No Barriers Podcast Episode 188: Quinn Brett & Jason Stoffer

about the episode

This duo took the Grand Canyon head-on, from one side to the other and back again, with nothing but their grit and trusty hand cycles — or “trikes” as they like to call them. Why trikes? Because they are both paralyzed from the waist down. Jason was injured in a rollover vehicle crash. Quinn, from a fall while climbing a giant wall of granite, the famed El Capitan in California. 

Their journey, marked by both physical, mental, and bureaucratic challenges, sheds light on wider issues faced by individuals with disabilities, offering insights that are as instructive as they are inspiring.

Episode Transcript

Didrik Johnck:
Welcome, welcome to the No Barriers podcast hosted by Erik Weihenmayer. We'll
join Erik in a moment, where he guides us through the remarkable narratives of
our guests, Quinn Brett and Jason Stoffer.
This duo took the Grand Canyon head on, from one side to the other and back
again, with nothing but their grit and trusty hand cycles, or trikes as they
like to call them.

Why trikes? Because they're both paralyzed from the waist down.
Jason was injured in a rollover vehicle crash, Quinn from a fall while climbing
a giant wall of granite, the famed El Capitan in California. Their journey,
marked by both physical, mental, and bureaucratic challenges, sheds light on
wider issues faced by individuals with disabilities, offering insights that are
instructive as they are inspiring.

All right, it's time to do what we always do on this show, Get real with people living a no barriers life and hopefully
today at least, Capture the essence of what it means to forge paths where none
seem to exist I'm producer Didrik Johnck, and this is the No Barriers podcast.

Erik Weihenmayer:
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, to 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.

Hey everyone, welcome to the no barriers podcast. This is Erik
Weihenmayer. I'm psyched to be with my two guests, Jason
and Quinn. Jason, you and I haven't met, but, uh,
Quinn, we've hung out and bike together and done some fun adventures together
and a big fan. I follow all of your nutty exploits.
And so it's great to have you back on the podcast.

And I know you guys just got back from, not just, but the last
couple of years, you guys got back from Rim to Rim on the Grand Canyon. We're
going to, of course, talk about all that. There's a cool film that's going to
come out, I guess, in festivals. And I know it's called Disabled Views, but
from my perspective, I'm going to rename it grunting and cursing because there
was no audio description. And my experience was different than the sighted

Quinn Brett: I was actually wondering that because Robbie just like quickly did
it for film festivals. I had wondered if it was, I was like, I wonder how Erik
would watch this yet.

Erik Weihenmayer: If
it catches on audio, describe it. Cause it's fun To
narrate, cool. Yeah.

Jason Stoffer:
Was there a lot of grunting in there? I, I guess I've watched it a couple of
times and,

Erik Weihenmayer:
Watch it with your eyes closed.

Quinn Brett: Yeah.

Jason Stoffer:
Okay. All right. Excellent. that sounds like a good,
sounds like a good exercise.

Erik Weihenmayer: I
did a crazy adventure. I did the rim to rim when I was like 23 or something
like that.

And it was a nightmare. Oh my gosh. like my friend was ringing
a bell in front of me and the bell fell in the river. So
I had nothing to follow. And then there was all this lightning and snow at the
North rim that we were trudging through. And then his headlamp got wet and he couldn't see. And there were two blind people
sitting in the trail at midnight, saying, what are we going to do?

And then we finally got to the top and came back down and, uh,
made the mistake of, at that cantina, having a beer. And that just destroyed
me. I don't know what I was thinking. And then on the South rim, there were
Girl Scout troops passing me on the trail. I was totally crushed.

Jason Stoffer:
Did you get any cookies out of the deal?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Nothing. I got nothing except laughs. Derisive laughs. So how did you two meet? you guys did this big adventure together with your
team, but, I understand you guys met in Craig hospital. That's pretty cool.

Quinn Brett: Yeah, we
were injured about the same time and we were there for
rehabilitation for our spinal cord injuries at Craig Hospital here in Denver,

Erik Weihenmayer:
Then you said, Hey, you're a badass. And Jason, you're
like, Hey, you're a badass. We should hang out.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, of course. Right. Of course. I knew So a little bit about Quinn just
because my, my wife's, cousins, they are pretty avid
climbers and live in Colorado Springs. And they, they got ahold of us and said,
Hey, did you know, do you guys know there's this bad
ass climber at Craig right now?

Her name's Quinn Brett. And I was like, I had no, no clue, but,
uh, so yeah, we did run into each other that way. And because we were. Both we're similar levels. we are paraplegics, meaning
we're, we are injured, below the cervical level. so I
think Quinn's like a T 11 these days.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. So T is thoracic, so that's like mid-back.
Quinn, you're higher than Jason, right? You're like a T two or something,

Jason Stoffer:
No, so I'm an L so I'm in the lumbars. Oh, you're an
L. You're lumbar, so you're even lower.

Quinn Brett: He's a

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, that was my first, uh, thing I wanted to say about you guys, cheaters.

Jason Stoffer:
Which basically means, for me at least, the way the injury presents, and what
was spared in my accident, uh, is that I have, use of my quadriceps. And I have
some use of, I have use of my adductors, meaning I can squeeze my knees
together. I have hip flexors so I can raise my knees. And I have quadriceps so
I can extend my, I can extend my legs. So all that
together means that with the use of braces and crutches I can kind of hobble
around up on my own two feet from time to time.

Erik Weihenmayer: And
do you have ab muscles? Do your ab muscles work still?

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, I have full, full core. Uh, I have ab muscles somewhere under there. I've
never seen them, but I'm sure that they exist.

Erik Weihenmayer: For
you, Quinn, being, more, you know, higher injury, when you got into a hand
cycle for the first time, like my friend Dave Moon just became paralyzed, and
he was saying how tricky it is to be in a hand cycle because you have, your
balance is different and he was like tipping over, like he tips over three
times a ride.

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
did we, did he tell you we went on a ride like two weeks ago?

Erik Weihenmayer: No,
he did not.

Quinn Brett: I did,
and I got to see him tip over.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Poor guy, but he somehow recovers, right? I'm sure you've tipped over a lot,
but that must have been a challenge, right?

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
and I have gotten used to it. Yeah. So I have more
core Dave. I think, yeah, he's like T2, so he's nipples around the nipples, but
I'm like just below the belly button, like underwear line. So
I have a, I have the two pack or four pack of abs somewhere under there also.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. And describe, cause I, in the, uh, film and in the podcast
I've heard you keep talking about trikes, And I just call them mountain hand
cycles, but it's trike like a specific brand or.

Quinn Brett: No, I
think describe that for me. Yeah. Cause there are three wheeled things. It's
just like the easy one word thing rather than hand
cycle or mountain bike or whatever, we just call it trike.

Erik Weihenmayer: And
Jason, if people want to like, check out your trikes, tell me about your guys model and tell me about how cool it is because they're
amazing. Like describe them. if we have podcasters who are blind here.

Jason Stoffer:
Sure, absolutely. So the word trike itself is a funny
one. I always think of those things that we wrote as children, like big wheels
or something, but yeah, the trikes, these accessible, trikes, these machines
for being able to access the outdoors, like Quinn and I use them.

We have a specific type that is called a tadpole prone. Um,
tadpole, meaning that the two front wheels are actually, yeah, it is cute. A
little tadpole. The two front wheels are up at the front, up by our head. And
then the single, a wheel that's the drive wheel is actually
the back and those work pretty well and they're prone, meaning that
we have knee buckets that our knees fit in and then we bend over at the waist
and our chests lay on a chest plate.

And just below that chest plate, you have,the grips for your,for
cycling. so you cycle underneath your chest with your
arms. Uh, and you can use that chest plate is cool. it's made in such a way
that if you lean to the right or to the left, it'll actually
the wheels, so that you can roll right or left. so yeah,

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's beautiful engineering.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. Oh, it's incredible. Yeah. And so this specific
model is called, the bomber. The make is Reactive Adaptations out of, Crested
Butte, Colorado. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer: Is
that guy Jake still that amazing mechanic? Is he still after it? What's his
last name? O'Connor, maybe?

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
exactly. Nice job.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, he's amazing. I should have him on the podcast. back in the day, by the way, Quinn, before, I mean, I'm 55, so I got some
years on you, I think. But, I was on a ride with Steve
Ackerman, who I guess is technically a quad. Or maybe a high para. But anyway,
he was on this, that they used to call a one off had no shocks, by the way, no shocks.

And we went up Rollins pass and we
came down this bouncy, bumpy gravel road. And at the end I said, how do you
feel? And he said, I feel like I just got kicked in the butt. in the chest by a
mule. Yeah. So do you guys still feel that way or is
it a little bit better?

Jason Stoffer:
I have a one off, I have one of those.

Erik Weihenmayer:

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. I use it, if I really want to kick my ass, you know, going up cause it's
not power, that's not power assist. It's just really,
geared really far down. I mean, really low. So you can
do some good climbing with it, but there's no power assist and it does,it kicks your ass, but you

Saddle sore in the same way that you would if you rode horses
after a while, that pain in your ass just, uh, sort of goes away. You build up
this kind of saddle soreness in your chest. And Quinn could probably speak way
better to that in the tour divide, trip that she did that.

Erik Weihenmayer: Oh,
I want to ask you all about that. Quinn. That's cool. one more thing about the
hand cycles though. so I, I've seen some hand cycles
where people are sitting up, right? Like more just like sitting in a seat. So what's the advantages and disadvantages for folks?

Quinn Brett: So I would say it's injury dependent and experience

So like, I like this kneeling position one where I'm kind of
like in a cat cow position, because Jason and I have ab control, we can sit in
that position a little bit better because of our muscle function. Whereas if
you don't have that ab control, like Dave, for instance. He doesn't have very
many abs.

And so sitting in that kneeling
position would be hard. Whereas sitting in a more recumbent position where
you're just like, yeah, butt down and sitting upright, works better for the
lesser ab control or some folks who have like even reduced arm function. Those,
those types of bicycles and tricycles work better.

Jason Stoffer:
And one more advantage to the prone situation is that you can do a little bit
more technical riding, as you're going along. So if
you can imagine your in Moab, or wherever, and you're
on this trail and you've got boulders on either side of you and it gets a
little narrow. Well, sometimes, you... these trikes, uh, mobility devices,
whatever, there's so many names for these things that we use, but they're about
30, 32 to 36 inches wide in the front, and so that's pretty
for a trail.

So what will happen many times when
you get to these obstacles is you actually have to tilt, tilt and tip to the
side. So you're up at a 45 degree angle many times.
And so you're actually using your arms to brace
against that boulder or that tree or whatever it is so that you can kind of
maneuver yourself.

it's a very active,it's
a very active situation when you come up against these obstacles.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's wild. How did you guys come up with this specific idea? Because I think
the best ideas are usually drinking, you know, in a garage or something. But I
know, Quinn, you had done the Rim to Rim as an able bodied
woman, years ago. So you already had this idea, you
already knew the terrain and so forth. Did you just wonder, like, I wonder if I
could do it on a trike?

Quinn Brett: Yeah, I
think, I've been, like, randomly checking off the things that I've been, I
always had intended to make more time for in my able bodied
life, but I, there's just so many adventures I never went back.

And so with the Grand Canyon, I was
impressed with my first time doing it with my time and how well it went. And
I'd always wanted to go back and like better my time. And of course, as a
disabled person, riding a three wheeled tricycle, going down into the Grand
Canyon, I was certainly not going to set any speed records, but I still really
wanted to,

Erik Weihenmayer: um,
you could set the trike speed record for sure.

Quinn Brett: For

Erik Weihenmayer: I
think you did in fact, right?

Quinn Brett: We did.
And it's not fast.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Blind guys aren't much faster.

Jason Stoffer:
Well, I think it's the only, maybe that's what you were actually
to here, because it's, as far as we know, it's the only
crossing on a trike or on a hand cycle. Yeah, there's

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's why I like tandem biking. Um, I do races sometimes and they were like
winner of the tandem category. Well, actually we are
the only one in the category, but that's cool. I'll still take the gold.

Jason Stoffer:
We had done some research though, to figure out, I mean, not that we were doing
this, just to be the first to do that. Just, we were doing it because these are
the challenges that we need and are necessary in our life. But in our research
and trying to figure out what we're going to be up against found a couple of
folks that had or found out about a couple of folks who had crossed it with
spinal cord injuries. Yeah. Now one gent's name was Jared fence, Fenster

I think his name is, and he had a great and amazing dude. he
went down North Rim to Colorado and then up Bright Angel and had three able
bodied folks with him. But he was using this, grit, it's called a grit chair
and it's a, yeah, it's a great freedom chair.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Those things are pretty amazing too, huh?

Jason Stoffer:

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. We have a bunch of folks within No Barriers who use the grit chairs and
they're like cranking them instead of, It's turning
them, right?

Quinn Brett: Yeah.
Lever devices.

Erik Weihenmayer: I
don't want to give you guys all the credit cause I
know you guys had a good team around you. Tell me about your team.

Quinn Brett: Yeah. So I requested... first of all, like I, so I wanted to do
this adventure because it's a place that I wanted to return to, but I also
wanted it to be an awareness kind of thing.

So One of the jobs that I do is a
disability consultant, for adventures and wilderness trails. And so I wanted there to be more than one of us on a mobility
device. And so I invited some friends, Jason and
another gentleman named Ben, who lives in Salt Lake City. And then I requested
that every, for any hand cyclists that came, they needed to have at least one
able bodied partner.

And so my, I had my buddy, Robbie, who
was filming and my other buddy, Joe, who I did the tour divide with both of
those gentlemen joined me on the tour divide, and then Jason had his buddy, Kim
and Ben had his buddy. And then we had, another friend, Scotty, who also joined
to film. So we had a couple of filmmakers. I think in
total we had three trikes and five or six able bodied
folks. Is that right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's pretty powerful to think about your team and the
people that come along for these adventures and support you and you support
them. It's that kind of adds a fun element, I think, to it rather than you guys
just being solo.

Quinn Brett: Well,
for sure. And like for like Kim and Jason, for instance, they like worked
together all summer to get used to like when Jason gets tippy, how can Kim be
right? You know, they got used to the body language between the two of them and
helping each other on trail, to become a symbiotic

Erik Weihenmayer: And
these folks that are running along beside you.

Quinn Brett: yeah,

Erik Weihenmayer:
You're going down what 4, 500 feet on the south side across the And then up and down rolling terrain and then up like 6, 000
feet on the north side.

Quinn Brett: Right.

Erik Weihenmayer: So,
I mean, they gotta, they gotta
be fit athletes to be part of your team.

Quinn Brett: Yeah.
Like Stacy, she's an ultra runner and that's, that
who's, that's who's Ben partner was. And yeah, she's been doing a lot of long distance races and. Europe all summer and so she was
fit. Yeah. Everyone had...

Erik Weihenmayer: I
bet they were tired at the end too.

Quinn Brett: Oh yeah.
Well, and they are because of the shenanigans, as like sounds like you had
some, when you did rim to rim, we had some shenanigans and so we ha... like
they had to hike up to the rim and then come back down to us. So they added more mileage than we did.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Wow.

Jason Stoffer:
For those guys, it wound up being a mix of a marathon and a CrossFit, like an all day CrossFit workout. It was
the combination of those two. We, we had crossed and, I dunno
if you remember Manzanita, but Manzanita was a stop that we wound up calling it
'cause we had lost too much time in the day.

But we overnighted there, bivied,
down in the canyon, and very few of us had enough supplies. with us to do a
good safe, comfortable bivy anyhow, because it had
gotten to 40 degrees. So the rest of the crew ran, to
the top of the North rim to grab the supplies that we had up there in order to
make that overnight feasible and then had come back down.

So I think they may have logged close
to 30 miles, going, you know, by the, by the end of that day, and it was a
monstrous physical effort.

