Use the challenges in life as fuel to move forward, adventurer Erik Weihenmayer '91 H'03—the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest, reach the Seven Summits, and kayak through the Grand Canyon—told Boston College students at a packed Robsham Theater on September 28.
His visit to campus opened the 11th season of BC's popular faith story-telling program, Agape Latte, sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century Center and Campus Ministry. Launched at Boston College in 2006, the program provides a platform for prominent BC figures to share stories about transformative or other significant moments of faith in their lives. The series has inspired similar programs at Jesuit, Catholic, private, and public colleges across the country.
In addition to his adventuring accomplishments, Weihenmayer is the author of multiple books and the founder of the "No Barriers" organization, which inspires others to join him in leading a "no barriers" life, and in the belief that "what's within you is stronger than what's in your way."
Weihenmayer reminded students that most challenges are invisible."We are all struggling to find out which tools help us become the best version of ourselves," he said, adding that "finding the light within us" can help to illuminate the murky, dark process of growth.
Weihenmayer also met with students on campus earlier in the day, and later reflected on the experience on social media. "Had an incredible visit to Boston College last week," he posted to his Facebook page on October 3. "I was honored to be asked to share [my connection to faith]. BC has a special place in my own story and it was wonderful to go back and be part of the community again.
"It was amazing to meet the students and hear about their pursuits," he wrote.
He also tweeted about his time on campus:
Weihenmayer has been blind since the age of 13, but even at that young age refused to allow his loss of sight to marginalize him. In high school, he represented his home state of Connecticut in the National Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championship in Iowa, and also took up rock climbing, a harbinger of the life as a professional outdoor adventurer he would lead for more than two decades. In 2001, the Coloradan appeared on the cover of Time as the first blind person to scale Mount Everest, a feat he recounted in the 2002 memoir, Touch the Top of the World.
Taking the advice of a team leader who urged him not to "let Everest be the greatest thing you do," he continued to challenge himself, he told the students gathered at Robsham. Seven years later—with his ascent of the 16,024-foot Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia—he checked off mountaineering’s Seven Summits—scaling the tallest peak on each of the seven continents.
In 2014, he climbed into a one-man kayak at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, to begin a 277-mile journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, guided only by a voice in his ear, that of a trailing kayaker speaking through a microphone transmitter. Navigating the river—with its more than 200 rapids, whirlpools, and falls—would be, he said before the journey began, “the scariest thing I’ve ever done.” Overcoming fear, he said, has been one of his greatest challenges.
He captures the experience in his new book, No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon (Thomas Dunne Books/MacMillan, 2017), written with Buddy Levy, which includes the stories of other trailblazers―adventurers, scientists, artists, and activists―who, despite trauma, hardship, and loss, have broken through barriers of their own. He also shared the inspirational stories of others with the students at Agape Latte, including those of personal friends whose strength illustrated the "light that is the human spirit."
The Morrissey College of Arts & Sciences graduate studied English and communication at BC, has been a teacher and coach, and is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the prestigious National Courage Award and the 2002 ESPN ESPY award. When he is not climbing, skiing, paddling, skydiving, or biking, the married father of two travels internationally as a motivational speaker.
He addressed the graduating class and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston College at the University's Commencement in 2003.
—University Communications | C21 Center