March 19, 2007
EASTON, Pa. (www.lafayette.edu) - World-class athlete and author Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to reach the summit of Mount Everest and only blind conqueror of the highest peaks on all seven continents, will present a free public talk at 4 p.m., Friday, March 30, in Lafayette's Colton Chapel.
Despite losing his vision at age 13, Weihenmayer has not let blindness interfere with his passion for an exhilarating and fulfilling life. On May 25, 2001, he became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of Everest, the world's highest peak. In September 2002 he completed a seven-year quest to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, joining only 100 mountaineers who had accomplished the feat and becoming, at age 33, one of the youngest to do so.
A gifted motivational speaker, Weihenmayer has brought his inspiring story of determination and courage to audiences around the world. He speaks on harnessing the power of adversity, the importance of a "rope team," and the daily struggle to pursue one's dreams. "The world sometimes writes things off as impossible a little too quickly," he says. "I think there's such a blurry line between the things we cannot do and the things that we can, and the most exciting aspect of our lives is when we're able to become a pioneer and blast through those barriers."
Partially underwritten by Merrill Lynch, the American Foundation for the Blind and the Maroon Club's Friends of Lafayette Football, Weihenmayer's presentation at Lafayette will feature dramatic photographs and video of his adventures. He has scaled El Capitan, a 3300-foot overhanging rock wall in Yosemite National Park; Polar Circus, a 3000-foot ice waterfall in the Canadian Rockies; and a difficult and rarely climbed rock face on 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya in East Africa. In September 2003, he joined 320 athletes from 17 countries to compete in the Primal Quest, the richest and toughest multi-sport adventure event in the world, a nine-day, 457-mile race through the Sierra Nevada Mountains with 60,000 feet of elevation gain and no time-outs. Averaging only two hours of sleep a night, Weihenmayer's team was among only 42 teams to cross the finish line out of 80 teams that began the race.
After Weihenmayer's Everest ascent, Braille Without Borders, a school for the blind in Tibet, invited him to teach its students mountaineering and rock-climbing. His many climbs gave teenagers the courage to excel in a culture which affords few opportunities for the blind. Weihenmayer and six Everest team members went to Tibet in May 2004 to train the students, then in October led them on a climb to the Rombuk Glacier on the north side of Mt. Everest. Once seen as pariahs, the teenagers ultimately stood together at 21,500 feet, higher than any team of blind people in history. Steven Haft, producer of such blockbuster films as Dead Poets' Society, made a documentary on the ascent which opened to standing ovations at film festivals in Toronto, Los Angeles, and London. The film is scheduled for release in theaters this spring.
A former middle-school teacher and wrestling coach, Weihenmayer is one of the most well-known athletes in the world. Weihenmayer's feats have earned him an ESPY award, recognition by Time magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an ARETE Award for the superlative athletic performance of the year, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award, Nike's Casey Martin Award, and the Freedom Foundation's Free Spirit Award. He has also carried the Olympic Torch for both the summer and winter games.
In addition to being a world-class athlete, Weihenmayer is also author of the book Touch the Top of the World, published in 10 countries and six languages. Publisher's Weekly says the memoir is "moving and adventure packed. Weihenmayer tells his extraordinary story with humor, honesty and vivid detail, and his fortitude and enthusiasm are deeply inspiring." The book was made into a feature film which aired on A&E in June.
Weihenmayer's second book, The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness, co-authored with business guru and best-selling author Paul Stoltz, was released by Simon and Schuster in January. Through Stoltz's science and Weihenmayer's experience, the book shares seven "summits" for harnessing the power of adversity and turning it into fuel to growth and innovation. Best-selling author Steven Covey wrote the foreword. Weihenmayer has also been published in Time, Forbes, and Reader's Digest.
Weihenmayer's award-winning film Farther Than the Eye Can See, shot in the same HDTV format as the Star Wars prequels, was ranked in the top 20 adventure films of all time by Men's Journal. Bringing home first prize at 19 film festivals and nominated for two Emmys, the film captures the emotion, humor, and drama of Weihenmayer's historic ascent of Everest and his team's three other remarkable firsts: the first American father/son team to summit, the oldest man to summit, and the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day. Screenings of the film have raised more than $600,000 for charitable organizations.
Weihenmayer's extraordinary accomplishments have gained him abundant press coverage, including repeated visits to NBC's Today Show and Nightly News, Oprah, Good Morning America, Nightline, and the Tonight Show, among other programs. He has also been featured on the cover of Time, Outside, and Climbing Magazine.
In 1999, Weihenmayer joined Mark Wellman, the first paraplegic to climb the 3000-foot face of El Capitan, and Hugh Herr, a double-leg-amputee and scientist at Harvard's prestigious prosthetics laboratory, to climb an 800-foot rock tower in Moab, Utah. As a result of their successful climb together, the three formed No Barriers, a non-profit organization with a goal of promoting innovative ideas, approaches, and assistive technologies which help people with disabilities push through their own personal barriers to live full and active lives. Weihenmayer also serves as a National Braille Literacy Champion on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind.