Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans, and Eric Alexander on the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001. (Photo: Luis Benitez)
Adventurer, author and motivational speaker Erik Weihenmayer, who, in 2001, became the first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, will bring his “No Barriers” message to Troy University on Oct. 16 for the annual Helen Keller Lecture.
The free lecture is set for 10 a.m. in the Claudia Crosby Theater in Smith Hall on the Troy Campus and is open to the public.
“Erik Weihenmayer has a truly inspirational message, and we are excited that he will join us for our Helen Keller Lecture to share his story of overcoming barriers and meeting challenges head on,” said Judy Robertson, Chair of the Helen Keller Lecture Committee. “Erik’s adventures and accomplishments are a testament to his ‘No Barriers’ organizations’ motto – ‘What’s Within You is Stronger Than What’s in Your Way’ – and, we hope everyone will take advantage of this great event in the life of Troy University.”
Weihenmayer began to lose his sight at age 14 due to Retinoschisis, an eye disease characterized by the splitting of the retina’s neurosensory layers. Determined not to allow blindness to deter him from accomplishing his goals, he became a formidable high school wrestler, representing his home state of Connecticut in the National Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championship. As a teenager, he also discovered rock climbing and a natural dexterity for scanning the rock with his hands and feet for holds.
Following graduation from Boston College, Weihenmayer became a middle-school teacher and wrestling coach at Phoenix Country Day School. However, his love for adventure forged a new path for him in 1995 when he climbed the Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.
Not only did that accomplishment begin a 13-year journey that would see him complete the Seven Summits – the highest points on every continent – but it also began to fuel in him the desire to share the lessons he had learned to help others shatter barriers in their own lives. Weihenmayer co-founded the “No Barriers” movement with the mission to help people with challenges face barriers head on and lead lives rich in meaning and purpose, adopting the motto, “What’s Within You is Stronger Than What’s in Your Way.”
Weihenmayer’s sense of adventure hasn’t stopped on the mountain peaks. In 2014, he kayaked the entire 277 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, which he chronicled in his latest book, “No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon.”
Weihenmayer has made the cover of Time magazine, authored multiple books and shared the speaking stage with notables such as George W. Bush, Al Gore, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Stephen Covey, among others. He has spoken to some of the world’s largest companies such as Google, Apple, Intel, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Wells Fargo.
The Helen Keller Lecture Series, which began in 1995 as the vision of Dr. and Mrs. Jack Hawkins, Jr., was initiated to call attention to and raise awareness of the challenges of those with physical limitations, particularly those affecting sensory ability. Through the years, the lecture has also provided the opportunity to highlight those who have devoted their careers to meeting the needs of the sensory impaired and to celebrate the collaborative efforts and partnerships of Troy University and the agencies and individuals who serve these special individuals.
This year’s lecture is sponsored by the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, Health Center South, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Helen Keller Foundation, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the Alabama State Department of Education, TROY Athletics and TROY’s College of Arts and Sciences, Sorrell College of Business, College of Communication and Fine Arts and College of Education.