What seemed like manageable pack weight at the start of the day now serves as an anchor dragging behind and begging our ship to slow down. But the lush green of the forest floor was left behind hours ago and the wind-swept peaks taunting from all sides are daring us to come close. From our vantage point, the mountains look like stepping stones to the clouds and a gateway to endless possibilities. We did not come here for a relaxing respite from civilian life; we came to Colorado to push beyond what is thought possible and prove that, through teamwork, there is no stopping the human spirit.
On June 17, 2013, the team of six awoke to the sun cresting over the San Juan Mountains in the American Basin outside of Lake City, Colo. The air was crisp and the breeze whispered through the pine trees lining Williams’ Creek as rainbow trout broke the surface for a morning snack. An explosion of gear lined the campsite as everyone organized their piles eliminating any unnecessary items that would present added weight on the long haul up the mountain. The sound of bacon sizzling on the skillet served as a fleeting reminder that this would be the last taste of meat before such flavors were confined to powder form and air-tight packaging. Though the enormity of the task at hand weighed heavily on the mind, the anxious anticipation was combatted by the calming nature of camaraderie within this group of strangers. Having only met the evening before, jokes and sarcastic jabs promptly surfaced in a familial spirit representing the close nature of this group dynamic.
At about 10:00 a.m., all of the food and gear had miraculously found its way stuffed into packs. With the vehicles loaded, the team made one final scan of the site and ventured the last few miles of “unimproved” road to the trailhead. And as soon as the e-break was applied, packs were mounted and the team ascended the trail. As the team climbed for hours gaining significant altitude with every step, the team dynamic forged into team dependence and every member played a key role in the success of the journey.
From Florida, North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado, six athletesÑwith and without visual impairmentsÑtraveled to the mountains to experience adventure, fellowship and exploration of land and soul. With the common goal of enabling athletes of all abilities to explore beautiful and remote landscapes, Push America and the Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte, Colo. teamed up to present the first Summit Vision. For five days, the team found themselves deep in the wilderness exploring remote corners of a landscape more commonly found in a painting. Climbing some of the last remaining snow banks before the summer sun forced their hibernation, the team scurried up some of Colorado’s highest peaks like the herds of elk and big horn seen in the distance. During the day, the team pushed the mental and physical barriers of what is thought possible. At night, under the light of a full moon, they gathered for hearty meals and hot tea to recap the day’s events and share stories from past experiences.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Kathy Champion, who lost her vision after contracting a virus overseas, said it best when describing the event: “You will never understand the freedom I felt at that moment in time on the mountain. It made me realize I am blind, not broken, and the only limitations I have are ones I set on myself. Thank you for your generous support and risk to allow visually impaired people to feel alive.”
Lonnie Bedwell, retired Navy, lost his sight in a hunting accident nearly two decades ago, but never lost his vision. Lonnie’s desire to break down barriers was the inspiration for this adventure and his excitement for exploring the unknown brought the team together in Colorado.
“We have developed new friendships that will last a lifetime,” Bedwell exclaimed. “Walls were once solid with no way over, around or through. You not only placed a door in them; you opened the door and led us through it. And on the other side of that wall is the life we no longer thought existed. You have provided us with a new since of hope and drive.”
As the team retreated down the mountain and back to civilian life, the lactic acid and sore muscles were mere reminders of the successful adventure and what it means to truly pull everything we can from the life we’ve been given.
Following the Summit Vision climb in Colorado, Lonnie Bedwell soon became the first blind individual to solo kayak the entire length of the Grand Canyon and Kathy Champion joined a group of injured veterans in South America to tackle the high peaks of the Peruvian Andes. Both individuals will be back in Colorado for the 2014 Summit Vision trip serving as mentors and group leaders to a new crop of visually impaired climbers ready to find strength in the mountains.
Push America is excited to announce a continued partnership with the Adaptive Sports Center with three sessions for 2014’s Summit Vision trip and we are looking for volunteers to help make the event possible.
- SESSION ONE: June 16 – 21
- SESSION TWO: September 22 – 27
- SESSION THREE: September 29 – October 4
If you are interested in being a part of this ground-breaking adventure and want to help provide this experience for another group of athletes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.