BY RICHARD RHINEHART
“I’ve never been so happy to be in second in anything,” said Jeff Evans, one of three World T.E.A.M. Sports athletes who participated in ABC Television’s inaugural “Expedition Impossible” reality series.
Staged in the Kingdom of Morocco, the reality series from Mark Burnett, the executive producer of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” the series featured 13 teams at its finish and only four at the start of its final stage. In addition to Evans, Team No Limits included World T.E.A.M. Sports Director Erik Weihenmayer and Soldiers to the Summit Nepal participant Aaron “Ike” Isaacson, a wounded warrior from Hugoton, Kansas who saw two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan.
Following the team’s participation in last October’s Soldiers to the Summit Nepal expedition, Weihenmayer and Evans invited Isaacson to join them in their successful bid to join the inaugural “Expedition Impossible.” Of the participating teams, Team No Limits was the only team with a disabled member. Yet, since Weihenmayer has been so successful in adventuresome pursuits worldwide, including World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 1998 Vietnam Challenge and a landmark 2001 ascent of Mount Everest, his blindness was not the handicap other teams might have believed at the start.
“I want to make the blind people proud,” said Weihenmayer of his participation in the made-for-television event.
A key contributor to World T.E.A.M. Sports over the last decade, creating signature events like the Adventure TEAM Challenge in Colorado and the ongoing Soldiers to the Summit expeditions, Weihenmayer also helped found No Barriers USA in 2003. A non-profit organization encouraging innovation in creating new technology to assist disabled persons, No Barriers is currently coordinating fundraising for the Soldiers to the Summit Nepal Expedition documentary, scheduled for release by Serac Adventure Films later in 2011.
As a part of its fundraising effort, No Barriers sponsored a screening of the final episode of “Expedition Impossible” at Boulder Lazy Dog August 25. Featuring Team No Limits and the Modern Gypsies, Colorado supporters turned out for the fundraiser, with a capacity audience of 500 persons of all ages on hand at the Pearl Street sports bar. With all televisions tuned to ABC for the episode, collective cheers and groans arose as the action on screen twisted and turned.
Though hobbled by an ankle Isaacson injured in an earlier stage misstep, Team No Limits followed host Dave Salmoni’s advice to “be strong, work together and never give up.” Missing a critical check point while traversing the bustling city of Marrakesh, the team had to backtrack to collect a map of the city with landmarks showing the way to a former prison’s secret entrance. Asking a child if she knew any of the map’s landmarks, to the team’s delight, the girl led them directly to the critical entry, saving valuable time. Meanwhile, Team Fab Three took a wrong turn on their search for the same door, losing their lead on Team No Limits and ultimately finishing in third place.
Following the event, Weihenmayer indicated he surprised himself with his and Team No Limit’s strong finish. “I can hang in there and be a part of the game. I’ve surrounded myself with the right people.”
Although the Modern Gypsies were the ones who collected the $150,000 in prize money and the 2011 Ford Explorers at the end of the evening, the festive finale party in Boulder raised money benefiting both No Barriers and the Modern Gypsies’ non-profit, Free the Children. More significantly, the 5.1 million national viewing audience of “Expedition Impossible” saw for themselves that disabled athletes, including those without sight and our wounded warriors, can participate and excel in any challenge. That’s been a primary goal of World T.E.A.M. Sports since its founding in 1993.