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No Barriers Podcast Episode 135: Recap 2021



To kick off 2022 we want to take a trip down memory lane from 2021. This episode showcases some of our top highlights from select guests we spoke to in 2021. Our hosts each chose a few clips that resonated with them and reflected aspects of this “No Barriers Life.” Enjoy!

Listen to the full episodes referenced in this episode.

EPISODE 110: DETERMINATION AND FAITH WITH CHRIS NORTON
EPISODE 113: EMBRACING VISION WITH KYLE COON
EPISODE 119: EQUITY IN ENTERTAINMENT WITH KEELY CAT-WELLS
EPISODE 132: RESTORING VISION WITH GEOFF TABIN
EPISODE 133: REBUILDING COMMUNITY & PURPOSE WITH CPT. DAVE INBODY, US ARMY, RET.
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Episode Transcript

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 barrier's 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. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists the map, that map, that way forward is what we call No Barriers.

Didrik Johnck:
Welcome to 2022, everyone. This is producer of The No Barriers podcast, Didrik Johnck. Before we hit the ground running in this new year with a bevy of incredible guests lined up, let's take a minute to look back at some of our favorite moments from last year. It's a highlight reel of sorts. You'll hear short clips from our favorite episodes and discover what really resonated for our hosts, Erik Weihenmayer, Dave Shurna and Jeff Evans. In some ways this episode might just tap into the why. We hope you enjoy the show.

Dave Shurna:
Well, guys, it's great to hear kind of our insights from the year and our opportunities to reflect on kind of things that matter most in life. And as I started to look at all the great conversations we had and listen to the conversations we had over the past year. I thought I'd kick us off with one segment that I think really encapsulates a lot of what this podcast is about and why we decided to start it. And this comes from Antoinette Lee Toscano and in this segment it kind of speaks for itself, but what she does is she talks about how, at some point, all of us in our lives will face trauma. And that few of us are equipped to deal with what happens when that trauma hits. And I think that the conversations we have throughout the year on this podcast are a lot about educating us about how to be ready for those moments and how to learn from those moments. So, let's go ahead and play the Antoinette Lee Toscano segment.

Antoinette Lee Toscano:
So, most human beings will go throughout their life and experience some form of trauma.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Just being born, right? You're coming out of this canal and you pop out in the sunshine. You're like, whoa.

Antoinette Lee Toscano:
Right, right. But I mean-

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's your first bit of trauma.

Antoinette Lee Toscano:
Your parents' divorce, your own divorce, losing a close family member suddenly, losing your home in a fire, a break in, an assault, a physical trauma, like a car accident or a repelling accident like in my case. All of these things are traumatic events. So, I went through this, both a physical trauma and multiple emotional traumas within the military. And we are not as human beings. And also as soldier, sailors, airmen, Marines, et cetera, we're not fully trained and equipped and prepared to handle our lives after the physical and emotional trauma. Some of us are, some of us are or not.

Antoinette Lee Toscano:
But what research is showing is that after a traumatic event, if you have the ability to talk about your trauma, to process it with professionals and or a loving, supporting, supportive network of people, those are things that can help move the needle from someone who's gone through a traumatic experience and then is traumatized by that experience and is experiencing post traumatic stress because of the experience. So, it's not a matter of being weak or strong, or it doesn't matter about your socioeconomic status or intelligence or any of these things that we think affect whether or not we will experience post traumatic stress after experiencing a traumatic event. And right now in the United States, actually around the world, because of COVID 19, the entire world has experienced a traumatic event. It's what we do after that traumatic event that will determine if you develop post traumatic stress.

Dave Shurna:
So, what I love about what Antoinette is pointing out, in this past two years, many of us know that the mental health crisis for people from all walks of life is off the charts. If you look at adolescents, if you look at people with disabilities, you look at caregivers. Some of the populations we serve at No Barriers. We are all facing a collective trauma together due to COVID 19. And in addition to that, we all face other traumas, deaths and illnesses over the course of the past couple years. And I think what Antoinette points out is we aren't really taught how to deal with that until we're in the moment. And I think it's really important for us as a podcast and as an organization at No Barriers to help people have some of those tools to be ready for trauma when it hits.

Jeff Evans:
Well, Dave, that is about as beautifully segued as possible into the clip that I chose and probably for the same reasons. Because Antoinette's commentary on being present in spite of trauma is, I think that can be a little bit of a conundrum. Because people have, especially now in this season and these past couple years, there seems to be in a lot of the realms that I walk in a bit of a crescendo with mental health. There's becoming a whole lot more attention to it. It's percolating to the top a whole lot more and justifiably so. It's about time that we as a society sort of address those things. But when she mentions being in the moment, you just reference that, being in the moment. Well, some people say I don't want to be in this moment.

Jeff Evans:
I want to be somewhere else. Because this isn't that great. And I think about that a lot. And I think there's a lot of religions and spiritual quests in the world that say be present. There's books written on it. Well, one of our guests, Sam Morris, that we had the pleasure of interviewing, I think really sort of captured that to a certain extent for me. I really appreciated Sam's approach towards the present tense, because I think it's easy to say that. I think it's easy to say, be present, but it's a hard practice. And I think nowadays with our attention to life hacks and ways of managing our mental health and how we approach each other and ourselves day to day and improving on that, on how we do that, Sam kind of came to the podcast with a whole lot of information I felt like.

