Episode 35: Finding Joy in the Experience with Endurance Athlete, André Kajlich

about the episode

Our hosts, Erik, Jeff, and Dave, spoke with André, the other week during his training for his newest endeavor: to explore human potential as him and his team cross continents – from the lowest point to highest summit, starting with South America. But André’s story began in 2003 when, as a 23 year old student in Prague, he wound up on the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train. His injuries required both of his legs to be amputated above the knee. After his recovery he still returned to Prague to resume his studies, but it was a long road to recovery – both physically and emotionally. He wrestled with his inner demons and the choices he made that had led him to be in this situation.

He speaks in-depth about the mindset and steps it took to bring him to where is today in his athletic achievements.

André’s journey taught him that he is always capable of more. In 2010 he became an ultra endurance pioneer, a Team USA Paratriethlete, an Ironman World Champion, and the only wheelchair athlete to finish an Ultraman Triathlon.

Then, in 2017, he finished the Race Across America, hand-cycling 3,100 miles in just 12 days, sleeping 90 minutes a night to make it from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, Maryland. Despite his tragic accident, André is a renowned speaker and incredible athlete breaking world records.

Now, along with his teammates, he is setting off for Southern Patagonia at Laguna del Carbón, the lowest point in the western and southern hemispheres to ride 1,800 miles over gravel, road, and mountain passes to Aconcagua National park. They will trek in and climb up the 22,841 ft. peak, the highest summit outside of the Himalaya.

Follow his journey & keep in touch

  • Follow his South American journey on Instagram: @LowestHighest
  • Learn more about André and his past and current adventures here.
  • Check out the trailer for his upcoming film, Joyrider, here.

Episode Transcript

André: I think what really changed after the accident is that I saw what I was capable of. I went through... Because I was forced to see a super dark place, huge challenge, emotionally, a really big challenge physically and just seeing not just that I could get through something like that, but then just like on a single night making up my mind about the approach I could. I could change my life forever.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way and that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Speaker 2: Today's guests, André Kajlich is an ultra endurance pioneer, a team USA Para-triathlete, an iron man world champion and the only wheelchair athlete to finish an ultra man triathlon. In 2017 he finished the race across America hand cycling 3,100 miles in just 12 days, sleeping 90 minutes a night to make it from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. His upcoming expedition will take them from the lowest point in South America to its highest point. As a 23 year old student in Prague. André wound up on the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train. His injuries required both of his legs amputated above the knee, but his accident and the physical and emotional recovery taught him that he is always capable of more as he began his journey to become an endurance athlete.

Speaker 1: Welcome to our no barriers podcast. We are thrilled to have André Kajlich with us today, did I get that right André?

André: Nice work [inaudible 00:02:43].

Speaker 1: As you heard in the brief recorded intro, the list of feats and accomplishments of André is quite extraordinary. And I'm really looking forward to today's conversation. André I thought we'd just start with, tell us a little... I think you're leaving in just a couple of weeks on your next great adventure. So kick it off by telling us what you're about to go head off and do. It's pretty amazing.

Erik: No, it's a wimpy little adventure. I noticed on the bio.

André: Yeah, you would say that. It's amazing. Super excited and going a bit crazy as I'm sure you all can relate to just trying to whip something together. But that's the way it goes. So in, in two weeks, I'm leaving with two teammates, Mohammad Lanna and Lucas Ownen and a buddy who's to film along the way, Brian Nelson. And we're going to bike from the lowest point in South America, which is Laguna Del Carbon, extreme South Santa Cruz province, almost Tierra del Fuego and it'd be about 1800 mile bike ride over road gravel, over mountain passes up to Mendoza, Argentina. And then we'll check in and climb [Phonetic Aconcagua]. So the basics of it are the lowest point and the highest points in South America under our own power.

Jeff: Whose idea was this shit show?

André: Well, so I brought it to Mohammad and Lucas told them I had funding and a bunch of other lies and... But it is a project that actually I was working on with an ultra runner, Charlie Engle. And we started talking about this back in 2013, we met on a dirt road in Brazil during an ultra marathon and connected and wanted to try to take this on. And my understanding is that he didn't quite conceive of the idea but had hoped to go from Etsy, Everest. And then as we started talking expanded it to every continent and we've been trying to make happen ever since, so all great ideas are borrowed. Yeah, well I don't feel bad about it. It's so hard to actually start to accomplish that, that there should be lots of people working on it. So I'm not worried about that.

