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.
My physical recovery was surprisingly quick, although the deepest injuries couldn’t be reached by scalpels or morphine. Being a fiercely independent, type “A” battle-hardened soldier thrust into a position of utter dependence on others is such a hard blow to take. I worried about how I would never again see my children grow, lead my team into battle, or look into my wife’s beautiful eyes and tell her “I love you” without saying a word. And those were the big things… I had yet to discover the difficulties in pairing my socks, distinguishing pepper from cinnamon in the cabinets, or not getting lost walking into the abyss that lies beyond the front door of my own home. If that wasn’t enough, while undergoing rehabilitation, my wife was diagnosed with Melanoma, a very evil and malicious disease that was hell bent on stealing my children’s mother from them far too early.
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