Blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer leads 14er climb near Breck on Aug. 1 | SummitDaily.com

Blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer leads 14er climb near Breck on Aug. 1

Leo Wolfson
Special to the Daily

Sometimes in life, challenges feel like small hills, and, other times, they feel more like mountains.

Whatever the challenge may be, the founders of No Barriers USA believe that it never has to be conquered alone. No Barriers is championing the "community as one" belief with its What's Your Everest event, held in Breckenridge July 31 to Aug. 1.

The event will showcase a number of wounded vets and other handicapped individuals who work to achieve amazing feats despite their disabilities. The event will give participants the opportunity to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with these inspiring individuals as they summit four different 14ers in one day.

The festivities on July 31 will start out at 5:30 p.m. with a banquet dinner meet-and-greet, where people like Erik Weihenmayer will tell their story.

Weihenmayer, the first legally-blind adventurer to climb Mount Everest, is a co-founder of No Barriers and started the What's Your Everest events in 2010.

"When I met Erik, I felt like I met my tribe," said What's Your Everest volunteer and participant Penn Street. "I finally found someone like myself who pushed through barriers and refused to be a couch potato. I mean, he literally stood at the top of the world."

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Street was invited to a What's Your Everest event a few years back and has been hooked ever since. The concept of overcoming challenges and donating to wounded veterans and handicapped individuals hit home for her due to a number of reasons. She, like Weihenmayer, is a visually-impaired climber. She also has SJS syndrome, a daughter who has had serious health issues and a military veteran brother who died from cancer last December.

Despite having a lung infection, Street still hiked and finished the 2014 event.

"Before he died, I sent him a No Barriers flag, which meant a lot to him even until the end," she said amid tears. "I was told by my doctor I couldn't go, but I just had to be there … I had to go and give it my all."

Breaking barriers as one

Because of What's Your Everest, Street found a motivational support system as well as a career. Recently, she became the first visually-impaired No Barriers employee. More than anything, What's Your Everest provides a community and meeting ground for people with a variety of setbacks to overcome challenges.

"It's easy to start to think you can't get past something in life, but, when you surround yourself with people who overcame amazing circumstances, it makes you realize you can do it … It gives perspective," said Cindy Bean, chief development officer for No Barriers USA.

"We were all disabled, so it felt like none of us were," Street said. "There's not many places people will ever experience this. It was remarkably life-changing and inspirational because being handicapped, you're usually the one being looked as weird."

What's Your Everest celebrates and supports people overcoming all kinds of challenges — even those non-physical.

"Rarely our barrier is what people actually see," Street said. "A barrier is fear, and, sometimes, this mental barrier is way more decapitating than anything physical."

Since 2010, the organization has drawn an eclectic range of participants, thanks to programs like What's Your Everest?

"We get people who are trying to battle poverty, want to lose weight, or are dealing with other emotional stressors," Bean said. "We've gotten CEO's who are trying to teach their team to overcome adversity in the workplace."

Four 14ers, one day

Day two of the event will be the hiking portion. At 6 a.m., shuttles will transport participants from the DoubleTree Hotel in Breckenridge to Kite Lake Trailhead south of Breckenridge.

From there, hikers will start up Mount Democrat, with the choice to continue on to Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross afterwards.

Doing all four in one day is an over 8-mile trek round-trip, with 4,000 feet in elevation gain. Due to this challenge, hiking only Mount Democrat or other trails in the area is acceptable at What's Your Everest. Different hike options are displayed on the No Barriers website. The day ends with a post-hike celebration at the trailhead.

Weihenmayer, Street, wounded war veterans and other handicapped individuals will be present for the hike. At last year's event, many of these people helped a recent stroke victim, Derek Campbell, hike a mountain near Granby. Despite struggles with an ankle brace and other challenges, he kept a sense of humor and grit;and summited the mountain with a smile cast from ear to ear.

"It was a major milestone for me," he said. "Just learning that other people have struggles, too … It feels great."

From start to finish, the event is about finding what's in you — rather than focusing on what's in your way. When you have a tribe of like-minded people to support you, that discovery becomes a much smaller task.

"People always end up hiking more than think themselves capable because they get energy from those around them, and when you reach the top of the mountain with everyone, it's an amazing feeling," Street said. "Normal day-to-day struggles seem smaller because you just climbed a freaking mountain."

The fundraising minimum to participate is $500, and tickets for the dinner alone are $50. More than 80 percent of the money raised will go to supporting wounded veterans, students and kids who've lost parents in the armed forces, and people with disabilities.

What’s Your Everest? Colorado

What: A banquet and hiking event that takes participants up to three 14ers outside of Leadville, hosted by the Fort Collins nonprofit No Barriers and Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to summit Mount Everest

Where: Dinner at Doubletree Hotel in Breckenridge; Hiking from the Kite Lake Trailhead

When: July 31 to Aug. 1

Cost: $500 to participate, $50 for dinner alone

For complete event details, see getinvolved.nobarriersusa.org or call 970-484-3633.

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