Jeff: It sounds like you did the same sort of the same strategy that Eric and I have done over the years. And I think all big project engineers have done is you get this idea and then you say, "I'm doing it." And then you tell the world and then, "Oh, now you've got to figure out how to do it." Now suddenly you're faced with all these logistics and money and details and all this stuff, but now you've put it out to the world like it's happening. So what's that process been like for you? I'm guessing like the lead in is probably been the hardest part. It's going to be harder to even being doing the project.

André: Yeah. I mean you always think this idea sounds so rad and people are going to support it and jump right in with money and gear and, you're one of many sort of fighting for that. And these days, for example, a brand and just goes online and sees who's having success with a following. And that's the smartest place to start. So we don't have that, we're trying to sell an idea and dream, but, the original ideas sort of... Charlie and I, because he made the film running the Sahara that monster budget. And so the plan was to just do that again and sort of fund all seven. And I just kept hammering away like, we just need to start. We need to start, we need to get people to jump on board for a thing, that's a thing, just some guy's dreams.

André: So it was like, no matter what it takes, I'm going to scrap this thing together. And like, if we don't have money to finish, I'm going to be on the road starting and we're going to we're going to be on working the phones and whatever to keep going if you have to. And, that's happened in the past where a project hasn't come together and I had this little bubble of a thought to just start and try to figure it out, see how far I could go. And I didn't do it and that, that sort of gnawed at me a bit. So this time I was like, well whatever it takes, we're going. So we got the plane tickets tell you that much.

Erik: I think that's really smart to focus on the nuts and bolts of it, know what I mean? Because if you can just get this amazing thing done, then that's so foundational to being a catalyst to all the other things you want to continue to do. So yeah, I think... I loved that laser focus idea of preparation,

André: Crying on a mountain cause you didn't succeed is a good way to get funding for another job. If nothing else. This is not going to happen, we're going to the top, but, it's-

Jeff: So you know what you're getting into down on Aconcagua, right? And what a dust storm and sort of a... You're going to be picking sand out of your eyeballs for weeks after that. But are you stoked about the Sufferfest you're about to?

André: The sand is the best part. The toilet paper blowing is the worst part. I mean it's it's a case with everything I've ever done. The closer I get to actually doing it, the more that's revealed to me about how rough it's going to be. I wouldn't start any of these things if I wasn't totally naive but I have had the conversations with people that have been there and been on the ground and, the Trek ins seen on paper is like no big deal, but then you turn in that dust and wind and they say it's seriously a grind. So, yeah, I mean there's always moments that you wish you weren't there and, that's part of why it's awesome.

Jeff: Well, I find out an interesting topic because Eric and I've spent most of our lives in the big mountains and, and I'm curious how everybody subjectively handles those low moments when you're on a big expedition, especially one that you've put so much into. I mean, you've put your heart and soul into this and then, you're going to be up, sitting at [inaudible 00:08:40] freezing your tush off, you're hungry and tired and sore and probably wishing you were sitting in California at that moment. So how do you manifest that? You push that away? Do you push those moments away or do you embrace and then just realize that that's part of the journey. How do you handle it personally?

André: You handle a bunch of different ways I would say like the experience and the things that I have done ultras and especially race across America and just the training for those things have revealed a lot about how my mind works and given me the tools to identify when I'm just fucking with myself and, and then some strategies to deal with it. So one of them is just kind of mindset to go in with and how to think about it. So like during Ram was like, my job is pedal on my bike, 22 hours a day. It doesn't matter if there's rain, mountain, you're not a blip on the map, there is no finish line.

André: You're just, you're just peddling your bike, you're going to your short rest, 90 minutes in the back of the van and then you're doing it again and just these frameworks for how you're picturing it. And then the other thing is just really, I guess finding my way of making sense of goal setting. because I always hate, like I just never even listened to these cliche talking points often. But for me it's like what I need is the goal of finish line because that's the thing I'm going to before I will talk myself out of it and stuff about life bubbles up and you're like, well my priorities suck. Its a rationalizing and emotional decision to be tired and miserable and stop, so I tried to see it as like I'm going to take all this information to that goal, to that finish line, reassess there if I need to. And in this case I'll be top of the mountain, bottom of the mountain, sort of on the way down sort of thing.

Erik: So you break it up into many goals and then you can reassess and reestablish at each stopping point.

André: Yeah and another thing, which is why I think people run into problems when they... I don't want to say reach too far, but they haven't done the training through other races, other events like built their way up. There's no way to just go out and do Ram. Like you better have done some 24 hour races and multi days is that you tell yourself, I've been here before, I know you just keep moving and eventually you're there and you're looking back on this memory. So that confidence to know I've been here before, been here before you just keep moving.

