On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak – Mount Everest. And on September 5, 2002, when he stood on top of Mt. Kosciusko in Australia, Weihenmayer completed his 7-year quest to climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, joining only 200 mountaineers who have accomplished that feat. At age 33, he was also one of the youngest. Additionally, he has scaled El Capitan, a 3300-foot overhanging rock wall in Yosemite; Losar, a 2600-foot vertical ice waterfall in The Mt. Everest region of the Himalayas; and a difficult and rarely climbed rock face on 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya.
In September 2003, Erik joined 320 stellar athletes from 17 countries to compete in the Primal Quest, the richest and toughest multi-sport adventure race in the world: 457 miles through the Sierra Nevada’s, nine days, sixty thousand feet of elevation gain, and no time-outs. Averaging only two hours of sleep a night, Erik and his team surged past the finish line on Lake Tahoe, becoming one of the 42 teams to cross the finish line out of the 80 teams that began.
After Erik’s Mt. 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 the teenagers the courage to excel in a culture which affords few opportunities for the blind. Erik 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 blockbusters as Dead Poets’ Society, made a documentary on the ascent which opened to standing ovations at the Toronto, L.A., and London Film Festivals. The film was released theatrically in fall of 2007.
A former middle school teacher and wrestling coach, Erik is one of the most exciting and well-known athletes in the world. Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik has become an accomplished mountain climber, paraglider, and skier, who has never let his blindness interfere with his passion for an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Erik’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 be a world-class athlete, Erik is also the author of the book, Touch the Top of the World, published in ten countries and six languages. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Erik’s 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 2006.
Erik’s second book, The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness, co-authored with business guru and best-selling author, Dr. Paul Stoltz, was released by Simon and Schuster in January, 2007. Through Paul’s science and Erik’s experience, the book shares seven “summits” for harnessing the power of adversity and turning it into the never-ending fuel to growth and innovation. Steven Covey, author of the best-selling business book of all time, wrote the Foreword. Erik has also been published in Time, Forbes, and Reader’s Digest.
Erik’s award-winning film, Farther Than the Eye Can See, shot in the same stunning quality HDTV format as the ‘Star Wars’ prequels, was ranked in the top twenty adventure films of all time by Men’s Journal. Bringing home first prize at 20 film festivals and nominated for two Emmy’s, the film beautifully captures the emotion, humor and drama of Erik’s historic ascent as well as 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. Through screenings, the film has raised over $600,000 for charitable organizations.
Erik’s extraordinary accomplishments have gained him abundant press coverage including repeated visits to NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News, Oprah, Good Morning America, Night Line, and the Tonight Show to name a few. He has also been featured on the cover of Time, Outside, and Climbing Magazine.
In 1999, Erik 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. Erik also serves as a National Braille Literacy Champion on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind.
Erik’s speaking career has taken him around the world, from Hong Kong to Switzerland, from Thailand to the 2005 APEC Summit in Chile. He speaks to audiences on harnessing the power of adversity, the importance of a “rope team,” and the daily struggle to pursue your dreams. Clearly, Erik’s accomplishments show that one does not have to have perfect eyesight to have extraordinary vision.