At the mere age of 6 months, Erik Weihenmayer was diagnosed with retinoscheses. It was inevitable that the disease would eventually take his sight by destroying his retinas. After 13 years, he was completely blind. One would expect Weihenmayer’s blindness to have been debilitating, but he hasn’t allowed his blindness to make him inactive, far from it.
Weihenmayer has become a world class athlete, taking part in acrobatic skydiving, marathons, wrestling, scuba diving and skiing. Remarkably, he has climbed the three tallest mountains in the world and at the age of 32 was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He uses special techniques when climbing, such as feeling across the rock face for foot and handholds. He has also learnt to determine the strength of ice via the sound his axe makes entering it. Weihenmayer can scale vast distances unassisted and is not a burden to his climbing teams. Gavin Atwood, who climbed to the Everest basecamp alongside Weihenmayer commented, “He’s an important member of each team he climbs with. No one says, ‘Ok, you’re blind. We’ll haul your stuff and take care of you.’ He does his job.”
Weihenmayer attributes his achievements to his acceptance of failure as part of success. His father once said, “Erik has the courage to fail. That’s why the near impossible has become routine for him”.
Supported by his parents, young Weihenmayer had learnt to face his physical fears. He was extremely close to his mother, who sadly lost her life in a car crash the same year he went blind. “If I had gone blind a thousand times, the pain would have been nothing by comparison.”, said Weihenmayer about her death.
Despite his challenging life, Weihenmayer has not let physical or emotional struggles stop him achieving great things. He has learnt to draw strength from the memory of his mother and is always looking for new challenges. His inspiring story goes to show how amazing the human body can be if we apply our minds.