Weihenmayer’s determination to achieve his dreams and his refusal to let blindness stand in his way provided a powerful message that blind people can compete and can be adventurers in everything they undertake, Marty said. “After Weihenmayer’s talk, Cody, now fourteen, turned to me and said, ‘OK, Dad, when can we climb Baldy Mountain?’” Greiser said.
Greiser knew that Baldy’s 10,568-foot elevation was no Mount Everest. But still, he considered it a real wild mountain with no gentle, groomed trail leading to the top. “We knew when anyone climbed it, they were on their own and responsible for their own safety.” The moment of decision had come. Greiser swallowed hard and answered his son, “As soon as we get home, and the weather looks good, we’ll climb Baldy.”
It was August 10, 2001. Temperature was in the mid-30’s. “We started out at daylight,” Cody said, still feeling the excitement of that day, “It was chilly and I remember when we got to the top of the mountain, it had that feeling of winter even though the temperature had warmed up quite a bit.”
Greiser described the terrain. “We had to walk sharply up through standing timber and over and around downfall to reach the upper tree line,” said Greiser. “Then it was rock and wide-open spaces. We had to negotiate boulder fields, rockslide rubble, and slope so steep in places you could reach out in front of yourself and touch it.”
“We made the top in just over three hours. As we went, Cody usually grasped my right arm, just above the elbow with his left hand. He had his cane in his right hand. On a few occasions of rock hopping, we clasped hands for safety. While on top we ate lunch, enjoyed the mountain, and took pictures. I then began to notice clouds gathering on the horizon and above other nearby peaks. It was time to start down. I knew that a bare, open mountainside was no place to be caught by lightning, hail, or rain.”
The pair made much better time going down, Greiser remembered. “Cody’s ability to walk on broken ground just kept getting better, and I focused more on our route and speed. If I had known we were going to get down so quickly, we would have spent more time on top.”
The adventure ended safely as Cody and Marty reached their truck with a tired but triumphant feeling. The sun was still shining and the temperature had climbed into the 70s. No storm ever materialized.
Recalling the trip made Greiser reflective. Their trip had been a success and they were safe. “But what if we, or Erik Weihenmayer, had not been successful or safe? What then? Would Erik’s effort be seen as folly? Would I be seen as a reckless father? Would Cody and other blind kids be seen as deserving more protection? Could we not, in fact, be perpetuating the very negative stereotypes we are trying to eliminate? To answer my own questions: perhaps, but most likely not. I have to think that allowing blindness to prevent our trying something new has far more negative connotations than the consequences of trying and failing at any particular task.”
Cody echoed Marty’s thoughts. “If we hadn’t made it, we’d just have tried again, until we did,” he smiled.
“Cody never had any doubt that he could make the climb,” Greiser said, “I was the reluctant one. I just did not believe or understand how a blind person could walk on such heaved and broken rock as exists on the top of mountains. I still don’t know how Cody managed the terrain. But I nearly let blindness stop us from having a good time. After all, we didn’t climb it to prove blind people can climb mountains. Weihenmayer did that, and did it royally. Cody and I climbed Baldy Mountain just for the fun of it.”
“My desire is to encourage other parents of blind children to think out of the box,” he said.
Cody says, “We plan to do it again. Maybe not Baldy, but Dad and I have other mountains to climb.”
Originally published in Future Reflections, Volume 21, Number 2, as a reprint from the Montana Standard, Tuesday, January 8, 2002. Today, Cody is a successful college student. He is one of the 2007 NFB Scholarship Winners.
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