BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Boulder, Colorado, February 14, 2012 – The February 18, 2012 release of the feature documentary “High Ground,” chronicling World T.E.A.M. Sports’ successful October, 2010 expedition to Nepal’s Himalayan Mountains, provides an opportunity for the public to experience a remarkable journey of disabled veterans facing exceptional challenges.
“From the start, we hoped this expedition would be helpful for the injured military who participated; for others who might see this accomplishment as a positive example of TEAM work; and to bring awareness to the public of the plight and capabilities of our returning injured military,” said former World T.E.A.M. Sports President and CEO Jeff Messner. The Castle Rock, Colorado resident created the Soldiers to the Summit expedition with Boulder Everest climber Jeff Evans, Golden blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer and filmmaker Michael Brown to complement other World T.E.A.M. Sports events, such as the Sea to Shining Sea cross-country bicycle ride for wounded warriors and the climbs of Africa’s Kilimanjaro.
“Thanks to Erik, Jeff and all the Everest team, we were well prepared and fortunately not surprised with any adverse situations,” noted Messner of the expedition. “Although, even with a year planning and anticipation (and worry); the expedition, the TEAM members, the Himal may have surprised me by greatly exceeding my very high hopes.”
Among the disabled veterans who made the journey to Nepal was Nicolette Maroulis, a Navy K9 handler who enlisted following the September 2001 attacks. A participant of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2010 Sea to Shining Sea ride, Maroulis was severely wounded in 2003. A wheelchair user as a result of her injuries, the Hawaiian native was told by doctors she may never walk again. Yet, the cross-country ride, in which she transitioned from a hand cycle to a standard road bicycle, and the physically demanding climb of 20,075 foot Lobuche East in the Himalayan Mountains greatly helped to increase her strength.
“These events allowed me to view myself as whole,” said Maroulis. “My injuries no longer define me but the moments in my life where I pushed through my comfort zone and was once again able to triumph.”
Maroulis recalled her participation in the expedition fondly. “It was an amazing opportunity. There are so many times that people try to protect us (injured, disabled). It is wonderful to have the opportunity to prove myself … to myself.”
For Messner and many participants of the Soldiers to the Summit climb, visiting Nepal was an experience of a lifetime. “The Himal is beautiful, staggering, inspiring and is screaming for us to return!” he said.
More than 15 months following the team’s return to the United States, Messner recalled two moments that defined the expedition. “We reached Dogla at the base of Lobuche after seven days of climbing, where the climbing groups separated,” Messner recalled. “After coming so far, the feeling of accomplishment and anticipation of the Lobuche climbers was overwhelming. The parting hugs, smiles and best wishes were joyful life memories.” Following the ascent of Lobuche, Messner recalled his and his team’s happiness. “When the group reunited in Pheriche three and one-half days later, after the successful summit, the reuniting was fantastic. The elation relating to a successful and safe summit was a great sense of accomplishment. All the hugs and smiles were even more robust and loving.”
“There were many moments that stood out,” said Maroulis of her expedition experience. “The summit, finally getting off the mountain … but the Nepalese people had a huge impact on me. I was able to help paint some prayer wheels and some of the prayer boulders along the route. I hung out with some of the monks and learned how to paint a Buddhist Thangka painting.”
Maroulis said her only disappointment from the expedition was “not taking the time to fully enjoy the summit,” including taking more photographs. “I am always looking for the next adventure,” she said. “I hope to participate in future mountain climbs by helping more veterans make it to the summit. I am still looking for the next big thing, the next way to push myself.”
“We knew this was going to be a difficult expedition in a very stressful environment,” recalled Messner. “I couldn’t be happier to report the only significant feeling of disappointment was during the five day descent, when I realized our expedition was coming to an end.”
With the release of the “High Ground” feature documentary from Stone Circle Pictures and Serac Adventure Films, the successful wounded warriors leave a legacy for future climbing expeditions with the disabled.
“It is the coming together of great people that make World T.E.A.M. Sports events so successful,” said Messner. “We are fortunate to have equally great people involved with every WTS event. In that regard, it is the community of World T.E.A.M. Sports family that is the greatest achievement.”