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No Barriers Podcast Episode 125: Regaining Purpose with Mark Yearsley



This episode is brought to you by our supporters at CoBank. In honor of 9/11, we interviewed an old friend and No Barriers Warrior, Mark Yearsley. Mark is a Gulf War veteran who, despite many challenges hopes to pass on the same encouragement and enthusiasm he received and inspire others to create their own stories of success while living a No Barriers Life.

Mark served in the United States Air Force for ten years, starting out as an aircraft mechanic. He loved his job but was looking for more challenges, so he switched to air traffic control for the remainder of his time in service. During a deployment in Kuwait, he sustained injuries resulting in his right leg needing to be amputated above the knee. He went into a deep depression and lost all hope and was very inactive.

Eventually, he found outdoor therapy programs like No Barriers and regained purpose and meaning in his life. Now he is the Founder and Executive Director of Outdoor Salute to Veterans. There are 22 veterans that commit suicide every day and OSTV strives to reduce these numbers by taking disabled veterans on outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, rafting, rock climbing, and camping.

Mark has also been married to his wife for 34 years and has three wonderful and successful children and five beautiful grandchildren.

Special thanks to CoBank for sponsoring today’s episode in a series highlighting Veterans.

Resources:

Outdoor Salute to Veterans: https://outdoorsalutetoveterans.com/ 

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Episode Transcript

Erik Weihenmayer:
A very special thanks to CoBank for their commitment to veterans, and for sponsoring today's podcast, in a series highlighting veterans and the people who help them thrive.

Mark Yearsley:
When you go through challenges that builds your confidence. And telling myself, instead of "No, you can't do this," "Hey, I can do this."

Mark Yearsley:
And so many times before my climb, I was focusing on my disabilities, not the abilities that I had to adapt. Climbing Gannett Peak did that for me.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle.

Erik Weihenmayer:
My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind.

Erik Weihenmayer:
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.

Erik Weihenmayer:
In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in in the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call No Barriers.

SFX:
(singing)

Erik Weihenmayer:
In honor of 9/11, we interviewed an old friend and No Barriers warrior Mark Yearsley. Mark is a Gulf War veteran who despite many challenges, hopes to pass on the same encouragement and enthusiasm he received to inspire others to create their own stories of success while living a No Barriers Life.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Mark served in the United States Air Force for 10 years, starting out as an aircraft mechanic. He loved his job, but was looking for more challenges. So he switched to air traffic control for the remainder of his time in service.

Erik Weihenmayer:
During a deployment in Kuwait, he sustained injuries resulting in his right leg needing to be amputated above the knee. He went into a deep depression and lost all hope.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Eventually he found outdoor therapy programs like No Barriers, and regained purpose and meaning in his life. Now, he is the founder and executive director of Outdoor Salute to Veterans.

Erik Weihenmayer:
There are 22 veterans that commit suicide every day, and Outdoor Salute to Veterans strives to reduce these numbers by taking disabled veterans on outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, rafting, rock climbing and camping.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Mark has also been married to his wife for 34 years, and have three wonderful and successful children and five beautiful grandchildren. Enjoy the conversation.

Dave Shurna:
I'm really excited by today's conversation. As you heard in the intro, this episode is sponsored by CoBank, one of the longtime sponsors of our veterans expeditions.

Dave Shurna:
And today we're bringing into the show one of our former veterans and having a conversation with Mark about not just his experience with us, but all the wonderful things he's done, the things he's gone through in his life and the struggles he's had. So Erik, welcome to the show.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thank you. Then Mark, you're also alumni of our No Barriers Program, so it's great to reconnect with you. I'm assuming you're in Idaho right now?

Mark Yearsley:
Yes, I am.

Erik Weihenmayer:
At your house? Yeah, cool.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Sweet. Well, thanks for joining us. And it's so good to hear your voice again.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, it's great to be here.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Now, you were talking before about a story, because now you're into kayaking. Why don't we just launch right in? So you got into kayaking and what happened recently?

Mark Yearsley:
Well, a couple of weeks ago I was kayaking the North Payette River here in Idaho, and hit a Class IV rapid. It was kind of a curler wave that curled over the top of me. But the impact of the water on my chest made me spit out my dentures. So I'm going through this water and before I know it, my dentures are bouncing off my kayak into the river.