Erik: It's sort of a resiliency of suffering too, right? That you're building up, right? I mean people don't realize that there's a mental component to all these huge adventures that you're doing in terms of the physical stuff, but then that transfers over to the mental side. Right? So there's this ability to deeply suffer and realize it's temporary?

André: Yeah. I don't think a lot of the, "It's mental more than its physical." Sayings hold a lot of weight until you actually experienced the mental defeat and then all of a sudden you get it, you're like... For me it's sort of an example would be my wife complaining I here you're wasting hours out there peddling your bike. I'm like, babe, this is an intellectual pursuit for me. This is diving inside. And it's a huge challenging game. And I think that's one of the biggest reasons that I love this stuff.

Speaker 1: André, were you into the extreme pushing your body to the limit prior to your injury as well?

André: Not so much. I think there were a couple of glimpses that I liked getting on a bike and seeing how far I could go.

André: But, honestly I was, I was just getting my hands on different things, had a short attention span. I was fairly naturally athletic. So I just was picking up sports like tennis and awarding windsurfing, football, baseball, golf, like everything and was pretty decent at them but had no ambition and we would go onto the next thing. So I didn't have any kind of a focus and actually see what I was capable of. And that was one of the things that I guess quite a lot of people sort of regret looking back. Like, "Oh, would've been cool to see how far I could've taken this." So I'm doing that now.

Erik: André, before we dive into deeper topics, I have a technical question. Tell me about how you ride a bike so everyone can visualize it.

André: Sure. So I ride by peddling on my arms., you can... It's basically similar drive train to a bike. It's just upside down and in the front. So I'm peddling with both arms go together, they're also my steering and it's a three-wheel bike, one drive wheel up front and two in the rear. And I ride a little more upright style. A lot of the hand cyclists are either in a laid back position head back here, feet ahead, and they're going that direction. I'm in sort of a kneeler position because if I don't have knees and you're able to put down a little more power, better for climbing.

Erik: So you're laying a little bit prone and forward. So that, that's got to be hard on your neck. Right. So does your bike have a suspension and all that?

André: No suspension. My neck... So when race across America is a race from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, and there's a.. Now I'm forgetting the name, but I think it's called Schermer neck, something a lot of the riders will get and basically I've asked a Cuban buddy of mine, Alberto Blanca like, "Hey, what's that like, how does that feel?" And he was like, put your head down, I put my head down, then he says now lift it. And he puts his hand there and I just can't lift my head and your neck just gives out and you cannot raise your head. And they're locked in this position for so long. So I was really worried in thinking that this could be worse for me, but there's just enough, I think motion in the stroke and the body moving where the neck is constantly moving and I haven't had any problems yet.

Erik: I did a mountain bike ride with these two friends of mine who are studs and hand cyclists and we're doing off-road stuff. And at the end I said, how did you feel? And this was just like a 20 mile ride. And they said, I feel like I just got in the chest by a mule. I'm sure you felt that. And more.

André: One of the, one of the really cool things I think that just sort of speaks to human capacity is like after a long race where when it's over, your body just shuts off and it doesn't matter if you had another week to go another two weeks like, you would do it and it's like all of a sudden your body knows its job is done. So I've had no feeling in my hands and been in pretty bad shape after some long events.

Jeff: That's one of the biggest affirmations of what we were talking about earlier, about the mental capacity that you have because your body wouldn't stop, you would keep performing, but as soon as your mind says, okay, I'm done, I've crossed that hypothetical finish line, suddenly your body listens to your brain, right? It's like it's listening to the input from your brain. "Oh now your done, now I can collapse and be completely wrecked for like a week. [crosstalk 00:15:51] I'll tell you Erik and for the listeners too like just on André's website and as you would expect, homie is yolked just like crushing the hand cycles. So he's just like super, super strong. So how do you take care of your body? How do you work out kinks and try to avoid your muscles seizing up day after day after day at the same repetitive motion.

Erik: Yeah. Like are you into nutrition and supplements and all that kind of really technical training that people are these days?

André: Yes and no. I would say no in that I'm not as informed as I should be and I'm not super sort of organized on that front. I would say yes, because for whatever lucky reason when I was born, like I just liked crunchy green vegetables and my whole life it just seems like I've been drawn to just simple, clean, healthy food of a wide variety. So on the sort of intake side, that's kind of easy. I think it takes care of itself. I go for sort of variety and eat the food as it comes from nature. And on the training front, I think I'm aided by the fact that I don't have to push myself. Like when I go on a ride I always want to go further. And then, and then it's a little challenging because I'm not the most organized guy.

