Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to climb the Everest: “Many allow darkness to paralyze them; I did not take that option”

The American appeared this Tuesday at the Metropolitan Santiago in the Metropolitan Region of Chile, where he delivered a message filled with energy and achievement. The attendees included government authorities, foundations, NGOs, CMPC representatives and national athletes, who welcomed his visit. 

It was 2001, and Erik Weihenmayer was making history: in May, he reached the summit of Mount Everest and became the first blind person to achieve this feat. The milestone was captured in the documentary “Farther than the eye can see” and also on the cover of the prominent Time Magazine. What led him to embark on such a complex challenge? How was he able to exceed his limits? 

On Tuesday, March 12th, more than 500 people listened attentively to his story during “No Barriers”, a conference that Weihenmayer has given in over 20 countries and which he now offered in Chile in an event organized by CMPC. The Metropolitan Santiago was attended by the Minister of Sports Jaime Pizarro, the Governor of Santiago Claudio Orrego, the President of CMPC Luis Felipe Gazitúa and the company’s CEO, Francisco Ruiz-Tagle, as well as representatives from various foundations and prominent national Olympic and Paralympic athletes. For more than 2 hours, the athlete addressed his epic ascent to the highest summit in the world and talked about various experiences in his life, through which he delivered a message of hope, motivation and achievement. In a conversation with Rodrigo Jordán, president of Fundación Vertical and a national climber, he reflected on his experiences, stating that “Many allow darkness to paralyze them; I did not take that option.”

After the talk, the American climber was happy with the reception he had in our country. “Santiago and the people who came today have been incredibly kind and welcoming. Everyone was very cheerful, laughing and applauding, and they seemed really connected with this message (No Barriers, the name of the talk), which is a human message that everyone can connect with: the idea of the absence of barriers and what it means to try to live a life without them.”

Erik completely lost his sight at age 13 due to a degenerative disease. Three years later, he started his career in the world of climbing. Since then, his exploits have amazed the world: he was the first blind athlete to climb the highest mountains in each continent, something known as the “Seven Summits”. Weihenmayer has also performed other feats such as sailing the 455 kilometers of the Colorado River in the Great Canyon, as well as practicing other sports such as skydiving, mountain biking and rafting.

“I think that the message I can give younger kids is to just go out, live and be happy. And say yes; not to the bad things but to the good ones. If an organization says ‘go and try rock climbing’ or ‘go and try skating’, or cycling, or learn about computers, say yes. When I went blind, I knew I did not want to be in a prison that I had partially created myself. So I knew that in order to get out of it, I wanted to say yes to all of those opportunities. And I am really happy that I did,” reflected the athlete.

To CMPC’s CEO Francisco Ruiz-Tagle, the climber’s talk was a great inspiration to everyone at the Metropolitan Santiago, who gave Erik a standing ovation at the end of his presentation. “This event went beyond sports. It has to do with daily life and how we decide to live it, with overcoming our problems and difficulties. With understanding that you can fail many times in life but there will always be opportunities to seize. I have no doubts that, for all of us who went to this meeting, it was a great experience that left an important lesson,” he reflected. 

During his stay in Chile, the athlete carried out various activities that included a visit to the Los Reyes Park in Quinta Normal, where he led a climbing clinic for youth who practice this discipline. 

About the activity, Weihenmayer stated that “It was incredible. We went to Deporte Libre, a wonderful organization that turned a factory into an area where children can play and climb, which I climbed. Then something really beautiful happened: a little girl approached me and started talking to me. Then her mother said to me in English: ‘Thank you for teaching my daughter that everything is possible.’ I almost cried because I thought that being able to help others see their own future and their own possibilities is something really beautiful.”

This way, Weihenmayer has added a new visit to our country. Let us remember that in early 2023 he became the first blind climber to reach the top of the Paine Towers, specifically the North Tower and the Shark’s Fin.