Mark Yearsley:
I saw them float up a couple of times and I tried to grab them, but now it's fish bait.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Man, I'm going to do that sometime Dave, be waterskiing and maybe both my prosthetic eyes will pop out or something.

Dave Shurna:
Oh my God. [crosstalk 00:04:24] The two of you together, being on the river with you guys, looking for eyeballs and dentures, that'd be really fun.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I think that's a movie script we need to start writing.

Mark Yearsley:
Oh, boy. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Well you sound fine and yeah, I bet you look fine too.

Mark Yearsley:
If it's out of my control, I don't even worry about it. So I just laugh about it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dave Shurna:
Now Mark, you and Erik joined an expedition together years ago that was part of a No Barriers program. I'd love to hear a little bit about that experience, both from you, Erik and Mark. Because I understand it was pretty extraordinary for you.

Mark Yearsley:
It was intense. You want me only go first or do you want to go, Erik?

Erik Weihenmayer:
No, you talk, Mark.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, it was an incredible experience. Prior to that, I sat in my wheelchair feeling sorry for myself. I lost hope and purpose in life. And Brian Smith asked me, he says, "Would you be interested in going on a packing trip as an organization?"

Mark Yearsley:
I'm like, "Well, yeah, I guess, something." So I did the interview anyway. At the time I weighed about 305 pounds. I passed the interview, got selected to climb Gannett Peak in 2015.

Mark Yearsley:
It was the pinnacle of my life from that point: the training camps or whatnot, the affirmation that was given to me by the staff, it was incredible. But also the discipline I had to take to even attempt to climb Gannett Peak. And we had several months to do so.

Mark Yearsley:
But the first thing after our first training camp, I realized, "Man, I've got to lose some weight or I'm not going to make it."

Erik Weihenmayer:
Because Mark, that's part of the point of the expedition. It doesn't begin when you start climbing Gannett. It begins when you get accepted and now you go, "Okay, I got this big goal ahead. I better focus. I'm in a wheelchair right now and I'm overweight, but man, I need to get ready." So it focuses your mind for something, right?

Mark Yearsley:
It really does. This is something I really wanted to do. I was tired of sitting in my chair, and that affects my family too. I put my family through quite a trial after my leg was amputated.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And we'll talk about that down the road, for sure.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. But anyway, make a long story short, I went to the training camps and it came time to climb Gannett Peak. I lost 120 pounds in my training. I started out walking a half a block, which is all I could do, and worked myself up to five miles a day.

Mark Yearsley:
Then I put on a 50-pound pack and worked myself up to five miles a day with a 50-pound pack. Then I worked myself up to 10 miles a day; this was something I wasn't going to quit on or give up on.

Mark Yearsley:
I mean, my mind was set, I had the support. There was not only my family, but the No Barriers Team as well.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Mark, didn't I hear a cool story as well? That as you started walking ... By the way, people should know, because we haven't really addressed this yet. You're above-the-knee amputee, right?

Mark Yearsley:
I am.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That makes it a lot harder. I mean, if you've got a knee joint, it makes things a lot easier. So you got your work cut out for you and you're walking, carrying all those packs.

Erik Weihenmayer:
But the story I heard was that it had been tough on your family. So you were walking, and your wife started walking with you. And because of that, you guys got a little closer, maybe?

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, we did. As I was working out prepping for our climb, my wife joined me, which gave us a lot of one-on-one time. It built our relationship up, got us more close and yeah, it just roller coastered from there.

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's cool that there are these unseen side benefits that you may not have realized in the process of losing weight and training. You reconnect with your wife; I think that's really beautiful.

Erik Weihenmayer:
When you guys would walk and train, would you guys talk and-

Mark Yearsley:
Oh yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, and just have a good time together.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, communication is key, it's good for both of us. We adjusted our diets and worked out, and things were good. Things were looking up.

Mark Yearsley:
I've known a few veterans where their spouses have left them after they're injured, because they don't want deal with it. But my support team with my family and my kids, it affected everybody I was around. My whole personal persona, so to speak, really changed.

