Sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control and can send us spiraling into darkness. When that happens and when there is no clear path forward, it becomes imperative to “Reach,” not just with the end-game of coping, but thriving. When I went blind, and part of me wanted to retreat, I had to consciously choose to extend myself and become vulnerable – both to my own fears as well as to the possibilities I hoped still awaited.

Our No Barriers story of the month is Nerissa Cannon; who, in the face of adversity, chose to Reach. I was introduced to Nerissa at the 2016 No Barriers Summit where she began a new chapter in her life. In her own words:

“When people see me they often want to know how I ended up in my wheelchair. Was it an accident, or a clear diagnosis? But life is often ambiguous. Sometimes we can’t explain or define the challenges that come our way; we just need to decide how we will react to said challenges. That’s certainly been the case for me! Doctors have come up empty trying to explain the progression of my symptoms. For a while, I could only focus on WHY this happened and lost sight of how to cope. Having struggled with mental illness for years prior to my physical challenges, I was plunged into a deep and persistent depression.

I confided in a close friend that I was done. I couldn’t see past my despair and loss, and I no longer wanted to live. Who was I if I couldn’t do what brought me fulfillment? My friend somehow persuaded me to hold out for another 6 months. She told me if I felt the same in 6 months I could end my pain, and she would understand. I decided to commit to this deadline.

But I wasn’t just going to wait out the time. I decided to go all in and TRY to turn things around so if nothing changed I’d know it wasn’t for lack of trying. I learned about the No Barriers Summit and was selected for a full scholarship! I dove into the weekend of experiences and wasn’t transformed so much as I was renewed. Through others’ eyes I began to see myself FIRST in what I had to offer instead of what I lacked. My creative and adventurous self was reawakening.

a photo of nerissa with her dog in the woods
Getting out into nature
a photo of nerissa kayaking with her dog
Trying all sorts of sports – including kayaking!
a photo of nerissa salsa dancing during a clinic at the no barriers summit in 2016
Trying out Salsa dancing at the 2016 No Barriers Summit

My note to No Barriers afterwards:

“Last weekend was BEYOND amazing and life changing. I didn’t say this to anyone, but I’ve really been struggling to find purpose in my life. Outwardly I look very positive, but I had given myself a deadline. Find a reason to keep living, or I’ll end it. Last weekend made me realize I have potential and purpose, and I finally feel excited about life again – truly feel it, and not just putting on the outward mask for others. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to participate. I hope to be involved in every No Barriers for the rest of my life, and I’d love to become more actively involved in putting it on and helping others gain the same experience.”

I started to think about things I wanted to do that were years in the future; my vision had widened. Life hasn’t always been easy since then. I still struggle with self-doubt and insecurities, but the influence of that No Barriers weekend gives me the motivation to keep pushing through the tough stretches to figure out HOW to accomplish what really matters versus merely questioning why it’s so difficult.

a photo of nerissa stopping along a path overlooking trees

a photo of nerissa in her wheelchair in the water on a beach
Exploring the beach
a photo of nerissa with her dog in a tent on a camping trip
Camping out

Soon, I’ll be climbing my first Colorado 14er, Mt. Bierstadt. I feel humbled that some of those who will be standing on the summit with me are those who orchestrated the original event that is a large part of the reason I’m breathing today. Mt. Bierstadt is a culmination of my last two years of physical training, mental and emotional growth, and team building, but it is simply a kick-off to a whole series of personal projects (including rolling my wheelchair across the entire continental United States). The biggest gift I received in my No Barriers experiences is the gift of “Forward.” Looking backwards, questioning my loss kept me stuck, withering. You need to think forward and move forward. Only then can you reach your Summit.”

a photo of nerissa smiling while on a hike over rocky terrain
Looking forward

Sign up for our 2018 No Barriers Summit in NYC on 10/5 10/6 to start your own journey: