2017 marked our 9th No Barriers Summit, and each one has been better than the last. The No Barriers Summit is such a deeply lived experience that it’s difficult to sum it up. The immersive workshops, innovative technologies, and myriad of amazing people truly exemplify what we call a “No Barriers Life.” The Summit is the place where all our ideas become reality, and barriers are blasted through. Here are some highlights from this year’s Summit, held at the Resort at Squaw Creek, California.

Mark Wellman, my friend, hero, and co-founder of No Barriers, kicked things off by welcoming us to his hometown. Mark is a world-class climber, skier, and rock climbing instructor who just happens to be a paraplegic. When he climbed El Capitan, he did 7,000 pull-ups in 8 days using a special adaptive climbing system that he invented. Now he helps folks of all abilities scale rock walls.

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Mark Wellman at his rock wall

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Mark Wellman’s rock wall with climbers high up.

The hiking activities featured towering Ponderosa pines, massive snowbanks, and for those who could see, expansive views of Lake Tahoe. There was also a surprise obstacle: a 30-ft. long, 2-ft. deep mud puddle. In true No Barriers fashion, the participants held up their No Barriers flags and charged straight across! Other barrier-breaking clinics included wheelchair rugby, falconry, adaptive boxing, and adaptive kayaking on North America’s largest alpine lake.

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A group of hikers runs across the mud puddle

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A falcon flares its wings at the falconry clinic.

The speakers and presenters were, as usual, top notch. We heard from Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and from Zach Anner, a comedian with Cerebral Palsy whose catchphrase is “If at Birth You Don’t Succeed…”  Each year, we also feature some amazingly talented musicians, but this year was truly exceptional. We heard Mark “Big Toe” Goffeney, who was born without arms, play the guitar with his toes. The X Ambassadors, whose keyboardist, Casey, is also blind, headlined our closing ceremony with some of their biggest hits “Unsteady” and “Renegade.” And, as a final treat, Mandy Harvey, a deaf musician with perfect pitch, played for the entire Closing Ceremony. The next week, her audition on America’s Got Talent aired, and she got the Golden Buzzer straight to the finals. That’s No Barriers. We are SO proud of you, Mandy!

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Mark “Big Toe” Goffeney plays the guitar with his feet at the closing ceremony.

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The X Ambassadors play their hit “Unsteady” at the closing ceremony.

My friend Mandy Harvey, a beautiful musician who happens to be deaf.

Of course, the Summit featured tons of radical and life-changing technologies. For my closing speech, I used Aira, a human-operated VR technology designed to “empower the blind to experience their world and surroundings like never before,” to walk onto the stage, virtually guided by Aira agent Erin through my Smart Glasses. Erin helped me navigate the walkway to the stage, and described the 1,000-person crowd gathered for the closing ceremony.

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Using Aira at the closing ceremony.

Another highlight was the Arrow SAM Car, a Corvette Stingray specially modified to be driven by a quadriplegic racecar driver. And, in a cool twist, one of the lead engineers for the car is my wife’s former student, Will Pickard! Other innovative technologies included eSight, electronic glasses that improve the vision of legally blind people via high definition magnification, and the BrightSign, a brilliant glove that translates sign language into audio, breaking through language barriers between ASL speakers and non-speakers.

With Will Pickard with the Arrow SAM Car.

In my talk at the closing ceremony, I wanted to focus on some of the folks who really live the message, so I highlighted our Reach Award winners: Thomas Dixon, Heidi McKenzie, Ethan Johnston, Pan Vantrease, Steve Wampler, and Billy Lister. I talked about my friend Matt Burgess, a veteran who, after confronting his PTSD, started a service dog company called Freedom Fidos. I also highlighted the beautiful project of Ron McGinty, who harnessed the adversity of a tough childhood to forge a successful career. After his retirement, Ron became involved with foster youth in his hometown of Naples, Florida, acting as a guardian and mentor to many lost youth. When Ron became involved with No Barriers, he decided to raise the money to send 12 foster girls, many of whom had never left their neighborhoods, on a trip down the Grand Canyon. People like Ron are at the heart of why No Barriers is becoming a movement.

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Ron McGinty and some of the girls from the Leading The Way foster trip.

If you are inspired, I want to invite you to take on your own No Barriers Challenge. Come join us on August 12 for another signature event: What’s Your Everest .  We will be leading a group hike comprised of people from all backgrounds, with a spectrum of challenges, fears, abilities, and barriers – that’s all of us! Last year, my friend Cole Roger, born with fused joints and who uses a wheelchair, achieved his Everest by climbing to the top of Keystone Mountain!

Climbing with Cole Rogers at 2016 What’s Your Everest.


Photo Credits: Ryan Salms