Dave Shurna:
Mark, for our listeners who aren't familiar with above-knee amputation and listen to the story say, "Wait, he's in a chair, 300-plus pounds. And then all of a sudden he's walking."

Dave Shurna:
How are you walking? Are you using, adaptive equipment? Tell us a little bit about how you're walking at this time as you're learning to get back in shape.

Mark Yearsley:
Right. I'm an above-knee amputee. So the VA built me a socket with a liner and gave me a leg, which I really didn't use. I just put it in the corner, collecting dust prior to my going to trainings for Gannett Peak.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, once I was selected, I put my leg on and started walking. Then I started getting more advanced [inaudible 00:10:17] to help me do the activities that I wanted to do, which was quite beneficial. When we climbed on one of our training camps, we climbed St. Mary's there in Colorado.

Erik Weihenmayer:
The glacier.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. The snow is like four feet deep. For an above-knee amputee to walk through four-foot-deep snow, that is tough. I almost quit after that event, because I'm heavy.

Mark Yearsley:
That was one of our first training camps. I'm almost 300 pounds now and trying to walk through four foot of snow. I'm like, "Man, am I going to be able to do this?"

Erik Weihenmayer:
Also, don't you have complications around your prosthetic because your stump ... I know Hugh Herr told me. he's an amputee. He told me, "You call it technically a residual limb. Don't call it a stump." But I like to say the word "stump" because it's more blunt.

Erik Weihenmayer:
But anyway, it shrinks when you are out there in the field. You get sweaty, it shrinks, it expands, you get blisters on that stump. That sock that goes around it can rub in the wrong way.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So you have the weight issue, but you also have the technical problems. Barriers around trying to get that prosthetic right.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, the sweat. I wear a silicone liner over my residual limb. The sweat builds up so my leg starts to twist. And boy, when we did St. Mary's, I had blisters on my blisters. I was bleeding when I got done. But I decided to push through.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, what an amazing program. We bring vets and we make them bleed again.

Dave Shurna:
I know. Doesn't it sound incredible?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Yeah. What a great advertisement for No Barriers.

Dave Shurna:
Totally. Totally.

Erik Weihenmayer:
First trip I came home, I dragged myself home on my hands. There was a trail of blood behind me.

Dave Shurna:
I'm just sad we didn't organize the kayak trip that made him lose his teeth.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Nice.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, so ...

Erik Weihenmayer:
So what'd you learn on that first trip, Mark?

Mark Yearsley:
That I needed to do some work and get serious about it. So I set my mind and I started to discipline myself, which is hard to do. It's easy to, when you're depressed, to sit on your couch and not want to do anything. So I decided to proceed and push forward. And that's what I did.

Mark Yearsley:
Like I said before, I started working out, climbing up and down the Snake River Canyon here in Twin Falls, which is a 500-foot incline and 300 feet. It's quite a steep process.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Now, I remember when you were writing notes to the team and staying in touch throughout your training, you would come back for the different in-person trainings and you would say, "Hey, I lost 25 pounds. I lost 50 pounds. I've lost 70 pounds."

Erik Weihenmayer:
I remember going, "What?" Then I remember it going above 100 pounds. Did you really lose 120 pounds or something like that?

Mark Yearsley:
I did. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I bet you look devilishly handsome.

Mark Yearsley:
Oh, I am now. And I believe it or not, I've kept it off. Yeah, that trip was the pinnacle, like I said, for my future. It made quite a difference for my future, which I'll get into here in a little bit later.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Give us the highlights of Gannett, climbing the tallest peak in Wyoming.

Mark Yearsley:
You-

Erik Weihenmayer:
You had quite an adventure.

Mark Yearsley:
Oh, yeah, I- [crosstalk 00:14:08]

Erik Weihenmayer:
Where you established your nickname, by the way. You want to tell the community your nickname?

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. While we're climbing St. Mary's Glacier, Jeff Evans, he was with us. He's well known in the climbing industry, but I just kept going and going and going.

Mark Yearsley:
He looked at me and he says, "You want to take this easier route up this way? Or do you just want to go straight up?" I says, "Let's just go up." So we went straight up and we got to the top.

Mark Yearsley:
He says, "You know what?" He says, "You are the kind of person that does not give up." And he says, "You remind me of the gladiator back in them days." He says, "They keep fighting and they keep fighting. They keep fighting. They never give up." He says, "So now I'm going to call you Gladiator."

Mark Yearsley:
So I adopted that nickname. Got it tattooed on me, actually. And I'm still known as Gladiator to my friends.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Awesome.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah.

Dave Shurna:
Oh my God, I love it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, now the whole world knows it. They'll all be calling you Gladiator on social media.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, everybody calls me Gladiator now. When I do multi-day rafting trips, it's Gladiator.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. So back to the trip, because we had quite an adventure. It wasn't all puppydog tails and flowers; it was pretty hard. There were some boulder fields, you had some health issues. It turned out to be pretty exciting.

Mark Yearsley:
It really did. It was six days up and first couple of days I was strong. Then the following days after that, I started getting weaker and weaker, and I started vomiting. Got to high camp, I started blacking out and vomiting for two days, hoping I'd get better, thinking it was just altitude sickness.

Mark Yearsley:
Finally, after a second day, Jeff Evans; he's a PA; he's like, "I think we need to get you off this mountain."

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Some kind of weird bug, because I got it towards the end, Mark, I remember. And I was doing the same thing, throwing up. Yeah, it went through the whole team, essentially.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, and it's- [crosstalk 00:16:24]

Erik Weihenmayer:
More great advertising for No Barriers- [crosstalk 00:16:26]

Mark Yearsley:
No, and that's hard to sleep at 10 or 11,000 feet. I wasn't getting any sleep, I was sicker than a dog. I couldn't hardly stand up, I was so weak.

Mark Yearsley:
Anyway, that morning Jeff comes out. He says, "Man, we need to get you off the mountain." He says, "But here's the deal. We can't get you on horseback or helicopter in here to get you out. So you got to walk nine miles out of here like this."

Mark Yearsley:
And keep in mind, I could barely stand. And when I did, I'd black out; my eyes would just go black. And I says, "Well, we don't have a choice." I says, "Let's head out."

Mark Yearsley:
That nine miles was the hardest thing I'd ever done. There was one point in time when it took us five-and-a-half hours to get through a mile-and-a half of boulder fields, jumping from boulder to boulder.

Mark Yearsley:
I'd get from one boulder to the next, my eyes would black out, Jeff had me tied off.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Because I remember there was those deep gaps between the boulders where you wouldn't want to fall down there. Some of them were pretty deep.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. The boulders are sizes of buses and Volkswagens. Deep crevasses. So yeah, you don't want to fall in. After we got through the boulder field, I thought, "Well, this is downhill from here."

Mark Yearsley:
Well, I haven't voided any liquids out of my body for four days. I was swollen up like a balloon, sicker than sick, blacking out all the time.

Mark Yearsley:
And there was a point on the way back down where I laid under a rock and I told Jeff, I says, "I don't know if I can do this." I said, "To be honest with you, I just want to go to sleep. And this is a perfect place to die."

Mark Yearsley:
And he says, "That's not an option, Mark." He says, "Your mind and your will is stronger than your body." He says, "Let's get up. Let's keep busting through."

Erik Weihenmayer:
You're the Gladiator, man.

Mark Yearsley:
That's right. So we kept going and kept going. After nine miles, we finally got on horseback and rode to the cowboy camp, spent the night there. Next day, got up and rode the rest of the way out 20 miles on horseback. That's a 30-mile trek one way.

Mark Yearsley:
We got to the hospital. I went in, I had a total renal failure. I had a lot of poison in my blood, I was sick.

Mark Yearsley:
But I think that challenge right there proved to me that yes, I can set my mind and I can do anything that I set my mind to. Anything. And from that point on, it just changed my whole life. Now I'm- [crosstalk 00:19:23]

Erik Weihenmayer:
Did you know the expedition was going to be that hard? Did you know?

Mark Yearsley:
No, I didn't. I knew it was going to be a tough challenge.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right. But you didn't know it would be that hard. And why the heck would you sign up for that, then?

Mark Yearsley:
To become a better person, that's why. Like I said, [inaudible 00:19:41] nobody likes to be around somebody that's always negative and complaining. And that was me.

Mark Yearsley:
People just tend to stay away from me and say, "Nah." They'll call, see how you're doing, but they don't want to be around anybody that's always negative. That's hard.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Describe that part of your life, if you could, Mark, that phase of your life. You had lost your leg in the military; you chose to have it amputated, by the way, which is wild. But you were depressed and felt pretty isolated, I've read, and I got from talking to you.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. After I was injured in the service, I went through 21 reconstructive surgeries trying to reconstruct my knee. It was to the point where it was beyond repair, so they put me in a wheelchair for a few years, and on high doses of morphine.

Mark Yearsley:
The quality of life was horrible. I'm dragging my family, my kids, my friends, I'm dragging them all down with me. But they loved me and they supported me.

Mark Yearsley:
So I finally made a choice and I says, "My quality of life is not good." I says, "I need to get off the drugs. I need to start walking again."

Mark Yearsley:
So I went to the surgeon and I says, "Here's the deal. My life sucks, and I would like to walk again. So I think it would be best if we just went ahead and amputated the leg, put me in a prosthetic and let me work it out from there."

Mark Yearsley:
It was a challenge. After they did take the leg, I had to completely learn how to walk again, above knee, on parallel bars. I was always tripping on the carpet or a little rock would make me fall. So yeah, a lot of falls. It was real challenge, losing a leg. And depending on your prosthetic that you can't feel, anyway.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, that put me in another state of depression. I thought it would help, but not until I started climbing.

Dave Shurna:
Mark, what was the span of time between that amputation and then when you started to train for this trip? How long had passed?

Mark Yearsley:
Let's see, 2009 ... about five years. Five, six years.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You struggled for years with adjusting to that.

Mark Yearsley:
Oh yeah. Yeah. It was tough. I've been an avid hunter and an avid fisherman all my life, and I didn't do anything. I was just a zombie pretty much in my chair, my wife taking care of me.

Mark Yearsley:
Sometimes you have to let your pride go away to receive help from your spouse. That was also hard. Yeah, quite a few challenges.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Was there a moment, Mark, or a series of moments where you realized, "I need to change something"? What was your behavior like at the time? And was there something you remember that you can pinpoint to say, "Okay, that was kind of the moment"?

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. There's actually a couple moments. A year after I had my leg amputated, I got in an auto accident and broke my back in four places. So all these things kept snowballing on me, and I didn't know what to do.

Mark Yearsley:
I started snapping at my kids and my wife. Then I felt bad one time after I snapped at my wife. And I says, "Man, this is not right." I says, "I need to change." And if you want to change, you got to change something. You can't keep things the way they are. So that's why I decided to do Gannett Peak.

Dave Shurna:
When I'm listening to this I'm thinking, "Okay, you've decided you need to make some changes. You haven't been walking, you're overweight." What is it about in your mind? Because you were with a team of vets who all had different sorts of issues.

Dave Shurna:
Why did these vets choose to do something crazy, like hiking 30 miles up a mountain? It seems like there could be something smaller to start with on the road to recovery. What is it about these outdoor experiences in your mind that's so powerful?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, we could have gone to a No Barriers Pie-Eating Contest or something like that. It would have been a lot easier.

Mark Yearsley:
But there was no challenge. I mean, yeah, you got the competition in a pie-eating contest, but there's no challenge as far as your physical.

Mark Yearsley:
I mean, when you're laid up, you haven't walked for years. You're 300 pounds. You're looking for a challenge because you want to change, a drastic change.

Mark Yearsley:
And to be around other veterans that have experienced similar cases and the depression and whatnot, anxiety or whatever the case may be. Things never change, regardless of what branch you were. It's like a brotherhood.

Mark Yearsley:
That's the one thing I liked in our training camps, is the one-on-one and being able to get close to those veterans that I was climbing with. Also just talking to overcome the obstacles that everybody is facing: not only yourself, but everybody else.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Do you remember some of the team? Obviously you do, but some of their specific challenges; is there a feeling of connection? You know what I mean? Like, "Man, you're struggling with this and I'm struggling with that." Was there some leaning in?

Mark Yearsley:
There really was. There was another amputee, a below-knee amputee, [Gina 00:25:32], her and I got close struggling together, trying to figure out how to stop these blisters and changing liners and ...