André: So I blow workouts and this and that. And I mostly just put in miles. I'm not super smart about conditioning and doing it all. But I am constantly doing different things. I'm climbing a bit on my wheelchair, on the trails and on my hand cycle even when I was little, if I was going somewhere, like I was just going to run there, even if it was just down the hallway. So I think that helps a lot. Although I just did turn 40 and I'm not sure, but it feels like the lights are dimming.

Erik: So you're old school in terms of training, you just go out and put the miles in. Because I mean a lot of the folks doing big things, younger folks today they have a coach that's, giving them this very specific schedule and training sequence and everything. And it sounds like you're more old school.

André: Yeah, I've tried working with a coach once and it didn't last long. It was constantly sort of having them readjust and change the thing and I'm doing that in my mind always. So I will skip workouts if I'm just not feeling it all the time [inaudible 00:18:26] there and I would ride without a lot of information. Like I don't have a bike computer up right now. And basically during Ram I've never used the power [crosstalk 00:18:37] . What it does is like, I know if even if I'm doing a race, like when I'm doing damage just by feel, I have a pretty good sense of where I'm at. And that just comes from always doing it that way.

Erik: The training coaches are freaking out around the world right now.

Jeff: Because you're not data driven, right. You're Body driven. It seems like maybe that just creates more of a opportunity to listen as opposed to look.

André: I think so. And just, I mean for a lot of people it's going to be what matches their personality the best., what they're actually going to do in real life. So this is what works for me.

Erik: One more technical question. So you did this race across America that you referred to 12 days, I believe, and you're getting 90 minutes of sleep a night. You must have experienced sleep deprivation, right? What's that like to experience that? I mean, because that's beyond like even physically tired.

André: Yeah, it was gnarly., I thought like I do my 90 minutes and then we sit around and have breakfast and have a few chats, but it's 4:00 AM side of the road. Strip me down and start the timer. 90 minutes later I'm on the bike and rolling and then breakfast is out of the side of the van while we're underway, [inaudible 00:19:56] Yeah, there is like sandwiches and drinks and meal replacements. Surprisingly, 90 minutes feels like sleep you wake up like, "Oh wow, I wasn't expecting it to be that good." It just doesn't last very long. So if I was waking up at five I'm already falling asleep on the bike. But yeah, there's a lot of craziness. I definitely expected hallucinations and got those long stretches where there was like a lady walking two dogs, an old lady walking two dogs towards me. Picture the lady picture the two dogs and I passed the spot where she should be, nothing there. And then again, she's walking towards me and it's a little bizarre.

Erik: Yeah. So if anyone's like me who's too scared to do hallucinogens, then you can just do a Ram instead. For the record that was a joke.

Jeff: You do reach the same place, like fundamentally its that probable place in your brain, the recesses of your subconscious, that protect you and keep you far and forward and maybe then like give you fuel when you don't know you need it. Like whether you take psychedelics or whether you're getting through this like deep sleep deprivation situations, you still go into that same place. So I'm try to piece together the timeline here. So this was, it was almost 17 years ago that you had your accident, right? So you were in your early twenties and clearly you showed a propensity to go into these dark places. And Dave already asked you, were you doing that beforehand, I mean you were really still in your formative years, but did all of this desire to seek this discomfort, physical and emotional discomfort come after your injury as a form of catharsis? Or was it sort of in you all along and you just hadn't tapped into it yet?

André: Yeah, I think the... So let's say before I was carefree, like I wanted to do cool things but no idea what and I grew up never knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up just day by day, like something looks cool, I'm going to get into it for a bit. I think what really changed after the accident that's a direct connection to loving, taking on these sort of monster challenges is that I saw what I was capable of, I went through because I was forced to a super dark place, huge challenge emotionally and a really big challenge physically and I was trying to recover after that, the level amputation, so about missing one entire femur on the left side called the hip disarticulation. So there's no leg and then the other side above the knee.

André: And, and just seeing, not just that I could get through something like that, but that just like on a single night making up my mind about the approach, I could change my life forever. And, and it's just an expansion of capabilities which accompanies any of these things so it just makes you drive on for the next one to get that next level and that experience and talking about, we're talking about hallucinogens and, psychoactives like what they give you is access to parts of yourself, parts of your brain, parts of thinking and perspective that you just not getting otherwise. And that's how you learn. So finding the value in it and also the amazing experience like going through even that subway accident.

