Exhilarated: How Photographing the No Barriers Summit Changed Me

No Barriers No Barriers Summit Park City, Utah 2015As a freelance videographer, I’ve shot at many, many conventions. Typically I’m assigned a reporter and together we run back and forth between interviews and buildings. It’s grueling, with long hours and heavy backpacks.

Only slightly less frenetic is my full-time job teaching at a university in Utah. I often hear my students express their jealousy when I tell them about working these shows because they’re such meccas of “coolness.” But really the only thing to envy is sleep-deprivation and an aching back, feet and shoulders. I don’t get to “enjoy” them — I just hit my deadlines and make people happy.

This summer in Park City I was allowed to work with a stellar team for a similar setup … or so I thought. The No Barriers Summit was different — really different. It has changed me on a very personal level.

Sure, I was still there behind the lens, but instead of racing and rushing to find interviews, I was asked to attend clinics and capture stories and moments.

As I attended lectures and clinics, there was an overarching sense of trying new things, changing perspectives and helping each other. Everywhere I went there was someone trying to make life better or easier for someone else.

And I’m not just talking about Summit volunteers or organizers trying to make sure the attendees were having good experiences. I’m talking about the offers I had from others to watch my gear, hold it or carry it for me. I even had the goalie for the U.S. National Amputee Soccer team offer to hold my camera while I was given a chance to try out the arm crutches and play soccer with the team and attendees.

What an awesome experience! I ran — well, hobbled — around the soccer field trying to get my crutches to move with me and I imagined what it would be like to play this game like this for years like Nico Calabria and the rest of the team. I’ve never worked a gig before where the person I was covering traded me positions so I could enjoy the experience.

The final clinic I covered was a ropes course at the Utah Olympic Park. I’ve done ropes courses before but this was a serious set of ropes strung up 50 feet off the ground. Each section of the course had a new or different challenge, from swinging bottom ropes to dangling batons of death. I was lucky enough to get to follow Kelly’s story as she navigated the course.

Kelly was born without legs. She is full of awesome. She was so excited to get on the ropes; she took both of her prosthetics off and climbed into a harness. I went before her with her younger daughter and the ropes team surrounded her for each section. I loved seeing the teamwork as they all figured out the best way for Kelly to make it across the section. Kelly would explain her needs to her guides and they would make suggestions for crossing the course. This happened numerous times at the beginning of each new station as they found a way to work together to accomplish a goal.

No Barriers No Barriers Summit Park City, Utah 2015Some of the sections were harder than others. At times I’d get to my place at the end of a challenge and turn around to capture some video of Kelly navigating the same challenge, just to find Kelly right on my tail. Other times, we’d take a break for several minutes while she rested or while the team discussed the best options for tackling the challenge.

For me, Kelly embodied the No Barriers mantra. She didn’t look at something that she had never done before and start finding excuses for why she would never try it. She looked at a new opportunity and knew that she was going to conquer it.  From my vantage point, it wasn’t all fun and games. She had some really tough moments when it would have been easy to tap out and call it a day, and at some points I thought she might, I know I probably would have. But she was determined to break that barrier. It was inspiring to see someone with unbelievable daily challenges have such an awe-inspiring lust for life.

After most multi-day shoots I return home exhausted. However, after the No Barriers shoot I returned home exhilarated! I had an energy and a better attitude about life. I’ve even spent the weeks since the Summit looking at physical and mental challenges and referring to them as “barriers” and knowing that they aren’t going to get the best of me. I continue to be inspired by all the wonderful people I met at the Summit. There are some truly amazing people in this world, and they are unstoppable.