Quinn Brett: The
area. Wow. Machines, these folks. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Tell me about the technical challenges which are numerous
and we could spend hours talking about the technical challenges of the width of
the trail and cliffs on one side or the other and weaving around rocks and
boulders and boulder fields and I just, it's sort of hard for me to wrap my
head around it, to be honest.

Quinn Brett: Yeah, so
our trikes are generally, the ones that we were all three on, were like 34 and
a half inches wide. And generally trails, like stock,
if it's a trail that's built for stock use, it's supposed to be 36 inches wide.
And all of the trails in the Grand Canyon, at least
down the Bright Angel and up the North Kaibab, are stock use trails, so they
should be built to those parameters, but of course, they were built many years

Yeah, in theory. They were built many years ago. Grand Canyon
was made of erosion, so this whole trail system has just been eroding since
they've built it.And of
course, at the very top, where there's lots of tourists, they It's certainly
wide enough, and it kind of suckers you in, of course. We were like, woo hoo, this trail works wide enough, and the steps aren't so

Horses don't like steps either, but as you get further and
further down, like, it's harder for the trail crews to keep maintaining, and
it's harder for... and there's less traffic and the erosion gets worse and
worse. And so there was definitely parts of the trail
washed out and got to be 12 inches wide. The steps were up to two feet high.
not an easy task for these hand cycles.

Erik Weihenmayer: How
do you surmount that? How do you get up a two foot step?
How do you do that?

Quinn Brett: Yeah. So what, that's why I was like, I should have been better
planned of... Instead of one able bodied person per trike, it probably should
have been three. Um, but we can rock crawl. These things are quite capable in
rock crawling, but often if your front wheels and your back wheels are meeting
an obstacle at the same time, they are spinning out and so you need either a push, like somebody to help. So
they're rear wheel drive, they're battery assisted in they're real world drive,
so that battery will go, but sometimes you need a hand on, on the wheel one of
the front wheels just to help it roll. Like a simple push is all you need, but
then somebody often needs to take a back end lift and
lift your whole back end because of that. Like maybe your bike is scraping
underneath because there's not enough clearance or that wheel just doesn't,
it's just skidding out.

And so somebody will help... pick up
that wheel. That's why it's a CrossFit workout. They're picking that back wheel
up and putting it up on the next step or water bar, like water bars were the

Erik Weihenmayer: So the prerequisite is for you guys to lose tons of weight
on this trip so that everyone has an easier go.

Quinn Brett: Yeah,

Erik Weihenmayer: The
thing that I even, I ask, it gives me like literally fear. Uh, goosebumps is like you're on these trails. They're narrow. Sometimes
the trails start canting, to one side or the other. And there's a cliff and
it's gravelly and it's loose. And I would, you know, that just scares me
thinking about, the potential of flipping over,in
the absolute wrong place. How'd you guys, prevent that or,
mitigate that risk?

Jason Stoffer:
So we did, okay, once we crossed Colorado and we got
past Phantom and, just before Manzanita, there was the erosion that Quinn was
talking about. Yeah. Was in spades, and pretty good exposure on the downhill
side as well. But so the way that we would figure it
out is, three people would come back to one trike and, they would get on the
two front wheels and press downward pressure so that you had traction friction
with the trail.

And then there would be a third person on the back that would
be pushing downward pressure on your rear, tire as well. And so
you would be hands off controls. There, cause you
don't want to accidentally hit a throttle and throw somebody down a Canyon. Um,
and then they would just roll us through those sections, but we would be at
that 30 degree angle that I was talking about earlier,
where half of your, the front half of your trike is sitting up, up on the
uphill side of the trail and you are tilting sideways as well.

And, just trusting essentially, I mean, a lot of trust and,Then they bring you through
that section. The alternative, was if it was really
narrow, Robbie, I think Robbie, maybe a couple other guys would actually grab
the front of the trikes and lift them up and then it, then we'd be like a

So you'd be on one single rear wheel
would be back there. And then that was the only thing that had contact with the
trail. And that worked pretty well too. But, again,
it's, physically, strenuous to do that. I, because I have use of my quads. I
was able to dismount and bear crawl my way across some
of those sketchy sections.

And then, and then somebody could just bring my trike across,
but that was a combination, I guess, number four, that was three ways I
described. Number four was, you could get a piggyback if you're, light and
lovely enough. you just throw,

Erik Weihenmayer: I
have a feeling you're talking about Quinn.

Jason Stoffer:
Yes, sir. Yeah. All right.

Erik Weihenmayer: So Quinn was... how about for you was, you guys are world
class athletes, but I mean, I even imagine you guys were scared a few times or
at least on it on edge.

Quinn Brett: Well,
and for myself, yes, but also okay, so we're putting our friends in danger in
that realm. Like, so they have to be on the downhill side and it's loose gravel.

And they are trying to spot us and keep us safe. But at the
same time, they have to maintain their own foot
stability and where they're like, I, yeah, there was times and I'm like, you
know, we're definitely moving quite slow there because everybody's got to be
secure and ready. It's like doing a search and rescue, right? Like is there
anybody who's not ready? Let's go.

Erik Weihenmayer: For
both of you, maybe start with you, Quinn. What's scarier, going up or down the
Grand Canyon, or I guess what takes more skill? You know what I mean? Because I
imagine you're just not ripping it down the Bright Angel Trail, right? You're
trying to keep things under control, right?

Quinn Brett: For
sure. And we are hiking, so we're trying to stay hiking pace. We're not bowling
over anyone, by any means. And that was part of the mission.

Erik Weihenmayer: You
didn't bowl over any tourists or donkeys?

Quinn Brett: No, but
people, like some ranger even called us out and was like, you're moving kind of
fast. I was like, that's what I've heard on trails. Like, dude, we went three
miles in the last hour. That's. That's pretty average
hiking pace. I would say up is the more technically difficult because on the
way down, it can be very technical. You have gravity to your advantage. so you can roll over things a little easier and bounce
around, but going up, you got to really map out where you're going.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, you're planning your line, right?

Quinn Brett: Yep.

Erik Weihenmayer: And
you mentioned people. Were people, like, psyched to see you? Were they cheering
along the way and stuff like that?

Quinn Brett: I would
say, like, 1 in 10, yeah. Like, 9 out of 10 folks were like...

Erik Weihenmayer: you
don't see trikes on the Grand Canyon that often. I'd be like, holy cow, this is

Quinn Brett: Yeah, so
9 people were, like, telling us we're inspirations and praying for us or
whatever. And then the worst There's one in ten. There's one in ten person
that's like, hey, there's no wheels allowed. Like no bikes on this trail. No
wheels here. You're not allowed here.

Erik Weihenmayer: For
real, people really do that. God, it is the 10 percent club of assholes, isn't it?

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, but I think it's important. I don't know. This is just my, this is my
way. But I think it's important to give some folks the benefit of the doubt
that even thoughwe're not wearing a placard. We don't
have a placard on these trikes that has, that says disabled, right? Or people
don't know that we have spinal cord injuries.

I think a lot of people could assume it because it's just an
interesting device and why the hell else would you try to be using your arms to
do this thing unless you. Just hated yourself. So I
think people can assume there's something different here going on, but I think
some folks just don't know that we even have a spinal cord injury and that it's
an adaptive mobility device.

And so I can see, some folks get their
protective. I think, They're trying to do the right
thing. They're trying to protect their community. They're trying to protect the
trail. They're trying to protect the national park service and whatever else.
And so people get vocal, but usually when you approach
with some amount of curiosity or I don't know, calm the jets a little bit and
just talk with these folks, there's a really good educational opportunity that
can happen.

And I think most folks walk away with an understanding of, Oh,
okay. I get it. but...

Erik Weihenmayer: I
like that. That's a very generous and. mature way of looking at it. Yes, I
agree. that's, that is. But when you're like tired and hot and dehydrated, it's
hard to always be positive, react in weird ways.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. Even you mentioned that, sorry, I just wanted to jump in. Cause there was
a specific instance that happened right in the area actually
Quinn wound up having to sleep the night that we had to, to bivy down there. It was a very, it was,it was a little alcove that was... just etched
out of a cliff of redstone cliff, the straight cliff.

And we were there and we're at that turnaround and trying to go
up and we're all just wiped out completely. And this, this crew came by and they were asking us, so did you guys have to get
permits for those things? Cause I'm just asking cause I'm curious cause my
husband, he likes to ride bikes and stuff and he would love to be able to.

And, the two guys I was with who are
generally lovely gracious people lost their shit And it got really heated and
it was one of those instances. So I just you
mentioning yes when you're hot and you're tired and you have interacted with...
it's probably 70 percent of the human beings on that trail in one way or
another, either like this smile that you try to give, trying to give a good
persona or, whether it's literally

Erik Weihenmayer: You
guys are key ambassadors in a way. You know what I mean? Totally. Yeah. It's
probably ideal to keep the smile on your face and be patient.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, but that's tiring. It's tiring to have to interact, the entire way. And
at first it's like, okay, we can handle this. But at
the near the end, when you have had to interact with every human being that
you've crossed during one of the busiest seasons for rim to rim, and you have
runners all over the place, it was, that part was exhausting.

Erik Weihenmayer: So speaking of that, did you have to have special permits? I
know, Quinn, you have connections and we'll talk about
your park ranger days and so forth. But did anyone give you a hard time?
Because I know there's like all this, maybe I wouldn't call it controversy, but
like uncertainty around, what kind of accessible devices, belong in a park and so

Quinn Brett:
Technically speaking, no, not for our mobility devices because they meet the
definition of a wheelchair. But for the film permit, yeah, we had to have one
of those and we definitely were stopped along the way
and asked to show that.

Erik Weihenmayer: Right,So no, so that's cool. Yeah.
And then... like Jason was mentioning this person who says, Hey,
my husband would like to drive.

What if somebody like, where is it if you're going to use a trike? Can anyone use a trike? I
mean, you could say, Hey, my left leg doesn't work too
well. And so I'm going to use a trike.
You know what I mean? Like, where, what is the standard or is there not a
standard? Really? You can't really...

Quinn Brett: like the
definition is if it's a device that's made for the purpose. For a person with a
mobility disability for the purpose of locomotion.

Erik Weihenmayer:

Quinn Brett: Um, so
if you have a mobility disability and you happen to have a 20, 000 trike, and
you want to go use it. But that's going to be rare too, right? if you just have
a leg injury that's temporary, like unlikely that you're going to have one of
these pieces of equipment and or go buy one just so you can go do this.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, that's okay. It's not very feasible. Tell me about the mayhem as we
finish the story here. Quinn, you'd mentioned the word mayhem. I like that. So
yeah, tell me about, because nothing ever goes as planned, right?