Erik: Yeah. André, can you just so people know, you fell in front of a subway and Prague?

André: Yeah. So, so we don't know what happened. Soon after the accident, a waitress in Spain asked me if I had a bad fall, I was wearing pants and walking with prosthetics. I was like, Oh, the fall wasn't bad. But then a train ran over me and how I ended up on the tracks like nobody knows, there was a party night out. I mean certainly something that's fully thrown out there that I had destructive behavior around alcohol and drinking. It was a night out with friends, not so unlike others. We went to breakfast 7:00 AM memories from up until that point said goodbye to Ricu my Finnish friend. He headed his way home, I headed mine, I fell asleep on the subway and miss my stop when I got off switching direction. Then I ended up on the tracks and nobody knows how. So the driver came around this corner is a bit of a Hill and a turn platform opens up and I was just there on the track.

André: So, we have photos of the emergency crews peeking down the crack locating me. They split off the last train hauled me out and, luckily it was a very good military hospital was the closest thing . They put 40 units of blood through me. I don't know how long it-

Erik: 40?

André: 40 yeah. My dad never in his position never heard of so much... And, no blood pressure, broke all my ribs on the right side, punctured my lungs, lacerated liver a big compound fracture in my left arm. Lucky to have kept and yeah, just shrapnel everywhere else. So I was super lucky and I was in a drug induced coma for three weeks, came out of that very luckily, I think, I mean, one, not remembering the accident's probably helpful, but also the process of waking up was in and out of consciousness and weird dreams.

André: So there was not this pop up in bed moment of what the hell is happened, pieced that together through family who was all around me. I mean that was kind of the surprised. Like why is my family here? And then it was kind of a struggle to survive. They didn't know if I was going to survive for a while after just had massive infections mainline running five different antibiotics to my heart, colds, I can't remember what... I think it was freezing cold for the first half of the day and then 105 fever the second half just for like a week. It was intense in the ICU.

Erik: So when you say lucky, I mean we're talking like near miracle that you live through that.

André: Yeah, I mean I don't just in the way the train hit me, hit my head hard, cracked all my teeth, no measurable brain damage and yeah, I was very, very lucky.

Erik: So you finally come to and figure out what happened as much as you just told us here, walk us through how you go from there to someone who decides, God, I want to try some really extreme thing to push the limits of what's possible of my body.

André: I came out of, I mean even when I was still in the hospital was already having people talk about athletic sports, physical things I could do and I wasn't very excited about any of that. I mean, I think there's two big things going on. One was just the stigma around sort of wheelchair sports. I was always pretty proud of the skill level I had and the things I was doing and I didn't want to do any of them at what I thought would be a reduced capacity. And then the other side of it was, all I want is to get back to Prague. I was having the time on my life. It was so much learning through culture and I'm having fun, cafe lifestyle, all those things. I wanted to go back. And so I was like, well how about a guy just picking up where he left off?

André: Like wouldn't that be good enough. Wouldn't that be a huge accomplishment? Seeing all that I was facing? And that was really my drive. I mean, that's what probably got me walking on prosthetics because it was extremely hard and I just knew a wheelchair and Prague wasn't going to be the best route. So I was over there just trying to be normal, resume my studies. I got back about a year and a half after my accident. I mean I arrived in Prague with some friends and friends flew in that I had been in school with and that very first night out we were at the exact platform where I had got run over...

Jeff: On purpose or by accident.

André: Just the way were going. I mean it didn't even connect until [crosstalk 00:28:02] and it was a total flag in the ground. I mean it was a very proud moment. Hell yeah, I made it back.

André: I did this and, as soon as they're gone to school-

Jeff: Was there fear there at that tough moment or was it more pride, no trauma, no fear, like going back and confronting that?

André: Nothing. The night where it sort of really changed for me was 10 months after the accident where I was out of town doing something I love doing with friends and I had my own motel room and I just broke down in the room alone crying and going through the same questions of why did this have to happen? Why couldn't it be different? I just want it to change. I want it to be different. It sucks. I'm scared about the future if I'm ever going to be happy again.

