According to the 2014 Census, More than 3.8 million of the 19.3 million veterans in the US are coping with a service connected disability. Due to the improvements in battlefield medical treatment, they return alive, yet not whole. Service members are trained to depend on each other. Upon separation from the military, many veterans feel disconnected and alone, experiencing a significant and immediate loss in the lack of camaraderie and interdependence as they return to the civilian world and their communities.
Our programs permanently impact lives by helping members of all military branches with disabilities tackle personal challenges. Mountains serve as both metaphor and training ground for stretching goals, building world-class teams, innovating through adversity and stepping up to lead and serve others. Through the No Barriers Warriors experience, we provide veterans with camaraderie and support systems they can depend on.
To do things in life that are self-benefitting may seem unimportant to those of us who are used to serving others. Especially when the thing you need to do causes you fear of misunderstanding…maybe even judgment. Making the decision to seek help to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not an easy one. All my life I managed to deal with my innermost issues by myself, without utilizing outside, professional help. Starting now, after so many experiences, was like admitting I could no longer manage myself. However, now I know that’s not the way I should view it. Seeking help has nothing to do with one’s inability to admit defeat or surrender. It has to do with going beyond personal understanding of ourselves and stepping out to take a look from the outside in. One of the best ways to do this is through people who have dedicated their lives to the study of human behavior and how what happens in our lives can impact our way of thinking.
In seeking help, I was also able to look at what others were doing to get ahead. This is when I came across a documentary that showcased the work of No Barriers Warriors, formerly Soldiers to Summits, and saw hope in the interviews of those participants and how their lives were changed.
After participating in the Peruvian expedition in 2013, I too acquired some of the same tools to “get ahead” as those previous participants, and my life was changed for the good. Out of the blue I received an email from a local TV station asking me to share my story on a morning news broadcast. I gained a lot of confidence as a participant of a No Barriers Warriors expedition, and I felt that I now belonged to a team dedicated to helping others find that same hope I had found. But, I could have never have imagined how far this experience would go in keeping me inspired and leading me to encourage others to go beyond themselves and take charge in their own lives.
Back to the TV interview. I was nervous and unsure of how to respond to the questions from the interviewer. I rehearsed possible questions and answers but was still not sure of what to expect. The time for the interview arrived, and I was accompanied by my wife for support, the reporter and the camera technician. After a few questions, the powerful light and camera on my face combined with the understanding that this could help someone else find No Barriers, my nerves calmed, and I started to have fun. The reporter was very nice and very easy on me with the line of questioning. In the end, the whole experience was wonderful and now my hope is that others will see the interview and be inspired to pursue new ways of healing.
The day after the interview aired, I went to the VA hospital for an appointment and several people stopped me and asked about No Barriers and my experiences in Peru. Others asked me for my contact information to perhaps sit and talk about issues. But, the best part was that I not only belong to the team of No Barriers Warriors, but I also belong in my community. I can be an example to others to never give up, even when what you do not understand gets in the way of living the life you want. All you have to do to get ahead is take a step forward, seek out all possibilities and have the hope that by embracing adversity, life propels us forward toward the future we all desire.
-Pedro, Warriors Mentor and Participant
During my time in the U.S. Army as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician (military bomb squad), I endured a great many hardships. From intense military training to the rigors of deployments in some of the most dangerous places on Earth; and I thought I knew what tough was. Until December 8th, 2011 when I stepped on and detonated an IED. The blast broke every bone in my face, cracked my skull, took 70% of my hearing, crushed my sinuses taking my smell, and destroyed my eyes, plunging me into darkness forever.
We could have given up. I don’t think many would have blamed us for letting the fates win. But, with a ton of reflection and a huge dose of courage, I was able to see through the pain to the truth. If I hadn’t been injured when I had and been in a hospital environment, my wife’s cancer may not have been discovered in time to save her. I thank the fates each and every day for that twist of serendipity. Slowly, I began to look at my new position in life a little better. I began running with a partner a few miles each day. Hiking, tandem cycling, and any other excuse to get out and rediscover our world became my new passion.
That’s when I discovered Erik Weihenmayer and No Barriers. If this man could do what he has done, then I could push the limits that I perceived were in front of me. I trained as hard as I ever had as a soldier. The Army Special Forces helped me get ready. It was a very proud moment when I learned that I had been selected to join the 2013 Peruvian Andes team. Not as proud, though, as when I had reached the summit of Mt. Mariposa, a 17,880-foot mountain deep in the heart of remote Peruvian backcountry. Once again, part of a team and facing the challenges ahead was such a profound moment in my life. The trail was steep and long. Each step had the potential for disaster. Loose rock, thin snow bridges, crevices, and sheer exhaustion plagued not just the blind but each and every climber on the mountain. But, with the strength of our team and the fortitude that lies within each of us, we turned the obstacles and adversity in front of us into opportunities to excel. I firmly believe that every challenge placed before us has the potential for personal growth locked within it. Challenge Accepted!
— Aaron, 2013 Peruvian Andes Participant
It wasn’t more than two years ago that I was going everywhere with my service dog “Mush” getting looks from everyone from “Aw, what a cute puppy!,” to “What the h*** does she need a service dog for? Maybe she is training the dog.”
One day I got an email from a complete stranger asking me if I wanted to climb a mountain, and I replied maybe 10 times before I got a response saying he had nothing to do with the board but he will put in a good word. Then I got an application and it took me three months to fill out what would be the start of my life not depending on Mush and not being a full-time patient…me starting to be myself again.
The application was to climb a mountain, Cotopaxi in the Andes, with No Barriers Warriors. It is 19,300 ft., and it was all I could think about once I turned in my application. As soon as they called me and said I was accepted, I ran around my house like a little kid drinking too much pop. It was the first time in a long time I was truly happy for something, that was, at the time, still just an image in my mind.
Since I was injured I was always getting down on myself for not feeling better — for having a headache, for being depressed. But, then I went on the first climb with the other vets out in Colorado and saw that there was no competition, no need to get down on myself. I was able to let a little of it go; see how relaxing all of it was; experience how healthy the outdoors was for me; and learn how much I craved it. Soon, I didn’t need Mush as much anymore, and I found myself being able to laugh and joke with other people.
On one of the days leading up to the summit climb in Ecuador, Charley Mace, one of our guides, made me leader for the day which was very scary for me because I couldn’t see myself in that role since I retired from the Army. I learned that I can be a leader, and people can respect me even though I have a lot of hang-ups about my head injury.
In the nine months I spent training and climbing, I learned more about myself than I had in my four years of doctors’ office and psych appointments. I learned a lot from friends who had struggles like mine and the friends who were different from mine. I craved the conversations with the No Barriers Warriors guides and their stories of the travels they had, which lit a fire in me and propelled me into the outdoor world to which I now know I am destined to belong.
– Margaux, Participant and Mentor