Quinn Brett: Yeah. So like we were, we got down to the river and we were doing
pretty good, but we got to, the bridge on the Bright Angel and Ben, his piece
of equipment is just like a half inch wider than ours. And he, well, he fit on
the bridge, the bridges. It's surrounded in, it's enclosed with a metal

Erik Weihenmayer:

Quinn Brett: And so he was like rubbing on that metal fencing and I was like,
we don't really want to go across a quarter mile long bridge with like your
tires scraping the sides of that metal. Uh, while Jason and I could have so we
decided as a team that we would go over, we would go out of our way a mile over
to the other bridge.

That's the stock bridge for the, uh, South Kaibab trail. And so we did that. And so that just added like another hour or
two hours. And by then we were like, uh oh, now we're losing time. We started
going up the North Kaibab trail and sure enough, all these water bars and
erosion, and we're moving slow and moving slower and nightfall is coming and
we're like, well, our intentions were to camp at, we had a support team and all of our tents and all the equipment and everything at the
North Rim.

So we were ready to camp at the North
Rim, but we were like, we're definitely not making it to the North Rim tonight.
So we had to do some Garmin texting to my folks who
are support crew and have them drive a car around. We had to ask our support
crew on the North Rim, Hey, can we start?

We started losing bat, like our, trikes are E assisted and we
were going because of the terrain being so rocky and rooted and stuff, like we
were, we went through our batteries more than we had thought we would. So we had to hike down new batteries. We had hiked down some
sleeping bags and... slept. Yeah, slept on the trail and then even took some
time getting the next day up.

Like it kept getting steeper and steeper and steeper and pretty technical. And we got out finally 36 hours later. So the night was just falling again the second night, when

Erik Weihenmayer:

Quinn Brett: We all
had crawled outta there, .

Erik Weihenmayer: So you started in the morning, you went all day?

Quinn Brett: Yep.

Erik Weihenmayer: Bivied that night? Yep. And then you worked the whole next
day till nighttime? Yep. Before you reached the North Rim?

Quinn Brett: Yep.

Erik Weihenmayer:
What'd you guys eat when you got to the top? Did you have, something good at

Quinn Brett: No, cause we didn't, all we had was like our frozen camping

Erik Weihenmayer:
Wait, you didn't go to the lodge?

Quinn Brett: No, it
was closed. Oh no.

Jason Stoffer:
We didn't wind up actually getting out of the North
Rim, like campground 9pm.

I think we didn't finish. I didn't actually
out of the canyon until 8 or 8 30. Yeah, something like that. And it
was dark by that time and everything was closed and it
was cold. There was, I remember there was one, one, um, gentleman that had
helped us that day and he was, pretty wiped out because he consumed a bunch of

He had been planning on doing the rim to rim to rim, but found us. And he just decided, Hey,
I'm just going to hang out with you guys the rest of the day. And yeah, part of

Quinn Brett: We met
so many strangers on trail and like, lovely. Yeah. It
was a couple from, but he was,

Jason Stoffer:
He was freezing. He was like shaking, you know? So that's the other thing was
just threw people. We just threw bodies in vehicles and started the four and a half hour trip back home. Uh, at that time of
night. Yeah. Nice. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Hey, Quinn. So tell me about your other stuff. your
other adventures. they could be a whole podcast in themselves, but the
Continental Divide and the White Rim Trail and outside of Moab... Jason, were
you on some of those adventures too or no?

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. So in answer to your question, I joined Quinn on
the Tour Divide. Quinn had done the tour. Tour Divide, the continental, or the
contiguous piece through the states, but she wasn't able to do the 300 miles
from Banff to where I live on the Canadian border, so she had asked if I would

Erik Weihenmayer:
Really? Oh, okay. Got it. So it wasn't anything
Physical. It was just the circumstances.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. Yeah. So she'd asked if I would join, the next
summer to complete it, but 300 miles wasn't enough. So, um, we added on like
another 300 and some started at Jasper. So that was a 620 mile, um, yeah, it
was incredible.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Traditional goes from Banff all the way down to like Mexico. Right. Holy cow.

Jason Stoffer:

Erik Weihenmayer: And
then White Rim, um, that's about a hundred miles, and, uh, Quinn, you did that.
I know. Cause I know my friend, Bob Kaufman was part of that. So that's a
hundred miles in a day.

Quinn Brett: Yep.
That was like the precursor to it all. So Bob and I
went and did that and I was like, all right, if I can do a hundred miles in
this one day, then the Tour Divide is possible. I just need to do a hundred
miles over and over and over and over again.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Jason, so you were quite an outdoors person before your accident and you had a
rollover, right? And that's when you got injured.

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, that's right.

Erik Weihenmayer: You
were, you were, uh, search and rescue, you seemed like you did some fire...

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, I spent quite a bit.

Erik Weihenmayer: You
were a policeman, police officer?

Jason Stoffer:
Yep. Yeah. I've worked for federal law enforcement, so yeah, a lot of emergency
services stuff. I was an EMT, a wildland firefighter, biological technician for
Glacier National Park for a few years and, was on the SAR team there. I worked
as a, I volunteered with a group called the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, which
is the SAR arm of the state troopers in Alaska.

I lived in Alaska for about a decade, and so, yeah, I loved and
love being outside, so I always tried to find some way to be useful out there and, even make a living at it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Wonderful and Quinn, you were a world, you are a world class athlete, but you
were a world class athlete. When you had your accident, you were on El Cap, you
fell over a hundred feet, and so. Um, just curious, I always feel like life is
this, knife edge between darkness and fear and anxiety and limitations on one
side and, just hope and excitement and adventure on the other side. And I feel
like you're just always sort of straddling those two lines. I, I mean, so I
imagine that some days you feel, do you feel like your life is like a miracle,
that you're here, that you're still among us?or,
tell me what your life feels like these days.