Jeff Evans:
His whole branding is really about being a Zen warrior. And I always found that a fascinating collection of titles. Being Zen, being present, being focused, being calm, but also being a warrior. And I feel like that's it, right there, that sort of clicked for me. It's like battle, don't be passive, but still be present. And I can really deeply appreciate that. So, the clip that I want to play from Sam's episode, I think is a bit of a synopsis of what he's really intending to share with us and teach us. So, here it is.

Sam Morris:
I think we've all had moments of that. We've all had moments where it's just like everything kind of dissolves and we are just completely present in the moment. And to me, those moments are the most incredible and ineffable moments where it's just like, ah, wow, it's like the big exhale. Everything is so peaceful and you feel more like yourself than any other time. And so that state of mind can be cultivated through practices like meditation or breath work or yoga. Embodiment practices can help us to experience that type of state of mind or really state of no mind.

Sam Morris:
It's really a place where the activity of the mind sort of ceases and you're just there as awareness. That can be cultivated. And then the warrior part of that is then taking on the challenges of life from that state of mind, from that peaceful centered disposition. Rather than sort of battling through and getting thrashed around by life, instead cultivating a state of a peace of mind on a regular basis so that when you show up to the challenges of life you can do so from a place of centeredness and presence, versus from a place of feeling like you're in a fight with life.

Jeff Evans:
Sam does a good job for me personally, as I continue to listen to him riff on what I would consider the training that it takes to be in this very moment, in spite of how uncomfortable it might be. And the muscle memory that comes with creating that. This flow state, I've heard about people talk about flow state for a long time and what it means. But I've never really understood it. And Erik, I re-listened to this entire episode, and you made mention of a really incredible moment for you and you were paddling the Grand Canyon. And you reached, you didn't know it at the time or maybe you didn't know what to call it, but it was clearly a flow state.

Jeff Evans:
You had a moment when you were paddling that one particular rapid, where you described it as this sort of ethereal sort of just body mind connection, where everything just vibrated and resonated, you were complete connected. And you even mentioned in your commentary that it lasted through the day. It lasted well after that rapid. You felt it through the evening and you captured that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Kind of a glow.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, you captured it and it took it with you. And I think that's what we're trying to achieve in those moments. I just think it's a great life hack and something that's really resonated with me since talking to Sam and then reviewing that episode.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, 10 years of kayaking and 30 seconds of flow. I mean, it's amazing, but it's these brief moments where normal mortals like myself can achieve it. But Sam's saying maybe we can achieve that flow state a little bit longer.

Jeff Evans:
Or off the couch.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Sustained periods throughout our life.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. He even mentions like for the armchair flow stater you can hit it on the couch if you're good. I mean, it takes a different skill set, but it just takes a desire. It's like going to the gym. You just have to work that out. And I applaud it and it's a constant practice.

Erik Weihenmayer:
People do try it when they're going through hard times, they're trying to distract themselves. I mean, it's an honest thing to want to not be in that moment, as you mentioned. I mean, I remember going blind and just feeling suffering, feeling like I was in that prison. And I've often talked to people who are blind or who have had traumas in their lives and either they don't fully lean into the suffering. And because of that, they kind of bypass that very necessary piece. And then they kind of move forward too quickly and they never really fully address it. Or sometimes they get stuck in that woe is me suffering state and they stay there forever. It's like a never ending being stuck moment. So, I think it is a balancing act, isn't it? To lean into that suffering so that you don't have to experience your whole life.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You lean into it, you feel it fully. Like one of our guests, who was it? It was Mindy Scheier talking about her kid who's disabled and couldn't dress himself. And couldn't do a lot of the sports like the other kids are doing in the neighborhood. And she would say, "Hey, we'd have a pity party and that would be order some pizza, watch sad movies, cry and hug, and then say, you know what, tomorrow we're going to wake up and we're going to move forward." But you got to have maybe a bit of that pity party or that moment of sadness suffering to move forward.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. So, you honor that part. Erik, you and I have talked, you and I have been talking a lot offline about just life and how challenging it is right now. Like we've talked about one of my friends that's going through a pretty heavy medical condition and just life. Life is unexpected. And I remember commenting to you something that's really sort of resonated with me as well. Back when I was younger when we were going to Nepal all the time and Buddhism was like, all the cool guys were like studying Buddhism. And I was like, oh, Buddism is cool. But I always got that-

Erik Weihenmayer:
You got Buddha eyes on your fleece jacket, I remember.

Jeff Evans:
Well, and on my arms. Yes. So, the-

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's right.

Jeff Evans:
So, I always got caught up on this one point where one of the main tenets of Buddhism is life is suffering. And I thought, no, it's not. Life's great, man. Life's sweet, it's kick ass. I'm having fun, man. Life's just one big party, but turns out it's not. And then if you dive into that concept deeper, it's not that it has to always be suffering it's that there are components and elements of suffering throughout life, but it's how you manage and then manifest with the people around you.

Jeff Evans:
That's what's going to define you now. And then in the future, if you really follow that philosophy, but what it is now is, and I think that's a lot of what we're talking about here, whether it's flow state or being present, is it's honoring these challenges and these difficulties that are really sort of consuming in some cases, honoring them, but then letting them go. Still being present, not being fixated on the past or the future being here, honoring what's happened and then moving forward with a positive place. And I think that's what sort of captures a lot of what we're talking about.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, Jeff, that's a perfect segue into my clip, which is more about suffering and this process of trying to move through hard things and find who you're going to be on the other side. And the clip I want to share is from our podcast with Chris Norton. Chris had a beautiful film. Chris' film is on Netflix and it's called Seven Yards. And he was a kid who grew up in Iowa in a small town and tried out for the football team. He was on the football field, he got hit. Next thing you know, he is laying on the ground. He cannot move a muscle. He thinks he's going to die there. He thinks he's going to suffocate, but he somehow makes it through and he's paralyzed.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And in this clip, I don't want to precede it too much, but he has a conversation with God and he's a person of faith. I'm an agnostic but it really shows the importance of human beings needing some kind of faith, some kind of hope in their lives. It seems to me like a fundamental part of the human experience to always have faith that you're going to wind up intact, or there's going to be something like a light at the end of the tunnel. I do think this is whether you're a person of faith or not. This is really important stuff. So, check it out.

Chris Norton:
That was one of the prayers I made early on when I was in the hospital and I was gripping with this new reality. That was my prayer. I was like, God, could I get a glimpse of my future? Can I see how you could possibly work this mess together and make any sort of good or purpose out of this thing. Because I was just trying to understand it. God, you got your hands full. I don't know how you're going to put this together. But if I could just get a glimpse of my future, that could just give me just maybe a sense of peace of what I'm going through right now, but obviously your faith and it doesn't work like that. You have to just trust and believe.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, I love this idea of faith. He's asking God, what's my life going to look like? Am I going to survive this? Am I going to be okay? And God doesn't answer him specifically, but he's saying that's what faith is, is just having a belief that you're going to wind up okay. And sometimes that faith, I think can get you in trouble in a way, because if you have unrealistic expectations that can confront reality and it can actually make you more dissatisfied. But I think an appropriate kind of faith looking forward into the future or is so important. When you were talking about the Grand Canyon, Jeff, when I was going down these rapids, it's this kind of a crazy thing, and I'm not trying to compare my experiences to Chris's, but going down these rapids, I knew the idea was real that I could slam into a wall. I could flip over. I could be out of my boat, swimming for my life. I could be drowning.

Erik Weihenmayer:
All these things were realistic possibilities. But what I learned from Harlan, who was my guide on the Grand Canyon was that you got to have faith that you're going to get through that rapid. You're going to wind up on the other side and you have to lean into the experience, because if you're tentative and you lean back, your chances of getting through are actually way reduced. So, it's a very counterintuitive thought process of like, okay, I know the real consequences of life, but I'm going to believe through it somehow because I have faith that there's something good of waiting for me. Life is not this tragic series of losses. There's actually something at the end.

Erik Weihenmayer:
There's something that's like a gift that we're going to be rewarded. We're we're going to have some kind of greater insight or empathy or love or wisdom. So, for me, that's important stuff. And Jeff, you might remember, like all our past expeditions, we may not summit, but you have hope you're going to get to the top. Right until that last moment. Like people on the Titanic probably had hope right until the last minute when they're sinking under the water. But maybe that's a good thing.

Jeff Evans:
We as humans, that's all we've really got. We've got hope. I mean, we've got hope and we've got love and compassion and those characteristics, if they wane, we see those. Whether it's ... When I was doing my medical training, I got to spend quite a bit of time in assisted living facilities. And you see what happens when a human being loses hope and purpose, then the body stops, the body quits. So, you think about the sustaining fuel that all of us have. Isn't that it? That's like rocket fuel right there. That's all we've got.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Jeff, let me just say one more thing about Chris though, that I really forgot. And that is that Chris's immediate goal, which really kept him focused, was to walk up the stairs and across the stage at his college graduation. And then on top of that to walk up the aisle, to marry the woman of his dreams, Emily. And so he had a real kind of goal that just really gathered all his purpose and strength and focus. And so that's really important as well. So, more name dropping here, but for that welcome to earth TV show, the host was Will Smith. And so I'm reading his book now, and I'm kind of a fanboy now of Will. And in his book, he really lays it on the line about friends. He says, "Friends are either medicine or poison."

Erik Weihenmayer:
And I just find that so powerful. Medicine or poison. In Chris's case, his friends were the difference between life and death. And in this time in the holidays, when we're all, hopefully going to be able to spend time with loved ones and friends, it's an important time to think about your loved ones as medicine or poison, as life or death, as comfort and the importance of the rope team that we talk about, Dave, all the time at No Barriers.

Dave Shurna:
For sure.

Erik Weihenmayer:
The last clip about Chris is really powerful because it's this idea that, okay, he's paralyzed. He did walk down the aisle, sorry, spoiler alert. But he did it with the help of friends. He's never going to be fully able to be mobile. He's always going to be paralyzed, but his new wife talks him into adopting a bunch of foster care kids.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And I love this, because as a guy who's paralyzed, he's thinking, can I be a good dad? Is this a stupid goal? A guy who can't walk, am I going to be able to be a good dad for these kids? And his wife says screw it, let's do it. And he thinks the same thing. He's like, yeah, sure. I'm going to do this. I may not be perfect. I may not be the perfect dad, but I'm here, I'm available. These kids need us and I'm here. And I think that's really important to think about as we're all healing and growing. The best therapy out there is to serve others, to step outside yourself and really love and serve other human beings.

Chris Norton:
To be honest I grew up in bubble, small town, Iowa. I had very great parents. And so I had no idea about the foster care system and group homes and all those kind of things that are going on. In every city are kids being abused. They don't feel loved or special. And Emily just growing up, she just had a heart for people who were maybe a little different or who acted out with different behaviors, or just looked like they needed some help or they needed some love and she wanted to be there to mentor them. And so that's how she got introduced to the foster care system.