André: Just this storm of wallowing and there's some comfort in that for sure. But I'd seen myself there too many times in those 10 months and I wanted to still have a good life. And so I just came up with the simple idea that I was like, "I drop this shit that I cannot affect, not going to help me and what's going to give me the best chance if there's a chance of having a good life." And I was just trying my best to be open to this challenge, be open to all of the infinite things that I can still do. And for whatever reason that connected so strong and I believed it. I knew that was the best way forward. And I wasn't sad for a second. I mean, I haven't been sad about the accident losing my legs since then, so over 17 years and that's colored everything, there hasn't been fear around the accident or showing up at the site.

André: It was just like hell yeah, it's working, pretty much it.

Jeff: That destructive behavior that you had, I mean I can relate a little bit like the early twenties just sort of Bulletproof thing. Was that a hard stop after your accident?

André: That was another nine years to learn and its maturing through those years as it as it was, I certainly wasn't in sort of classic alcoholic in the sense that I always needed a drink. There's just nights where at a certain point pretty early on, the switches turned on and there is no off. So I would, I would just consume and consume and drink and not want to go home. So that just popped its head every once in a while and one night in college before the accident ended up in a hospital.

André: I was actually lucky that two friends dropped me in a fire escape. I cracked my head open, the ambulance came and realized that I had a four, six, five blood alcohol content.

Jeff: That was after the accident?

André: That was before. So that was a long day that ended with a half gallon going around that I just took, just took it down and just lost lost consciousness. So the accident wasn't so different from, it wasn't one of those nights, that's for sure. But, another big party night. And then afterwards I was actually...I'll make this one quick, but I was a cliff bar athlete at the time, they had 30 athletes to a summit in San Francisco and it was the first one that they did. So we had a tour, we did some things around the headquarters and things around the city and I was so excited.

André: I was just starting really racing and I was like, "Wow, there's all these athletes that are making a living doing these sports that don't have the classic salary pathway, they're not basketball players, they're surfers or they're climbers [inaudible 00:31:46] . And so it was very motivating and inspiring just to see where I could take this. I was just getting free bars and one of the days we were doing a treasure hunt in those go-carts around town. It started raining, people are flipping cards and so we all met at a bar. Then we went on this dinner cruise. I walk on the boat seated right next to a champagne and beer, talking to somebody for an hour just slugging them back. One thing led to another and I black out, I wake up in my motel room the next day. I thought, well, there's more to this.

André: There's just too much to go into. But the end result was, it happened to me on a night where there's the last thing that I wanted to happen. And that was the first time where I just realized I had no control. My wife came down on me very, very hard and it honestly took her to end it. I mean that was the thing that finally got me to stop drinking. So I do have some appreciation for how difficult that is. I mean there's hell of a lot more addictive substances out there and it's a nightmare. Like you don't understand until you understand how easy the choice is to finalize.

Erik: Did you just make the decision to stop or did you have to get some therapy or some counseling?

André: I was sort of recommended to, but I didn't. I had definitely gone to therapy after the accident and it was by no means like a real cut decision. I don't want to, but I didn't.

Dave: André, I've read a bunch of other interviews and watched a few of your short films and one of the things you talk about part of your road and your journey through these big epic expeditions is the desire to find your own happiness and using these journeys as a tool and that process. Can you talk a little bit about that? I mean, I think we're all on a journey to find happiness and talk about how the journeys that we read in your bio are a part of that journey for you.

André: Sure. So I would certainly start by saying that I am happy I'm not looking for my happiness through any of these things. I suck at finish lines. There's like such a fake fist pump, if that, because that's not what it's about for me. I don't know what to do at the end.

Jeff: So it's not in your body. You're not in complete like elation because you just crossed the finish line?

André: Yeah. I mean I don't quite know how to like pin down the reason, it's simply not the part that I do it for. I would do all of this stuff in a vacuum on my own with a good friend. I don't have the money and sharing it I have seen that it, that it that helps.

André: When I first started racing I thought like, "Oh yeah, disabled people are inspiration and that's how this goes." It wasn't what I was aiming for, but I quickly realized it was such a two way street. So I feed off of reactions to me 100%. So what I'm looking for is I like, I haven't figured it all out, I don't know shit. I like the process of trying to figure it out. I like thinking about my own psychology and just pondering the world. I could just ponder of the world for the rest of my days and be super happy about it. And so this stuff brings out a lot and, I can get pretty lazy so I might not dedicate myself to figuring it out. So when I'm out there doing these things, that's when I found my switch where like I can go and go and go and then all these things confront me and I have to deal with them and that's how I learn. So I think that's what I seek.