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
mostly I feel like I've moved... grief hits hard often, but I, the space
between those waves of grief has gotten bigger and bigger. So right at the
beginning, when I was first injured, it was really difficult
finding joy and purpose. And what was I going to do?

I, you know, my identity was tied to being an athlete and now
half my body doesn't work. How can I even be an athlete? How can I, who am I?
I, finding these ways to get outside again, like with the hand cycles, like, I
mean, I would have never thought in the hospital that I would be biking from
Jasper, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico.

Are you kidding me? That was never in the realm of possibility,
but thanks to technology and thanks to meeting somebody like Jason, who's
willing to go along and Robbie and other friends who are like willing to be
such incredible support crews, it's possible.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Jason, do you feel the same or?

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, I do. I mean, I, it's a lot taken from you very quickly and I think all
of us deal with it in different ways.

I got incredibly manic
after my injury and I was like, let's go. I was like, let's go, let's charge,
let's do everything that we can to get whatever thing, whatever we can get
back, but I think I do, I, I think. Quinn and myself. I think one of the reasons
why we connected so early. This background of the love of the outdoors and
pushing limits and being comfortable with being uncomfortable, I think was like
a really incredible draw, but it's one of the reasons
why we are, we work together now.

We, we work for Unite to Fight Paralysis. We're coworkers, but
we're in this space of trying to this juxtaposition of how active we were prior
to our injuries, and we're active now, but we still want so much more, like for
ourselves and for our community. It's just in that inpatient setting in the
hospital and in rehab, you're given this message that basically says, Hey, accept what you got, and move on.

Uh, and for Quinn and I, that was not
a sufficient answer, especially living in like the day and age that we live
now, we can find all these answers to so many problems and we can see billions
of light years into space, but we can't figure out the spinal cord. And here,
Quinn and I, Are just saying, well, what can we do to
piss again on our own or have a bowel movement or our friends that are quads?

Like what about them? And what can we, why can't
something can
be done about their blood pressure issues or neuropathic
pain or their pincher grasp or the fact that, they can, we can all die from
having a hole in our rear ends. If we sit down in one place too long, I mean,
it's, it's unacceptable to us.

So I think there's that, that
juxtaposition of... yeah, the challenge before the injury and then on this side
of it still trying to buck up against challenges and buck up against barriers,
which is I guess appropriate for this podcast, but yeah, I think there's
something there,

Erik Weihenmayer: But
I think that's really poignant what you're talking
about because this podcast, and I bet you a lot of your podcasts focus on this
amazing adventure.

Um, but Quinn, you had this film called The Accidental Life,
and what I loved about it was that it was a lot of stuff off the mountain. It
was like your dating life, and your struggles, and the fact that you're just an
absolute work in progress. So, what are those struggles off the mountain, off
the trail that, I mean, Jason, I think you just alluded to some really striking
challenges that paras and quads face.

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
spinal cord injuries, like sure, you might see folks in a wheelchair. And their
legs don't work or their muscles aren't working, but
there's so many layers underneath. Like Jason said, we have neuropathic pain.
Like I am constantly tingling. It feels like my lower half's in a bug zapper. I
can't feel my bladder.

I can't, I don't know when I have to
pee. I don't know when I have to poop. I'm going to
get a pressure sore if I'm sitting in my butt too long and get sepsis, yeah,
higher level injuries. They can't, you can't even, your lungs don't function.
You can't, you don't perspire. there's just so many things.

And so what. I guess. Where Jason and
I work with Unite to Fight Paralysis is showing that, like, well, a cure might
be a pie in the sky, and I might see absurd or totally desperate for us. A cure
isn't just, I'm gonna be running the rim to rim to
rim of the Grand Canyon again like I was in 2016. A cure for me would be, can I
feel my bladder when I have to go pee and not

Because every time I catheter, I'm introducing bacteria. And so I get UTIs all the time, which means I'm pissing myself
all the time. Like it's the little things that Unite to Fight Paralysis works
on to find tangible, steps in research that help our quality of life.

Erik Weihenmayer: Are
you guys different? I mean, you guys could be asking me this question too, but
since I got you on the hot seat, are you guys different after your accidents
and all you've been through?

Or is that bullshit? Is it just like,
hey, I'm the same person I always have been? or are there changes? Are you,
have you learned some things?

Quinn Brett: I think
I'm still obviously trying to push barriers. And while I was breaking world
records before, and now I'm trying to break the stigma that spinal cord injury
is not something that we can ever find recovery of function for is state a
baseline, for who I am, like challenging the systems and trying hard and doing

But I would say I'm changed and that I am more empathetic and
compassionate to people who are different. Or as you gave Jason props for
thinking about the other. Where people are coming from on trail
who don't know this injury or don't know why we'd be on trikes. Like we just
have a lot more patience.

I have a lot more patients. And it sounds like Jason does too,
for other people out there who maybe haven't had experiences like we have more
patience for that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Jason, what would you say?

Jason Stoffer:
I think what happens is the
injury doesn't... I think the injury lays bare what's on the inside. if you
were a go getter or you were in the gym all the time,
or you We're a health nut or whatever the heck it was before your injury.

