Q&A: Shay Hampton – 2015 Collegiate Peaks Expedition

Shay Hampton is a U.S. Air Force veteran from Reno, NV. Last year Shay attended the Collegiate Peaks Expedition, sponsored by Rise Broadband, read how the expedition helped him “enjoy the journey”.

Q: During the experience, what was the greatest challenge (physical, mental and/or emotional) you faced and how did you overcome it?

A: For me it was just sitting down at the computer to fill out the application. When a friend forwarded me the No Barriers Warriors information, telling me that he thought this would be something that I could really use, I did some real soul searching. At first, my flesh was screaming, “NO, this isn’t for you, you’re not safe, stay home indoors where no one can hurt you, people can’t see you, you won’t stand out like some freak!” Honestly, that’s what was going through my head! Harboring so much guilt, it was and still is very difficult to climb out of my shell. Taking the leap of faith and signing up, then getting selected to attend… You’ve heard it before: Be careful what you wish for? Well I got it, and it was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made! It allowed me to let others in, to give myself a chance. I know that everyone has demons. Letting those demons control you is why most combat veterans fail — these are just my own personal thoughts about myself! Becoming a part of the No Barriers Family has allowed me to open up and let others in. I’m not saying the door was opened wide, but it was jarred and I’ve met some fantastic people along the way!

Q: Has life changed since your experience?

A: Since I attended the Collegiate Peaks Expedition, life has been the best it can be. Three days after returning home I underwent spine surgery to fix a broken back. It’s been 10 months since the surgery and I’m getting better and stronger every day! I have a few more surgeries to go through, but knowing that I can still push my own limits helps me to know that even though more surgeries are on the horizon, they’re just challenges and barriers…nothing more!
Shay Hampton and two other warriors standing in a field

Q: Have your relationships improved with your family, friends, spouse? Do people see a change in you since you returned?

A: Prior to my expedition, I pretty much crawled into a shell, a shell that I drag around with me on a chain, ready to get back into at a moment’s notice. The change that is noticeable in me is one that has me searching for the next place where I belong. What I mean by that is, when I served I was a part of something bigger than myself. Now, I am looking for that next place to belong, that next phase in my life where I can do something that I love and not call it work. My family has seen me get back some of that drive I used to have!

Q: Can you describe your best day on the journey?

A: My best day on the trip was when we were all up at high camp. We had all gotten together to make dinner, then the cards and the trash talking came out! Those times down range in Iraq and Afghanistan, talking all kinds of trash, picking on each other…it just reminded me about those days! Being up in the mountains with my fellow veterans brought some of that bond back, the type of bond that can only be developed in those down range AORs. Getting to see people really open up, really be vulnerable, knowing that the people that they’re around are the ones that will go to bat for them, all the way to the end if needed…without question!

Q: What does the “No Barriers Life” mean to you? Can you tell us more about how you believe this experience helped you to live a No Barriers Life?

A: For me personally, the No Barriers Life means that barriers will not define who I am. I’m not going to be known as the guy with the TBI, the guy that walks or talks funny, the guy that sits on his porch and screams at the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn while feeding his parrot peanuts! A barrier to me is something that is in the way, whether it’s movable or not. Sometimes the barrier cannot be moved, so why don’t I just move around it? For me, the barriers are not only physical but mental and emotional, but I’m finding out that most of these I’m going to have to navigate around myself, and that’s where NBW has come in. It was the Collegiate Peaks Expedition that allowed me to reflect and to find that inner strength that allows me to navigate, to train, to re-teach myself skills that I know can save my life!

Q: Looking back, what means the most to you from your time on your No Barriers Warriors Expedition?

A: For me it was meeting the veterans, becoming lifelong friends with them. Listening to the trials, the tests, the barriers in their lives and watching them navigate around them. Just to know them makes me proud. And this is what I think the key to it all was. I am in a few different organizations; they all have a place in my life. However, No Barriers does it like no other. Just like any other military training I have been through, you don’t really know what’s going on or what it’s for until it’s all over. And then you have to take the time to dissect it, break it down and apply it to your life. Then you can get the real benefits of the training! The Collegiate Peaks Expedition wasn’t just a walk in the hills for me, and I’m almost positive I can say that for all my teammates on that trip. Like the drill instructors in basic training, you cannot take the motivation they dish out personally! You have to take the experience along with you knowing that they’re doing what they are so that you can succeed. NBW is no different, with the exception of the motivational techniques, peace, tranquility, God’s land, good friends, and good times replace…well if you’ve been to basic then you know! Knowing that there are still people out there that get it, they’re just a phone call away, and that they care! That is what I’ve taken with me. It’s now a part of who I am.

Q: Anything else you would like to share?

A: I cannot express the gratitude that I have for No Barriers Warriors. I believe I have found my Post-Injury, Post-Retirement niche in life: That is to help other veterans find that desire to overcome and adapt, that desire that was somehow suppressed due to whatever happened in their life. No one can understand a veteran better than another veteran. Leave no man behind, in or out of battle; this country is too great to allow that to happen!

I am by no means complete. I am still pretty busted up in more ways than one. But I do have a sense of “a light at the end of the tunnel!” I adopted a saying years ago – unfortunately, I strayed away from it. Now I’m not only trying my best to live it, but to share it any way that I can: “Enjoy the Journey!”

God bless…Never Quit!
Shanon “Shay” Hampton, MSgt USAF (Ret)

Collegiate Peaks Expedition team on a bridge