Chris Norton:
When she first started talking with Whitley and Whitley was a young girl at the time, Emily mentored her. And then later on, we started to foster her when she needed help. And then we would eventually adopt Whitley when she was 19 years old. So, we adopted an adult, but Emily just kind of gave me the confidence, the belief in myself that I could be a good dad. I kind of questioned it. I don't know if I'm ready. I'm pretty young. What can I do as far as a dad being in a wheelchair? There's a lot of things I'm being limited to. Emily here to take-

Erik Weihenmayer:
I mean, for most that'd be a huge fear. You know what I mean? I mean, it was for me even becoming a dad. Like, oh my God, look at all the things I won't be able to do. So, that, I mean, that must have been a pretty monumental transition to get through that.

Chris Norton:
It was. But Emily, she just, she gave me confidence. She knew what I was capable of. And she really just emphasized, these kids, they just need love. They just need to be felt that they're special, give them a safe home and just kind of let the rest take care of itself. And it's really what we did. And it's been amazing to welcome these kids into our home. They're scared, they're lost, they're trying to figure out who they are and if they're worth anything. And so to give them the love and just the validation that they're worth it is really amazing. And just to see if their growth. And so it's really, it's been the best thing that we've ever done.

Jeff Evans:
Turns out they're pretty good at raising is it sounds like too. And just from hearing from Chris, he just, he has so much joy and, and pleasure from it. And so does Emily, his wife. So, it's been fun to follow their story a long the way. And as they continue to grow their family.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. I wonder how many kids they'll get up to 20, 30.

Jeff Evans:
Well, yeah, I mean, they're already at Brady Bunch level. So, they're going to like Partridge family level here at some point.

Dave Shurna:
Well, Erik, I love hearing these themes of, you started off this Chris Norton segment with this idea of faith and where do we find faith, whether we're agnostic, religious, where do we find that faith? And then went on to talk about rope team and elevating others. And some of those very same themes came up in a conversation, Erik, that we had with a former No Barriers participant Kyle Coon. Kyle Coon went blind at the age of six and went on to, over the course of many years, become a climber, a hiker, a para triathlete. He just competed in the Tokyo Olympic games, placing fifth in the para triathlon. And when he came on to our segment, we of course reminisced about some amazing trips that you and I had had with him to Machu Picchu in Peru. And he went on and traveled a bunch of other places all over the world.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, he was part of our, I think, our first youth program, right, Dave, that we did at No Barriers.

Dave Shurna:
He was, yeah, he was part of that very first youth trip that we were trying to figure everything out and was a great kid then. But what I loved about, he really opened up in his segment about a time when he was struggling. And he talks about this moment where he gets out of college and he of course thinks he's going to either start his own company or enter the C-suite of some young company. And he struggles to find a job. And he starts to realize, whoa, I got to start at a pretty basic level. And this puts him in a state of depression.

Dave Shurna:
He turns to alcohol and gets to a pretty dark place. This is well before his para triathlete performances. And before he's become an Olympic athlete. And what he talks about is this moment where that Jeff and Erik, we've seen this in many of our participants where he realizes he's in a pretty dark place, but somewhere inside of him, he's like, I believe there's a light somewhere and I've got to get out of this space.

Dave Shurna:
And there's something in him that says, you know what, I'm not willing to go totally down that deep, dark rabbit hole and live there. I need to get out. And what he does is kind of extraordinary, because he's in this moment of not having a lot of trust and faith in himself, not knowing where to go, but he knows he likes to be physical and he likes to run. And so he goes online. He doesn't have a rope team around him at this moment to be a triathlete or to run or anything like that. But he just goes online and he says, you know what? I think I'm just going to start somewhere. And this is something we teach to all of our participants, just pick something that seems like it might be a starting place for you.

Dave Shurna:
And he says, "I'm going to go online and see if there's anyone who would be willing to go for a run with me, even though I'm blind." And he finds this random person decides to go do it. And this random person evolves into someone who inspires him to become triathlete, which he then goes on to be in the Olympics. And so I love this segment, because I think it says in the midst of our dark moments, where can we trust that there's something that can help us get out of it. And even if I don't have a rope team around me, can I find someone to help me stretch outside my comfort zone and get back on a pathway towards success and towards dreams. So, let's go ahead and play that segment.

Kyle Coon:
Went on from Kilimanjaro to just loving the outdoors, spending as much time in the outdoors as I could. Climbing in the Pacific Northwest, climbing fourteeners in Colorado. And eventually I had to go to college and get one of those pieces of paper that you have to get to survive in the world these days called a degree. At that time I was also, I was living in Orlando, Florida. There's not really a lot of mountains in Orlando, Florida. I don't know if you guys know that. There wasn't a ton of like outdoor or at least like the mountainous adventures that I had gotten used to. And I was really struggling with not being as gainfully employed as I would've liked. I was that classic millennial that was like, when I first came out of college, I was, I'm going to apply for every job, CEO and above.

Kyle Coon:
And so then I just started climbing way down the corporate ladder after that, because it obviously didn't work. But so I was really struggling. I was gaining weight. I was drinking a lot of alcohol at the time. So, I just woke up one day. I was like, I got to make a change. And so I was like, I guess the only thing I could do at this point, I have no money, but I guess I got two feet, maybe I can run. So, I went online and I found someone that partnered blind and sighted runners and reached out to a few people. One person responded, well, beggars can't be choosers. So, I connected with him. He had never met a blind person, had just randomly signed up for this website, because he thought it sounded cool.

Kyle Coon:
And he happened to be a triathlete. And we ran together a few times and he started talking to me about triathlon and this thing called Ironman. And it just, it kind of lit a fire in me or it really it put an itch in the back of my mind. And then just watching him over the course of a year doing a couple of Ironmans and stuff. I just I had this desire to challenge myself again. And he was like, "Dude, I think you could, I think you could do this triathlon thing." And so we got a hold of my ... we managed to get my tandem. He taught me how to swim. And I just started jumping into triathlons left and right.

Kyle Coon:
And eventually made my way to doing an Ironman and then decided like, man, I want to do this even more. And it was just the combination of putting swim bike and run together was so fulfilling and such a challenge. It really reminded me so much of all the things that I had done in the mountains and I could apply all the systems that I had developed from rock climbing and snow climbing and skiing and all these other things. I could apply all those same techniques to triathlon and do it at a competitive level.

Kyle Coon:
So, a couple years ago I got a call from USA triathlon and they were like, "Hey, we've seen you been doing some pretty awesome stuff, at least at the half Ironman and Ironman fields. Well, the blind and visually impaired men are now going to be in the Paralympics in 2020. Would you consider switching to a sprint triathlon and competing against international fields and we're opening up spot at the Olympic training center for more residents, would you consider coming in joining?" And I said, "How soon do you want me there?"

Jeff Evans:
Man?

Dave Shurna:
That was really nice.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. It was really good, Dave. I'm trying, I'm just remembering that trip to Peru and thinking about Kyle being like-

Dave Shurna:
Oh my God.

Jeff Evans:
... 12 years old or 13.

Dave Shurna:
Right, you know.

Erik Weihenmayer:
13, I think he was a freshman.

Dave Shurna:
You could totally see, because his dad was a big kind of a big wig in corporate America. And he tells this whole story about how he thinks he's going to get out of college. I mean, it's like a classic millennial, he jokes about it in that segment, I thought I was a classic millennial. I'm going to go out and start my own company. And then it just doesn't go that way.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Dave, I love that clip. It's what we see constantly in our community. People are in their basement and they're eating ramen noodles and they're miserable and they don't know how to take that first step to get out of the basement. And I mean, I don't mean to be a little harsh, but I guess I'm sounding a little harsh, but nobody's going to go into your basement and drag you up the stairs and drag you into the sunshine. You got to take the first step. And Kyle did that. He was vulnerable and he reached out in just this awesome way and look where it led him. So, there's this guy, Nick, that spoke at our summit I remember.

Erik Weihenmayer:
He's a triple amputee. And he was in a situation similar to Kyle, where he was just kind of miserable and felt unfulfilled. And he got out to the gym and he started working out and figuring out all these like ways of working out as a triple amputee. And I think he placed third at a body building contest, ultimately. And he was such an inspiration that he attracted the Rock who wrote him a letter. And now he's buddies with the Rock. So, I mean, not that this No Barriers life is going to lead you to being best friends with the Rock. But it's really powerful when you take that first step.

Jeff Evans:
Well, I feel like, I don't know. Maybe I'm just more in tune listening to people now, but I feel like this year and last year, I'm hearing more people take those first steps than I have in other years, where people said whether it's obesity or it's addiction or it's a career path or whatever, like this sucks. I need to do a hard stop. And I need to take that first step. I feel like a lot of people have been overwhelmed, but maybe they're overwhelmed with the process, because we all hear that metaphor. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It's the same thing. How do you climb Everest? One step at a time. You have to step out of base camp. You have to leave. You can't be the camper. You got to be the climber. All those things, but those are all good little anecdotal, one piece bites.

Jeff Evans:
It's easy to say it. It's harder to do it. And I applaud Kyle for being one that steps out. And I'll tell you another guy who I think really embodies that, he embodies it, is Captain Dave Inbody. Dave and I hosted retired Captain Dave Inbody not long ago, just a few weeks ago, extraordinary guy who had his leg blown off and went through the process that we hear about, that hero's journey and just got beat down, gave up on himself, gave up on his family, was [inaudible 00:36:31]. Was just farrow, just beaten and defeated and felt like he could not take that first step. He was afraid of how much work it would take, how hard it would be, how defeating it could be potentially. All these unknowns that were out there that are very suppressive and oppressive.

Jeff Evans:
And I feel like that is a common story, but thankfully, as I mentioned, I'm hearing more people say, I'm done with this. Hard stop. First step. Let's go. And then months later there gets traction. And I think Dave captured that. He stepped in, he got involved with the No Barriers community. He did an expedition with us and he did the pure hero's journey. He brought his rope team with him to go there and do another one. So, him and his wife came and climb Kilimanjaro with me a few years ago, and his journey and his path continues. I think he's an exemplary when it comes to really taking that first step. And I want to play a clip of Dave really, I think, capturing in that so eloquently.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, Jeff, I wasn't a part of that podcast with Dave. Tell me a tiny bit about his background. Was he in Afghanistan, Iraq? What was his situation? What was his injury?

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, well, he was an enlisted guy who went up to be an officer and I'm not sure where his injury took place, but it was an explosion and he lost his leg and sat and spiraled for a long time. He was down in Texas doing a lot of rehab at the VA. This is a story that we've all heard many times. Dave is really kind of that parallel universe from so many men and women that we've encountered over our years, working with the warriors programs. And I think oftentimes with no barriers, we see that first step. Oftentimes we are that first step in regaining traction. And I think Dave, I think captures the sort of college level degree. He's taken this, he's built on it. He's not intimidated by what that end result might be. And I think that just shows his character, which by the way-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Rad, he took his first step with a prosthetic foot. That's cool.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah. Well, yeah, you can chew on that metaphor all day. It's good. He was defeated, he was overwhelmed. He didn't know where to start. He didn't know what to do. And he knew that he was letting his family down. And I think that really bothered him to a certain extent. So, let me go ahead and play Dave's clip here.