The chances are you're
going to keep those qualities and such after the injury. If you were an
impatient person before the injury, this thing's just going to make you more
impatient. if you were, I think it really does just accentuate what you already
are. And it goes in the face of what we hear a lot.

Out in public, which is,
I don't know if I could do it. I don't know how I would live if I was in a
wheelchair. I don't know how you do it. And the, well, the answer is you would
do it just like you're living right now. you gotta,
you're going to learn some stuff. You gotta, and
there's going to be some major s$!T
that you're gonna
have to deal with, but the qualities and the characteristics that make you who
you are, those things don't tend to just go away very quickly.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Interesting. And Quinn, you, You had a pretty awesome
career as a park ranger and working on accessibility and so forth, and now you
are you, on the development team, the fundraising team for Unite to Fight
Paralysis? You gotta raise some dough, huh?

Quinn Brett: Yeah,
I'm the development director for Unite to Fight Paralysis, which is, yeah,
raising money.

And so we try, our mission with Unite
to Fight Paralysis is essentially you involving people with the injury,
educating and advocating for this injury. So one,
something that Jason and I felt that we were missing in the hospital when we
were at Craig is any resources teaching us about this injury instead, you know,
like you're desperate for anything.

Should we go spend a hundred thousand dollars on stem cells in
Venezuela? Because stem cells are supposedly working, but nobody's telling us
any different. And so Unite to Fight Paralysis, we
jump in and we provide that educational opportunity, but we also. put people
with the injury in labs so we can help direct the research and where we want it
to go.

Jason does a podcast, continuing the education, our Cure Cast
Podcast, which speaks to researchers directly and asking them like what's
happening with the research, where is it going? And we've done legislative
efforts that also have passed funding in state by state
initiatives for spinal cord research.

So from the six years that I've been
injured now, we've gone from. having very few human clinical trials to a lot
more human clinical trials, because they've been funded through our initiatives
and these human clinical trials have had people feeling their bladder standing
up, orgasming, like things that they haven't done in nine to 12 years,

Erik Weihenmayer:
Which is like so important. And you know what? I really want to emphasize this
idea that I'm not knocking doctors and nurses and rehab and, physical
therapists and so forth. But it's like at Craig, they do an amazing job, but
then their job ends that's it. And now, Unite to Fight Paralysis picks up and
says, okay, this is the continuing education that you have to
have throughout your entire life. Right.

Jason Stoffer:
That's, yeah, that's a really perfect, description,
Erik, of where we are, where we want to pick up, we want to pick up where
physical rehabilitation, their main goals are teaching you your activities of
daily living, your ADLs. And how to be independent in this world and how to do
the things that you love to do and you love to do in
the past.

But yeah,if
the world's going to change at all for any better or the world that you
envision, you got to step up in, into it, or you got to get into the fight,
which is really why we exist, to give opportunities for education and advocacy
for our community. Not just folks living with the injury, but family members,
friends, um, people who have a nexus to spinal cord injury.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And. I read the word audacious, to fight paralysis is, there's audacious goals.
And you mentioned some of them. Any others, Quinn or Jason, you guys have that
are pressing things that you are trying to crack that nut right now?

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah, absolutely. We've got a lot of goals. I think one thing for me, that's
been the most valuable experience I've had in advocacy is sitting on the panels
that actually decide where money is going to go for

And the Department of Defense is a really
example of that. Well, it turns out that the National Institutes of
Health, does not require lived experience on those panels, but they are the
number one, they're the largest funder of spinal cord injury research in the
world. And so if we could have the NIH model what the
Department of Defense is doing, I believe that those dollars could be so much
more well directed to line up with community priorities and community needs.
And it would be, I dare say less wasteful than those dollars are being right
now. So that's a project. And anyone who's listening, who has some influence
there, I,we'd love to chat
with you.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Great. And Quinn, what do you want folks to know about Unite to Fight

Quinn Brett: We're
here for our own community so that they can have education and resources and
become, participate in this crazy new world that you've just entered
. But also for folks, if you want to run,
like for instance, you can run the Chicago Marathon with us and be a charity
runner or Twin Cities Marathon, or we have something called the Freestyle
Challenge, which is what Jason raised money for when we did the Grand Canyon.

And we raise money. We did our freestyle challenge, which was
like, we're going to go down into the Grand Canyon and we're going to raise
money and awareness for spinal cord research. So if
you have a crazy endeavor that you want to do in this world, but you want to do
it for a charity, come on over this way.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Wonderful. Wonderful. Jason and Quinn, thank you so much, guys. You are so no
barriers. I love hanging out with you guys. Maybe we could all do a bike ride
together sometime. Just, I'm a big fan and, I appreciate your time.

Quinn Brett: Thanks

Jason Stoffer:
Yeah. Thank you so much, Erik. It was great to be on.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thanks, everyone. No barriers to everyone.

Didrik Johnck: The
production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, that's me,
and audio engineer Tyler Kottman. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our
intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoyed
this show, please subscribe, share it, and hey, we'd be thrilled for a review.

Show notes can be found at NoBarriersPodcast.
com. There's also a link there to shoot me an email with any suggestions or
guest ideas for the show. Thanks so much and have a great day.

do you like this episode?
share it!


it's up to you

Whichever podcast platform you enjoy, we’re already there.

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of this free, educational and uplifting podcast.  

don't miss an episode

Stay up-to-date on new opportunities & community stories.