Erik: Do you ever find yourself thinking about the way you were when you were able bodied and comparing yourself still? Because that seems like that holds a lot of people back this idea that I'm not the person that I was, I'm a different person and they get stuck or at least like I will say like when I'm hiking on a trail and I see sighted people just dancing along, like down this Rocky trail and I'm stumbling along, I do sometimes go, "Oh man, that would be so nice."

André: Yeah, I agree with you on that. I mean not being sad about losing my legs is one thing. Would I take them back? A lot of people are like, no, I'm happy with my life. Hell yeah, I'd take them back. Like the things me and those legs would do. All of this, I think a is a balance. Like you got to be hard on yourself and you can't be too hard on yourself. There's also the me before this that that I almost can't imagine and there's the me before this that, it's still there. And I think both of those things are worth celebrating. Hopefully the parts that are different, you've made improvements and that's why you're different.

André: And then there is this core, that's André that makes me look at people that are very different in somehow, either they have a physical disability or they're just from another part of the world in a totally different way. Because when I used to see somebody in a big motorized wheelchair going down the road, I just saw them as different. And now just seeing me, I'm still André. Like it's very hard to articulate, but it's certainly made me treat people differently.

Dave: Well where can we follow your South American journey?

André: I didn't even want to come up with a name because that's like trying too hard. But then we have documents to share and stuff. So it was blam! Which is Brian, Lucas, André and Mohammad. And I thought like that's seems like you're not trying too hard, that's cool. But it's a little bit bias because those handles were available and it's like that's just what it is. So lowest, highest, hopefully Instagram will be sort of the main go to. And then we have the URL lowesthighest.com. So there'll be some kind of tracking and updates. Go be one of our first followers, because we haven't even launched the website, so I don't think there's anything there., we've got two weeks to figure all this out.

Jeff: Crushing it but, but my guess is based on our conversation, you will, it's going to come together. You may have some sleepless nights coming up ahead of you before you even kick off, when you should be resting and getting ready.

André: Even the ones where I could be sleeping are sleepless cause it's just spinning in there. No, I appreciate that. Thank you. I will take that vote of confidence. Carry it with me.

Dave: And you talked about how when you go into these journeys, the finish line is not the thing. You can often not even know what to do with that moment. So going into this upcoming journey, is there anything... Do you like set goals in mind of what it is you hope to get out of it or are you just let it flow?

André: Well yeah, so there are goals in the sense that in many ways this is going to get expensive. One of the reasons we're starting with South America is, its least expensive. It's the simplest. Logistically it is a big mountain, there's a lot of days on that mountain compared to like Kelly or something. But it's our proof of concepts. We definitely need to grow a following to keep this going. So the goals are to deliver for the brands that we're engaged with and then I want them to be thrilled to work with us next time. The other goal is like, I wanted this foundation to be like pure romantic adventures is four buddies trying to do this, trying to make it happen. Because that's what it is. Like we're tooth and claw trying to make this happen and, have that really be the foundation that we build this thing on.

André: So I mean I'm taking a fly pole with me and we're going to have as much fun, meet as many people along the way as time allows and just soak up experience. I wanted to get to Southern Patagonia for a long time and this is my chance.

Jeff: You have a cool children's book too? I've heard.

André: I do. It's due to go to print here. It's just self self published. I raised money to support it. It's called André's wild ride. It was joy writers. So we have a film coming out, Pablo Jarana who's a total bad ass videographer, filmmaker, climber. I mean go watch Alex Honnold on ritual he like goes on a two minute tangent about Pablo and what next level fitness looks like. So he has made this film about race across America and so he's trying to finish that up.

André: So joy writer.com you can find out about that. And then the children's book. Yeah, just going to fulfill the people that helped me pay this illustrator. I found this guy online out of Greece who's an amazing watercolor painter and it's just on the way back from Ram, I had some people poking me like it's a good time to write a bio and I had zero desire. I still have zero to desire early to like write about myself. I thought children's book because the way the kids reacted to the bike and I had this raps, Springer van that it was like the circus was in town. They all reacted well too. So I was like, all right, here's a fun, simple project. You have the geography of coast to coast and mountains and desert and being hot and cold and tired, a little mythical magic thrown in and it's shows about... So going to print that, you can order on the website. And again, like it was just a fun, positive projects hopefully kids like it.

Dave: Eric and Jeff, any last words of wisdom? This guy's going to be at the top of Aconcagua in just a few weeks. What do you guys advise?

Jeff: I will just simply say, suffer well my friend, suffer well.

André: Thank you.