Mark Yearsley:
Her and I worked together, talked, we went through a lot of frustrating times together. But we went through a lot of joyful times together. Whenever we'd summit, I mean, that was the ultimate. Then I'd keep going, got bigger and bigger and bigger. We kept doing more mountains, more challenges.

Mark Yearsley:
And when you go through challenges, that builds your confidence. The training camps to me were a confidence builder. I'm telling myself, instead of, "No, you can't do this," "Hey, I can do this."

Mark Yearsley:
I've got a nonprofit organization I started; that was my pledge with No Barriers. Our motto is "Veterans focusing on abilities, not disabilities."

Mark Yearsley:
So many times before my climb, I was focusing on my disabilities, not the abilities that I had to adapt with what I had. No Barriers, climbing Gannett Peak did that for me.

Dave Shurna:
And it sounds like it set you on a trajectory a bit. Where has it led you? You just mentioned your nonprofit; I'm sure that's one place that's led you.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. And tell us about that too, Mark. Outdoor Salute to Veterans is the name of it. We'll put the link in the Show Notes for folks to check it out. Tell us where it's led you.

Dave Shurna:
And just to build the foundation: At the end of these programs, and in the beginning, we have you talk about pledged a No Barriers Pledge, which is a challenge that you might not have done otherwise.

Mark Yearsley:
Right. After the climb, the day our debriefing, when we got off Gannett Peak, we met as a group and I broke down crying. I says, "Where do I go from here? What am I going to do?" Because I had focused myself so much on my training and my preparation to make it to the top of Gannett. And now all of a sudden it's over.

Mark Yearsley:
I'm not with my friends, I'm not going to training camps anymore. What do I do from here? And I broke down because I didn't know what to do.

Mark Yearsley:
But the pledge started me off, because I wanted to give back. So my pledge was to start a nonprofit organization, and it's called Outdoor Salute to Veterans.

Mark Yearsley:
I started it right after the climb immediately, because I had to put my focus somewhere else. Because Gannett Peak was over and I had to do something else.

Mark Yearsley:
Anyway, I got a board together. Part of my board at the time, [inaudible 00:28:36] IRS auditors, an attorney, and some pretty legitimate people helping me out here to get it organized. Anyway, we put it together and filed with the IRS for our 501(c)(3).

Mark Yearsley:
We're approved, we're five years into it now. And we take veterans with disabilities on multi-day whitewater rafting trips, elk-hunting trips; I'm taking six veterans out this year. Camping, fishing, just any outdoor activity to get those veterans that were like me off of their couches.

Mark Yearsley:
I focus on those veterans that are having a challenge or a difficult time, and don't know how to overcome their obstacles. The last five years, we'd taken well over 100 veterans, and the stories are just incredible.

Mark Yearsley:
Relationships saved. People continuing on again and giving back, like what you guys did for me, they're paying it forward.

Dave Shurna:
You're paying it forward, Mark. Do you remember any specific stories of people that you brought through your program that maybe reminded you of yourself maybe five years ago or eight years ago?

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, actually a couple. Like I said before, there's one individual, his marriage was on the rocks. I got him out and ...

Mark Yearsley:
It's not also the activity, but the interaction, and able to open up with somebody that you can trust. That's huge, even with No Barriers at our training camps at night during a camp. It's not necessarily all the activity, but the interaction with other people.

Mark Yearsley:
Anyway, his wife was getting ready to leave him. And after talking, we started talking about his behaviors, what he's like at home. How he treats his wife, how he treats his kids.

Mark Yearsley:
Kind of like the way I was; I started snapping at everybody, thinking it was okay, but it's not. And to this day, they're still happily married and doing very good.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, I have stories like that all the time. When I take people hunting, we'll be trekking along and I see they're struggling.

Mark Yearsley:
I'll look back and I say, "Are you okay? Do we need to take a break?" And they look at me and they say, "Listen, if you can do this, then I can definitely do it." So we just keep trekking along.

Mark Yearsley:
But to see that puts a challenge to other people as well. They see what you can overcome, and that's like, "Hey, I'm not so bad after all."

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. And Mark, if we have veterans out there listening who say, "Oh man, I'd love to get out and raft or go hunting," tell us about the process. How do they apply, or do they apply? Tell us that side of the story.

