Last Saturday, on a beautiful, crisp, clear, Colorado day, 130 people gathered in front of the Dao house in Estes Park, ready to hike together. Once a year, No Barriers hosts our annual What’s Your Everest event, where teams of people meet up to hike a mountain, regardless of ability or background. The aim: rally together around folks like Lauren, getting everyone to the top of the mountain.
Lauren was born with cerebral palsy and despite the physical challenges her CP has presented, she has not slowed down one bit. She is curious and adventurous and has continued to seek out challenges. Last year at the No Barriers Summit in Tahoe she even went rock climbing for the first time. But she’d never hiked, so No Barriers helped her organize a strong team, “The Incredible Wandering Exploradores,” made up of our longtime NB supporters, TRANE. Together, they were determined to reach the top.
To kick us off, Lauren gave an inspiring speech, and got the room amped up: “My mom loves hiking and has always wanted me to be able to hike with her. Today, for the first time ever, I get to hike with my mom, thanks to my Rope Team. Now, let’s get this party started!”
We gathered outside after breakfast and I could feel the energy in the air. To my left there were people switching from their regular wheelchairs to specially outfitted GRIT Freedom chairs that can handle the rugged mountain terrain ahead.
To my right I heard people passing out bear bells and sighted people teaming up with blind folks.
I could hear other people introducing themselves and explaining what brought them out – whether they were part of a corporate team like Paychex, or TRANE, were longtime supporters of No Barriers and had brought their families – or were part of a Rope Team, like Lauren’s, that were rallying behind a friend.
Our group headed out, making our way through the woods studded in wildflowers and horse droppings (the trail is a familiar horse path), laughing and chatting. As the trail narrowed in certain parts and got rockier in others, everyone would jump in to help get chairs unstuck or provide extra assistance.
We stopped at scenic points to hear messages from folks in the group living their own No Barriers Lives. We heard from Paul Smith, a Veteran who has battled addiction, PTS, and self-doubt, after he returned from service. Paul had been on expeditions before as part of No Barriers Warriors and was thrilled to now have his family join him at What’s Your Everest. Connor Walsh, a young teen, spoke to the group at the end. A few years ago he was paralyzed in a hit-and-run car crash as he walked to High School, and had found No Barriers during his recovery. He spoke about the importance of finding people he could trust and count on to get him through a journey that he is really just starting out on.
The hike took us to Lily Lake and up the prominent southern ridge, with epic, sweeping views of Long’s Peak. Trevor Hahn, a blind participant, whipped out his harmonica and played for us the “Superman” theme song; he said that No Barriers was comprised of super humans and that the community had lifted him up and made him feel invincible.
After lunch, No Barriers Director, Dave Shurna had everyone gather together and consider an intention they wanted to take back with them when they left the mountain. He encouraged folks to write it down on their No Barriers flag and keep it nearby as a solid reminder of what this hike had meant to them and how to keep that fire stoked. Our descent brought us back down and around the other side of the lake where we felt a few warning drops of rain that meant we had to hustle back to home base.
The day concluded with food and drinks at the Dao House where we celebrated everyone, including Lauren, making it to the top and back together as a team. Lauren was beaming, along with her team, as she realized she can now officially check “hiking a mountain” off her list of goals. Another successful What’s Your Everest is in the books and I am already looking forward to our next one.
A big thanks to the team at No Barriers who work so hard to pull these events together and raise funding for future No Barriers opportunities.