Captain Dave Inbody:
Summits invariably are pretty inhospitable places.

Jeff Evans:
Yes, sir.

Captain Dave Inbody:
I know you've stood on top of the tallest one on earth and you get the stand up there for a few minutes and then you turn around and go back down, because your body is literally dying. I've got a good friend that guides up on Denali now. And when he gets a group of clients up the top of Denali, it's long enough to take photos and then he's cracking the whip and turning people around and sending them back down. So, yeah, we spend all this time chasing the summit and we're chasing the peak and we're chasing that thing, that whatever that is, but then you get there and immediately you're going back down off of that point. And so there has to be something that's driving you more than just standing on top of the summit. That has to be the process. It has to be the ... And it doesn't always ... Getting to that point is not easy as well. I don't want to make it seem like it's just a switch that you flip.

Jeff Evans:
So, part of what I do is I feel like I'm a teacher and a coach these days. And I go in and talk to different groups about a lot of the principles that we share with No Barriers. And one of my main cornerstones is that Erik and I, we've been searching out summits all of our adult lives. We've been hungry for them, we've used it as fuel. We've put it out there. And I think it's easy for people to look at that and say, oh, you guys, you're just so summit driven. You guys are ... I can't do that. And you can't. Because it's just too much. When we got to the base of Everest and countless other mountains, you look up and you're overwhelmed by the immensity of it. I remember the first time we climbed a big wall, Erik, I remember telling you, we were going up towards Leaning Tower and anticipation of climbing El Capitan. I'm like I'm feeling nauseous right now. I'm scared as I can be. I'm so scared, because it just it's so immense, it's so big.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I think I puked in the Talas field.

Jeff Evans:
I think you [crosstalk 00:41:37].

Erik Weihenmayer:
Pretty sure.

Jeff Evans:
Yeah, just from the anticipation of the nerves that it's going to take, because it's so monumental. It's so big. It's going to take us days to do this one thing. Well, there in lies the metaphor. And I think Dave really captures that. We talk about the summits being this thing that can drive us. Cool, we need them, we need goals, we need purpose. But what we also need to realize is those summits are elusive as Dave references, that they're fleeting, they're short and that truly life doesn't take place on the summits.

Jeff Evans:
Life takes place on the flanks of the mountain, on the sides of the mountain. That's where we learn. That's where we fall down. That's where we recalibrate. That's where we stand back up. We brush ourselves off. We pay more attention to the tension of the rope that we are on together. And then we move forward towards those summits. And then we come down from those summits and we have to remind ourselves that we are not on an isolated mountains. We are in a rain. We come down and we look around and you know what, that next mountain is staring right at us asking if we've got what it takes.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I really like that too, because I think Dave's also talking about the idea that summits can. I mean, I don't ... kind of be a let down in a way. Like, let me explain. If you put all your stock and the next goal, the next summit, you think you're going to stand on top of that thing. And you see this with people like business people and athletes. They think that they are going to, at all costs, stand on the top of that thing and their life's going to change somehow. And as we know, it doesn't. You stand up there for 10 minutes and you go down and your life is the same. And so if you put all your values in the next goal, I think you can, and Sam and Dave spoke to this very eloquently, I think it can actually be a let down.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You can say, Hey, what's beyond this? And so that's why I think so much about this idea of goals can't be the end all, it's the value system that you have. At No Barriers we call it vision. It's this idea of looking deep inside yourself and saying, what are the values that I'm going to use to be the foundation where all my goals spring from? Where I can continue to sustain this throughout my entire life, whether I reach the summit or not. What kind of person do I want to be? And so I think that's kind of Yoda like Dave's talking about that stuff.

Dave Shurna:
Well, one of the thing I wanted to highlight in a final segment that really struck me was a conversation that we had in our podcast with Keely Cat-Wells. Keely Cat is the CEO and founder of a company called C Talent and another one called Zetta Studios. She was named a Forbes 30 under 30 entertainment honouree. She's an advisory board member to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Los Angeles Lakers, woman of entrepreneurship. Really accomplished young woman and her company C Talent focuses on representing people with disabilities in the talent industry. And there were multiple parts of this conversation that I just loved. But what struck me is that we've been alluding to this a bit in some of the segments that we've featured. Part of what can help us kind of bring out our best selves and get through our own challenges and Keely Cat, as someone who has a hidden disability, is to choose something to do with our lives that elevates others.

Dave Shurna:
And it doesn't mean we all have to go out and start our own nonprofit or business. We heard from Kyle that when Kyle got out of college, that's what he thought he was going to do. And that's not always so easy, but in Keely Cat's case, she did decide to go start a business. And she picked a segment of the world that needed something. And that was people with disabilities who wanted to be in the talent industry. And she said, you know what? I'm going to represent these folks and help change the industry. And the segment that I picked out speaks to something that I think we know having worked with so many people with disabilities, and of course, Erik having his own disability, but I love when she calls out, she says, "Disability is not the most interesting thing about me and yet that is often how the talent industry looks at disability." They look for people with a disability to focus on that person, oh, this person represents that disability segment, and they're going to be the specialist in that disability.

Dave Shurna:
And she sort of shakes that whole notion up and says, no, no, like disability's not always the most interesting thing about us. People with disabilities have many different talents and let us be in movies and shows, not just because we have this disability, but because we have some other thing that is our specialty. And I think she says it well in the segment. So, let's go ahead and play that.