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. We've got a website, www.outdoorsalutetoveterans.com, all one word. We got pictures on there of what we're doing, activities. There's an application that you can fill out, just mail it the address posted. Yeah, we'll do our best to get you out.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Mark, one last question before we take off here. And that is, you have this prosthetic, you're an amputee. I imagine at first you had some disappointment. I don't know, maybe shame; I'm not really sure. You know what the feelings are at first.

Erik Weihenmayer:
But through your journey, through your experience, has that prosthetic become a point of pride? You know what I mean? Almost like an amulet or like a symbol that you survived. Right? You-

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah. Every day is a pain in the butt.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Okay. I'm trying to make too much of a symbol out of it- [crosstalk 00:32:51]

Mark Yearsley:
Yeah, but you learn to adapt to things, like my whitewater kayak. I took an old socket, which goes around my residual limb; and I bolted it to my whitewater kayak because I can't wear my leg while I'm kayaking. So yeah, I adapted my whitewater kayak. You learn to adapt things to what you have, but it has.

Mark Yearsley:
I mean, people look at me and see what I'm doing with a prosthetic. And they do realize it is kind of an icon, so to speak.

Mark Yearsley:
I still get a lot of funny looks when I go to the grocery store. It's kind of sad, too. Because you go to the grocery store and these little kids are really interested in your leg, but it's the parents that are like, "Oh, shush, shush, don't talk to him." It's like you got a disease.

Mark Yearsley:
I try to interact with the kids, let them know, "Hey, no, it's not normal." The same with my grandkids: me having a prosthetic is normal to them. They don't know any better.

Mark Yearsley:
So yeah, it's a challenge, but it is an icon at the same time.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Cool.

Mark Yearsley:
But overcome and adapt, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Right.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well Mark, it's always good to catch up with the Gladiator and hear how things are going. And for those listeners who are interested in learning more, check our Show Notes and check out Mark's amazing nonprofit. You can support it. I understand you can make donations. I think you guys have an annual golf tournament as well. And that's all based out of what location, Mark?

Mark Yearsley:
Out of the Burley Twin Falls, Idaho, that area there.

Mark Yearsley:
One other thing I want to add. Since I climbed Gannett Peak, I'm an avid rock climber, avid hunter, whitewater kayaking. I mean, there's no limitations to what you can do, even if you think, "I can't do that." It's just a matter of saying yes, you can and adapt to make it happen. That makes life so much better.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Also, I know this episode will air on September 11th. Mark, thank you for your service and honor all the folks lost on 9/11. Also all the service men and women who we've lost over the years. So just a moment of respect and prayers for those folks.

Dave Shurna:
Yes.

Mark Yearsley:
Yes, absolutely. It's hard losing friends, and it's important to remember those that have given us so much for the freedoms that we have today.

Mark Yearsley:
You know how they say, people that complain: "You've got running water, you've got a roof over your head. Go to a third-world country where you're living in a box and begging for your next meal. That'll help you really appreciate what you do have, living here in America."

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Great, good gratitude. Well, thank you so much, Mark. No Barriers to you. I'm so proud of all you've been doing with your life. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the next event.

Mark Yearsley:
Oh, it was great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Thank you so much, Mark. I hope that you all enjoyed listening to this story today.

Dave Shurna:
If you enjoyed the conversation, please share it with one other person, the best way for us to continue to grow our No Barriers Community is to spread the word. Sharing it with one other person helps us grow our podcast community.

Dave Shurna:
If you're a veteran out there and you hear the story and you want to participate in Mark's program, we'll put the website there.

Dave Shurna:
And if you want to participate in No Barriers Warriors Program, we offer expeditions all throughout the summer and fall. You can check that out at nobarriersusa.org.

Dave Shurna:
Mark, thank you so much. Erik, thanks for another great conversation.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Cool. Thanks all. No Barriers.

 

Erik Weihenmayer:
We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers Podcast possible. Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, Aero Electronics, and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support. It means everything to us.

Erik Weihenmayer:
The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer, Pauline Shafer. Sound, design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman. And marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie DiNardo, Erica Hoey, and Alex [Sheehy 00:37:35]. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening.

Erik Weihenmayer:
If you enjoyed this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.

 



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