Take 5: Deaf hiker Bobby Moakley, keynote speaker at No Barriers ‘What’s Your Everest?’ July 22-23
What’s Your Everest? 2016
What: An annual outdoor excursion event hosted by No Barriers USA, a Fort Collins-based nonprofit pairing disabled veterans and more with hiking, biking and adaptive guides
When: Friday and Saturday, July 22-23
Where: Keystone Resort and across Summit County
Cost: $500 donation
The $500 registration fee is considered a donation that helps veterans, low-income youth and adults with disabilities attend No Barriers events for free. Registration is available online or onsite for participants who want to join hikes, seminars and more during the weekend. Registration begins at 5 p.m. on July 22 in Keystone, followed by dinner and programming. For more info or to sign up, see the Keystone tab at www.whatsyoureverest.org.
Bobby Moakley remembers his first trip to Grand Canyon National Park like it was yesterday. At 17 years old, the Boston native met with a group of about 20 fellow hikers — most of who were born deaf, like he — for a few days of hiking and rafting and simply enjoying the great outdoors.
“I had a community with me that understood my impairment, looked at me and didn’t think of me as someone who is deaf,” Moakley remembers. “That was the first time I’d been viewed not as someone who is deaf, but just someone who happens to be deaf.”
Now 19 years old, Moakley recently finished his first year of college at Rochester Institute of Technology, a mid-sized university surrounded by forests and rivers in upstate New York. Unlike many freshman, he’s already declared not one, but two majors: environmental science and international global studies. Both were inspired by that first trip to the Grand Canyon, when he fell head-over-heels for the great outdoors and found inspiration for change with a group of peers. Some day — maybe after a stint with No Barriers, the Fort Collins-based nonprofit that took him to the national park — he’ll pair ecology with international relations to “solve issues across the world,” including the dozens of visible and invisible barriers for his deaf peers.
This weekend, Moakley travels from Boston to Summit County for the No Barriers “What’s Your Everest?” event, held at Keystone Mountain from July 22-23. He’s the featured keynote speaker at the welcome dinner on Friday night, when he’ll talk about his trip to the Grand Canyon, his first-ever excursion with fellow deaf hikers in Massachusetts and everything he’s done since.
The Summit Daily sports desk caught up with the young environmentalist a week before the event to get a sneak preview of his talk.
Summit Daily News: You’ve been deaf since birth. How are we talking right now?
Bobby Moakley: I have a cochlear implant right now. Are you familiar with those?
SDN: Sort of, but not really.
BM: When I was a kid — when I was one and a half — they put a small implant in my head that has an external processor on my ear. The external processor talks with the implant in my cochlea and turns it into a message my brain can process, so it’s like anything else going in your ear.
SDN: Does the implant have an impact on what you can do, like sports or hiking or just being outside?
BM: I didn’t really do sports growing up. I did baseball and soccer, but my parents didn’t want me doing anything that was too high-impact — it can knock around the implant and cause problems. I started swimming in high school and really enjoyed that, but it was also hard because I couldn’t hear much of anything. The other guys would be talking or laughing in the water and I couldn’t hear. I felt alone then too.
SDN: How did you first get involved with No Barriers?
BM: Someone who works there now, Kaitlyn Millen, started a small outdoors camp in Massachusetts for deaf students. It was small, about 10 kids, and she let us know about No Barriers. A bunch of us applied and were accepted, and then she started working with them not too long after that. The Grand Canyon trip was my first time with them.
SDN: And you’ve taken more than a few trips since then. Have you been to Colorado with No Barriers before, or will this be your first trip out here?
BM: I was there a few weeks ago for the No Barriers Summit. I went to the one in Park City last year and this year was a totally different experience. You had people with disabilities, people without disabilities, and everyone was coming together. There was support and love all across the Summit and everyone was ready to face any challenges coming their way. It’s more of a community-based experience at the Summits.
SDN: Did you make it out for any hiking?
BM: We had the chance to summit Copper Mountain, where we were staying. I had no words for the views up there — it was amazing. I’m used to the cityscape in Boston, so it’s just a completely different environment.
SDN: No Barriers is big on outdoor activities: hiking, rafting, camping. Had you done much of that before going to the Grand Canyon?
BM: Yes, we were outdoors at the small camp in Massachusetts, but that was just once a year. It really started when I was at the Grand Canyon, when we went backpacking, hiking, camping — we did maybe 20 miles of backpacking. Now I try to get out hiking at least three or four times a week. I’m in upstate New York, and just outside of where I’m at school is the Adirondacks. There are boundless opportunities up there. I’ll also do shorter hikes in the area around my school.
SDN: Does hiking bother the implant?
BM: Not really. There are small things, like bringing extra batteries, or making sure I can find cover if it rains, but nothing big.
SDN: What do you remember the most about that first Grand Canyon trip?
BM: There were about 20 of us, and about half of us had a hearing impairment and the other half didn’t. I had a community with me that understood my impairment, looked at me and didn’t think of me as someone who is deaf. That was the first time I’d been viewed not as someone who is deaf, but just someone who happens to be deaf.
SDN: It seems like No Barriers inspires that kind of thinking: It’s all about community.
BM: Yes, No Barriers is about helping people with disabilities that are visible or invisible. That’s if you have an amputation or if you’re deaf, or you can even struggle with depression or alcohol. We truly do have power to change the world if we work hard and don’t let anything set those limitations on us.
SDN: What will you talk about during your keynote this weekend?
BM: I’ll talk about my struggles growing up as a deaf child — the struggles I had finding my identity and who I was. I’ll fit that with how No Barriers helped me find a community.
SDN: You said that No Barriers inspired you to study the environment and politics. Where will that take you?
BM: Once I get out of school I absolutely want to work with No Barriers for a while. When I’m older, I want to get into policy and politics, mainly environmental.
SDN: Talk about climate change: Right now, what is the most urgent concern for the climate?
BM: Climate change encompasses everything, definitely, but there are so many things involved with that. It’s just such a big one. I don’t have a single answer for that. One of the biggest reasons I want to address that is to save the world we enjoy now. (Climate change) is threatening our health, our lifestyle, our homes — I want future generations to have all of that. We shouldn’t think of climate change as a problem we can’t solve, but a new way of living in the future, a more efficient way of living.
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