Keely Cat-Wells:
The truth sells. And if we can have that authenticity from the beginning right through to the end, I think that's so important. Everyone's lived experience speaks and matters. And I mean, even with C Talent, we are 95% disabled led, disability employed, all of our staff pretty much by like a few are disabled themselves. And that really does spark innovation. And we are solving the problems that we face ourselves every day. And I think that it wouldn't be the same without that. Where does it even begin? Where does this broken system and this broken cycle start from? And I think it comes from people trying to predict what other people think and also missing out massive portions of communities and massive cultures that just never got included.

Keely Cat-Wells:
And I think it's a very limiting mindset to just have one variation of the population. I think if we can showcase everyone's lived experience everyone's cultures and celebrate differences, I think everyone will be much happier. And I think it's only when we actually do that, we'll start to see the ratings go up because it's never been done before. People don't think it's going to work, but if we look at Black Panther and we look at Crazy Rich Asians and all of those different communities that just never got shown before, and those ratings were the highest ratings we've ever seen.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Yeah. Because don't you think, Jeff, people they're so worried about ratings. And whether folks with disabilities would dampen that in some way. I know that sounds crazy, but yeah.

Keely Cat-Wells:
And I think people forget disability is a massive market. We bring in a trillion dollars of disposable income each year and it's larger than China and people definitely forget that, businesses definitely forget that, that it's not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. In the past, people, they've shelled people with disabilities, but they're, a lot of times, inspirational disabled people or something like that. And that's another thing I think that you're trying to break out of, that don't just bring disabled people in when you want to show a disabled person struggling or inspiration, but just normal everyday people.

Keely Cat-Wells:
Absolutely. Yeah. We're the lawyers, we're the doctors, we're the girl next door, the best friend, the entrepreneurs, the girlfriends. I want to see more of the love interests and just the incidental casting and the incidental representation. Just the way that we live our lives every day. Because I think also productions and studios and entertainment companies often think that disability is the most interesting thing about us and it's really not. They tend to focus on that. So, we definitely have to break those stereotypes and break the way that the media has perceived us in the past.

Dave Shurna:
Well, I'll just say, having coming out of that segment obviously our co-host here and co-founder at No Barriers, Erik, we often refer to as the blind guy who summited Everest and reached the seven summits. And certainly from my perspective, having worked with Erik for the better part of 20 years, disability is not the most interesting thing about Erik. I find the most interesting thing ... Yeah, you could say so Jeff, but I mean think about he started a nonprofit to change people's lives. He is going on-

Erik Weihenmayer:
I thought you were going to say my receding hairline or my Spock ears or maybe my-

Dave Shurna:
I mean, he's on a show with Will Smith. That's freaking cool. There's so many other things.

Erik Weihenmayer:
He can play guitar too.

Dave Shurna:
He's a good guitar player. So, I just think it's really important for us to one, remember that choosing to elevate ourselves and to serve others, which Keely Cat is doing in her life is both an amazing contribution to the world and a way to share our own light, but also a way to live fully and to get through our own challenges. And I think that's really important for us to keep in mind as we embrace the adversities in our lives.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's cool. Well, Dave, Keely reminds me of Geoff Tabin, who is our next person I want to highlight. And he elevates the world as well, just like she does. And so Geoff runs an organization called Himalayan Cataract Project, or now it's called Cure Blindness. And basically the low hanging fruit of blindness in the developing world is cataracts. Thousands and thousands of people go blind from cataracts in the developing world. So, he joined a group of amazing doctors and they go do these eye camps all throughout the Himalayas restoring site to thousands of people. And his stories were absolutely amazing. He's moved on to Africa and now where they're doing the same thing throughout Africa. And Jeff is a crazy Renaissance dude. He's just amazing. He plays the harmonica. He's a really intelligent doctor. He's a great climber. And he also was part of this club when he was younger called the dangerous sportsman club.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I mean, they were the first ones to bring this idea of bungee jumping back to the United States. And they had heard about this tribal ritual in Vanuatu of people tying vines to their ankles and jumping out of trees. And then they decided to take that concept and bring it back to America. So, anyway, Jeff's a nut case and I love this clip, because it's so funny. He's a climber. He is going off to Everest and he's in Harvard med school at the time. And this is how he goes off.

Geoff Tabin:
I was on my way. I'd gotten one of the is AC Irvine grants too. There's a north face on Carstensz pyramid, which at that time had never been climbed. Carstensz pyramid, which you've been to. It's only been climbed to that point four times. And so we were going to make the fifth ascent of Carstensz pyramid and do the first ascent of the big north face. And I was at a party and celebrating the magma surfing and the leader of the club said, "Oh, Geoffrey, you're going to New Guinea. You must try vine jumping." And he was referring to a puberty ritual, which is actually not in New Guinea, it's actually in Vanuatu, but he was a little misinformed where they would build these towers and tie springy vines to the ankles and dive off the towers. And then the person I just reconnected with, Alan Weston said, "Oh, well, why don't we urbanize New Guinea vine jumping?"

Geoff Tabin:
And another guy said, "Well, I've got a brother who's on the RAF and I know at the Islington Air Force Base they have these stretchy cords. Let's go get them." So we went at about 3:00 in the morning and permanently borrowed a bunch of cords and we went to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It was April Fool's Day 1979 and jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge with these cords which happened to be made by the Bungee Corporation. We unfortunately didn't have a good method of getting back up to the bridge and it was well-photographed. And the tabloid press in Britain had photos that said, "Oxford yo-yos." We were on the front page of the Daily Sun. Then that caught the attention of a TV show called, That's Incredible.

