On May 25, 2001, Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Just more than seven years later, on August 20, 2008, he stood on top of Carstenz Pyramid, the tallest peak in Australasia, and completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Erik is joined by fewer than 300 mountaineers who have accomplished this feat. Additionally, he has scaled El Capitan, a 3,300-foot overhanging granite monolith in Yosemite; Lhosar, a 3,000-foot ice waterfall in the Himalayas; and a difficult and rarely climbed rock face on 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya.
In September 2003, Erik joined 320 athletes from 17 countries to compete in the Primal Quest, the richest and toughest multisport adventure race in the world: 457 miles through the Sierra Nevada Mountains over nine days, with sixty thousand feet of elevation gain, and no time-outs. Averaging only two hours of sleep each night, Erik and his team surged past the finish line on Lake Tahoe, becoming one of the 42 teams to cross the finish line, out of 80 teams that began the race.
Following Erik’s Mt. Everest ascent, Braille Without Borders, a school for the blind in Tibet, invited him to teach its students mountaineering and rock climbing. His many climbs gave the teenagers the courage to excel in a culture which affords few opportunities for the blind. Erik and six Everest team members traveled to Tibet in May 2004 to train the students. In October of that year, the team led the students on a climb to the Rombuk Glacier on the north side of Mt. Everest. Once seen as pariahs, the teenagers ultimately stood together at 21,500-feet, higher than any team of blind persons in history. Steven Haft, producer of such blockbusters as “Dead Poet’s’ Society,” created the documentary “Blindsight” detailing the ascent, which opened to standing ovations at the Toronto, Los Angeles, and London Film Festivals. The film was released theatrically in 2007.
A former middle school teacher and wrestling coach, the Golden, Colorado resident is one of the most inspirational and well-known athletes in the world. Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik has become an accomplished mountain climber, paraglider, and skier. He has never let his blindness interfere with his passion for an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Erik’s feats have earned him an ESPY award, recognition by Time Magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an ARETE Award from ESPN for the superlative athletic performance of the year, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award, Nike’s Casey Martin Award, and the Freedom Foundation’s Free Spirit Award. He has also carried the Olympic Torch for both the Summer and the Winter Games.
Erik is also the author of the book, Touch the Top of the World, published in ten countries and six languages. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Erik’s memoir is “moving and adventure packed, Weihenmayer tells his extraordinary story with humor, honesty and vivid detail, and his fortitude and enthusiasm are deeply inspiring.” The book was made into a feature film which aired on the A&E Network in 2006.
Erik’s second book, The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness, co-authored with business guru and best-selling author, Dr. Paul Stoltz, was released by Simon and Schuster in 2007. Through Paul’s science and Erik’s experience, the book shares seven “summits” for harnessing the power of adversity and turning it into the never-ending fuel to growth and innovation. Steven Covey, author of the best selling business book of all time, wrote the foreword. Erik has also been published in Time, Forbes, and Reader’s Digest.
Erik’s award winning film, Farther Than the Eye Can See, the first high-definition Everest documentary, was ranked in the top 20 adventure films of all time by Men’s Journal. Bringing home first prize at 19 film festivals and nominated for two Emmy awards, the film beautifully captured the emotion, humor and drama of Erik’s historic ascent as well as his team’s three other remarkable “firsts”: the first American father/son team to summit, the oldest man to summit, and the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day. Through screenings, the film has raised over $600,000 for charitable organizations.
Erik’s extraordinary accomplishments have gained him abundant press coverage, including repeated visits to NBC’s Today Show and Nightly News, Oprah, Good Morning America, Nightline, and the Tonight Show. He has also been featured on the covers of Time, Outside, and Climbing magazines.
In 1999, Erik joined Mark Wellman – the first paraplegic to climb the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan, and Hugh Herr – a double-leg-amputee and scientist at Harvard’s prestigious prosthetics Laboratory, to climb an 800-foot rock tower in Moab, Utah. As a result of their successful climb together, the three formed No Barriers USA, a non-profit organization with a goal of promoting innovative ideas, approaches, and assistive technologies which help people with disabilities push through their own personal barriers to live full and active lives. Erik also serves as a National Braille Literacy Champion on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind.
Erik served for several years as a member of the World T.E.A.M. Sports board of directors and is the creator of the Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado. In October, 2010, Erik helped create with Jeff Messner, Jeff Evans and Michael Brown the World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Soldiers to the Summit Nepal Expedition. The expedition was chronicled in Brown’s 2012 documentary film, “High Ground.” In previous years, Erik participated with his father in World T.E.A.M. Sports‘ Vietnam Challenge and in the Face of America ride.
In the summer of 2011, Erik participated as a member of the No Limits Team in the ABC adventure television series, “Expedition Impossible.” The team featured Jeff Evans and Isaac “Ike” Isaacson, two World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes who also participated in the 2010 Soldiers to the Summit ascent of Lobuche East in Nepal.