‘’We’re in the Business of Shifting Mindsets, not Skillsets,’ Says Director Shurna
TELLURIDE – By all accounts, Telluride’s Via Ferrata is a dangerous and difficult hike. Having been told stories about the trail, Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to summit Mount Everest and one of fewer than 100 individuals to complete the Seven Summits, gave it a try on Sunday.
The Main Event portion of the Via Ferrata is a challenge for most people, let alone the blind. Gripping nothing but iron rods nailed to a cliff wall, with hundreds of feet of Rocky Mountain air below you, this is tough work as you fight to traverse to the next rod. Anchored and dangling from the wall, I waited with my camera to photograph Weihenmayer and his guide as they completed this harrowing section.
To my amazement, Weihenmayer emerged around the corner without his guide, silently probing for each iron rod with his hands and feet, and with gusto.
“That was a blast! Will we be doing that again?” Weihenmayer asked, upon finishing the Main Event and then nonchalantly feeling his way across the trail’s edge before sitting down to lunch. Behind him, sighted hikers trembled as they slowly made it across the wall.
Blind since age 13, Weihenmayer’s completing the Via Ferrata embodies the theme of the No Barriers Summit that took place last weekend, in Mountain Village. The four-day Summit highlighted and celebrated disabled people of all stripes, encouraging them to expand their boundaries and push their limits in an area of Colorado renowned for outdoor recreation.
Summit organizers, with help from the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, provided a range of opportunities, from finishing the Via Ferrata to golfing, creating murals to spin-cast fishing, for the nearly 500 participants, many of them with physical disabilities, with an adventurous weekend full of opportunities to experience the thrill of conquering challenges.
Ouray resident Weihenmayer is a cofounder No Barriers, the Fort Collins-headquartered nonprofit that, in addition to organizing an annual Summit, hosts an array of other expeditions, including Global Explorers, a program providing challenged youth with immersive international travel experiences, and Soldiers to Summits, empowering veterans to overcome the physical and emotional wounds of combat and military life through climbing many of the world’s most difficult peaks, which become metaphors for the challenges they face in day-to-day life. During last weekend’s Summit, teams of veterans trained on the 14,000-foot Mount Sneffels in Ouray, with the goal of summiting the Peruvian Andes later this year.
“We’re in the business of shifting mindsets, not skillsets,” said Summit Director David Shurna. “People will come here to, for example, learn to rock climb, but they’re probably not going to become a rock climber. What they’re really learning is developing a new mindset they can use to apply to other challenges they face.”
Billy Lister, who kept a grin on his face as he accompanied Weihenmayer on the Via Ferrata, demonstrated this aspect of the Summit for an entire afternoon. Lister struggles with the effects of a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Seeing Weihenmayer complete the Main Event, Lister said, inspired him to keep pushing himself through the Main Event.
“Coming into the Via Ferrata, I had no idea what to expect,” Lister said. “The difficulty of navigating the Via with one functioning arm and leg hadn’t entered my thinking, except to just gear up and do it.”
Of the Main Event, Lister said, “I knew this was the will-tester. I didn’t dwell on how I’d do it. The only thing running through my mind was using my right arm to get to the next rung.”
Lister finished that portion flawlessly, his guides later said.
Hosting the No Barriers Summit
The Telluride Tourism Board won a competitive bidding process against other towns to host the Summit that included, Shurna said, that included thorough No Barriers staff reviews of each site, checking for accessibility, guest capacity and a genuine desire to host the Summit (and embrace its “Our Barriers Unite Us” philosophy).
“The No Barriers mission is to empower individuals to better understand and inspire human potential,” said Michael Martelon, Telluride Tourism Board President and Chief Executive Officer. “We certainly believe that our community has likeminded organizations and individuals.”
No Barriers may choose one location for its bi-annual Summit, said Martelon, who hopes that enthusiastic reviews of this weekend’s summit will persuade the organization to choose Telluride as its biennial summit headquarters.
“I think that No Barriers will be very interested in Telluride as they look at our destination as a potential home for its meeting,” Marleton added.
“Telluride and Mountain Village were just so warm and welcoming to the concept on our first visit. The two towns said they wanted their community to learn from hosting the Summit, and we felt like we had a role to play in this community,” Shurna said.
Accommodating the Summit was no small feat; Mountain Village retrofitted many of its facilities, from installing automatic doors to altering bathroom layouts and instructing employees on the various accessibilities for physically disabled guests. The town had been planning for the Summit for almost two years, according to Mountain Village Town Manager Kim Montgomery.
“The credit really goes to No Barriers,” said Montgomery, pronouncing the organization “so organized in telling us exactly what they needed to accommodate these guests” that “we were more than happy to make whatever changes that were necessary.
“And we were thrilled to see the event happen so successfully,” Montgomery said. To that end, “We’ve been doing a lot of work on the next Summit – and we’re not even done with this one.”
But he declined to predict where the 2015 No Barriers Summit would be held.