Jeff Evans:
You were pioneering something, though.

Geoff Tabin:
Yeah. That was the first ever Bungee jump was off the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then a few months later, they wanted us to do it on the TV show, but David Kirk, the leader of the club, said, "No. We've already done it. There's no sport left in it, because we already know the outcome, so it's not really a sport anymore, is it?"

Geoff Tabin:
And then on our way out from the trip from New Guinea, we didn't actually have permits to go into Irian Jaya. There was a little bit of political unrest there. And we found a missionary or fellowship pilot to fly us in without having a permit. And when we came out, we were actually arrested by the Indonesian government or Indonesian troops. And so I was actually incarcerated in Indonesia when I was supposed to be starting medical school. So, I showed up for medical school a little bit late.

Jeff Evans:
I don't think I've laughed so hard in a podcast before.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, man, I loved Geoff's voice even. It's like, eh, send them a postcard. Anyway. And look, I'm very German. I'm kind of anal. I like planning. I don't want to have crazy unexpected things happen to me on adventures. But Geoff wrote this book called Blind Corners and he talks ... it really kind of is intertwined with this No Barriers life. It's not like we want to do this all the time. But sometimes we maybe need some blind corners in our lives. Or maybe it's necessary, the idea that we never know the outcome of what we're going to sign up for, but sometimes when we do take on some new adventure or new goal in our lives without knowing the outcome, it sort of propels us forward into these unexpected places. And it often leads us to kind of some new discovery in our lives. Now I'm not saying like, throw yourself at every dumb thing. I'm just saying sometimes a little blind corners is kind of a good thing for us all. And it's a reminder to me as well.

Jeff Evans:
True that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
You got some blind corners in your life, Jeff.

Jeff Evans:
I do. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Come on [crosstalk 00:56:43].

Dave Shurna:
None that he wants to share.

Jeff Evans:
Well, like I was saying, I mean, I feel like the older you get, maybe the more in tune to that, that you might become over time. Married man. I mean, I think this is the case with everybody. When you're in your 20s and 30s. I don't know. I don't know. I did have blind corners, but I feel like I could peek around and see them. And I was just sort of naive with-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Whatever dude, when you signed up to drag a blind guy to the summit of Everest, we didn't know whether that was going to ... how that was going to end. That was such a blind corner.

Jeff Evans:
I know it was, but yet I still had this baked in version, baked in version, that everything was going to be okay. I did. I just had faith in the process and us. And once again, it was naivete. I ain't going to lie. There's no question, but I feel like reality, whatever it is has becomes seasoned as the gray hair starts to populate, but we become more in tune with those blind corners. And maybe those corners are a little bit more 90 degree. They're more acute angles than they are in our 20s and 30s they're a little bit more rounded corners perhaps. And I don't want to paint a negative picture. It's just reality. It's just becoming a little bit more in tune with what those corners look like, whether you can peek around them. Maybe when you get older, you have like that little Tom Cruise little mirror that you can stick out around the corner that you can kind of see.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Well, Geoff is definitely the extreme of going around blind corners. It's like, don't try this at home.

Jeff Evans:
That dude's hilarious, man.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. But a few blind corners. I mean like Dave, when we sat down for a cup of coffee to start this No Barriers thing together, I mean, that was such a blind corner. I mean-

Jeff Evans:
For sure.

Erik Weihenmayer:
... we had no idea what this was going to lead to. We had a vision, but we didn't know where it was going to go. We could have flopped on our faces.

Dave Shurna:
Yeah. Or you think of just the story of Kyle Coon and him being on one of our very first trip with blind [insight 00:58:48] to kids. We didn't know exactly what the hell we were doing, but we were going to figure it out as we went along.

Jeff Evans:
But isn't it that full circle like we were just talking about a little bit ago, it's taken that first step. It's just a matter of taking the first step and the initiative that in the power, the self empowerment it takes to step up and go into it.

Dave Shurna:
And having some faith. Having that faith that something good is going to come out of it. And I think that, that's, all those themes have come out in the conversation today. And it's been a tremendous year with the podcast and great conversations, a terrific year for No Barriers, our non-profit organization. As always, you can learn more about No Barriers and our work and what we're planning to do in 2022 at nobarriersusa.org. We're planning to bring back all of our in-person programming while also keeping many of our virtual programs that have been such a great success over the past two years. So, please check us out at nobarriersusa.org.

Dave Shurna:
As always, you can find show notes at nobarrierspodcast.com. If there's one thing you could do for us at No Barriers and our podcast here, it's to share this podcast with just one other person, let them know why you like it. We are continuing to grow our audience and you sharing this podcast us with another will help us out tremendously. We hope you all had a great 2021. And if you're looking for learning some more of these concepts that we've been talking about in this particular episode, please stay tuned to us next year at our No Barriers podcasts or join one of our virtual programs that are going to be offered in the next couple months at nobarriersusa.org. Thank you.

Erik Weihenmayer:
No Barriers to everyone. And I hope everyone has a fulfilling year full of growth and possible transformation. Thanks, everyone.

Jeff Evans:
Be good to yourself and be better to others.

Didrik Johnck:
The production team behind this podcast includes producer Didrik Johnck, that's me, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman, marketing and graphic support from Stone Ward, and web support by Jamlo. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and 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 nobarrierspodcast.com. That's nobarrierspodcast.com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for this show or any ideas you've got at all. Thanks so much and have a great day.

Didrik Johnck:
(singing).



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