Jeff: And I think that means... That that's got several meanings but embrace the suck and enjoy, enjoy as much as you can enjoy and I can't wait to follow man. I'm excited for you.

André: Thanks Jeff.

Erik: I really like your idea of making sure that you're there and experiencing this thing fully. I think you already said it. I just appreciate you saying that because it's not the finish line, right? The thing you're doing is... It has value in itself and it's so easy to think about the sponsors and the pressure and the finish line and then, you remove yourself from the experience, but somehow being able to have this kind of high stakes thing but also at the same time being able to actually enjoy it and live it, that's the thing that when we reached the end of our lives, you're going to be psyched on.

André: Cool. I appreciate it. I mean definitely look up to you guys, not just for accomplishments but just the... I mean the wealth of experience that you've accumulated. It's definitely motivating.

Jeff: Well, you're clearly doing it for the right reasons, bro. And that's, that on its own Testament, separates you from a lot and with that intention, just that pure intention, you're good. Like no matter what happens, you're good. You got to figure it out already at a very young age. So proud that you came and spent some time with us prior to your big journey.

Dave: Thanks André. If you are interested in following the journey or going to any of the resources like the documentary film or the book, please check our show notes. We will add those links. André, good luck to you.

Dave: Eric, Jeff, what did you hear that really stuck out for you?

Erik: I'll blunder forward here and just say that André it was a really interesting interview because he's such an authentic man, but, sometimes we're looking for like these recipes, right? Like no barriers, right? And I think about it in terms of a map and are there elements, are there pieces along the way? Are there takeaways? Are there rules? Right? And André is just sort of, he sort of broke some of that stuff, which I think is really cool. I think it's good to have rules broken like just the simplest things. Like he doesn't use a trainer, overcame or at least wrapped his head around some alcohol challenges but not in the traditional ways has questions that still haven't been answered, isn't comfortable with the finish line, just some really interesting, very authentic things that sort of break out of the mold of the kind of stories that we've heard.

Jeff: I should've gone first. Damn it, you stole everything I was going to say. But I wrote down authentic and like triple underlined that because I think that with the outdoor industry and especially these days with the contemporary hard chargers, there's this, this almost a little bit of a layer of questioning the intention. And as I mentioned, I just get the sense from André, like he's like, "Ah, I mean, I don't know about the website. I don't know. I just want to go have this experience. I want to see where my body and my brain can go with my bros." And man, that's so refreshing. That's really cool. I don't need no telemetry thing. I don't need to know my heart rate, my threshold, I just want to go out and charge and have this cool experience to see where I can go with it.

Jeff: And that's just very cool. And I like I mentioned to him at the end with that mindset, he's, he's okay, he's good. Like, and I have all the confidence in the world that those fellows will get where they're supposed to go.

Erik: And honest about like, "Hey, I'm still wrestling with a lot." There is no finish line ever for any of us to be honest with you.

Jeff: Right. And life doesn't take place on the summit. Right, it takes place on the flanks of the mountain every day and he's got that wired in him and that's a... It's a really a cool framework to work off of.

Dave: Well let's finish with that word of wisdom from our very own Jeff Evans. Thank you guys for another great podcast. If you want to support no barriers, one of the best things you can do is share this podcast with a friend. Spread the word. We'd love to grow our listenership. You can check out more at no barriers.usa.org thank you. See you next time. No barriers.

Dave: Thanks to all of you for listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at no barrierspodcast.com, special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for our intro song, which is called guidance. The production team behind this podcast includes producers, [Phonetic Diedrich Jonk] and [Phonetic Palling Schaffer]. sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jamie Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.

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Moriah (Mo) Leuthauser grew up in a small town in Western Colorado. There she spent time outside with her family- skiing, backpacking, climbing and camping. She was introduced to adaptive recreation through an internship with a nonprofit organization that offered recumbent cycling tours from Telluride to Moab for disabled veterans. She was inspired to get involved with adaptive recreation after seeing the joy and healing that she had witnessed it bringing.  She attended Grand Canyon University, where she worked as a guide in the outdoor recreation program and received her Wilderness First Responder certification. Then, she worked at the National Ability Center as an adaptive ski instructor and as an adaptive raft guide for multi day rafting trips. During this time, she earned her PSIA Adaptive Level 1 cert and her Swift Water Rescue Level 4 cert. She now works for No Barriers as the Warriors Program Coordinator, but most enjoys opportunities to be in the field. In her free time, she enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, board games and gardening. She hopes for a future where outdoor recreation is more accessible for all people and she plans to devote her career to this cause.