Sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch… which is the one sense that you just can’t live without? If you’re like most people, then you think sight is the most important of the 5 senses. If you can’t see, what can you do? A lot, it turns out. If you’ve got the spirit to do more than survive, that is. These blind athletes prove it. Here are the most amazing blind adventurers.
Perhaps the best known blind athlete on earth, Erik Weihenmayer, is deserving of the attention. After losing his sight completely at age 13 due to the rare hereditary disease retinoschisis, Weihenmayer immersed himself in the darkness of pure adrenaline. In 2001, he became the first and only blind person to ever summit Mt. Everest. He did it virtually all on his own, carrying his own gear and tying his own knots, relying on calls of direction from the climber ahead. In 2008, he completed the Seven Summits, and in 2010 he led a group of wounded warriors to the summit of Mt. Lobuche, a monstrous 20,000-footer in the Himalayas. Now 43-years-old, Weihenmayer is trying something new: he plans take on a blind kayak challenge down the rapids of the Colorado river. If his previous accomplishments were any indication of Weihenmayer’s potential and strength as an adventurer, we know better than to bet against him.
Antonio Tenorio Silva
Antonio lost his left eye during a slingshot mishap when he was 13 years old. Six years later, an infection caused him to lose sight in his right eye. To cope, Antonio started kicking ass, literally. Silva began practicing judo and has become highly decorated and respected practitioner throughout his athletic career. From 1996 to 2008, the blind Brazilian athlete won four consecutive gold medals in judo at the Summer Paralympics. That’s a lot of undisputed ass kicking for a guy who can’t see. It’s a lot of ass kicking no matter who you are.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pollock, a Northern Irish athlete, author and occasional motivational speaker, didn’t take total blindness well when it first struck him. When he left the hospital at the age of 22, everything was dark, literally and metaphorically – Pollock thought he’d never be able to do the things that normal people do. More than a decade later, Pollock has done things that are anything but normal. In 2003, he ran 6 marathons in 7 days in the Gobi Desert. In 2009, he became the first blind person to reach the South Pole. Just as the world was opening to him, a new tragedy struck. In 2010, Pollock was paralyzed from the waist down when he fell out a window while sleepwalking. After more than a year in the hospital, Pollock is back doing the impossible. See above for his talk at Wired 2012.
Growing up in Kenya and training with some of the fastest middle distance racers in the world, Henry Wanyoike seemed destined for track greatness. Then, tragedy struck. One night in May 1995, Wanyoike, just 20 years old, suffered a stroke in his sleep. ”I went to bed a normal person, the following day I found myself in darkness,” he tells Intaward. Wanyoike didn’t let the disability get in the way of his dreams, however. He continued running across the hillsides of Kenya, but this time he was connected by a tether to a guide – a very fast guide. Wanyoike struggled to find someone fast enough to keep up. In 2000, the training paid off as he won gold in the 5,000 meters at the Paralympic games. His time of 2:31:31 at the 2005 Hamburg Marathon is still a world record for blind runners.
Most blind runners must run tugged along by guides. Not Simon Wheatcroft, at least not all the time. By memorizing his route, and with the help of audio cues provided by the smartphone app RunKeeper, the 30-year-old Brit has miraculously learned to run by himself. In 2011, he came up just short of completing the 100-mile Cotswold ultramarathon. “DNF at mile 83. Legs fell apart could no longer stand. Amazing experience and will be competing in more ultras,” he tweeted from his Twitter account, “@moochoo.” This past summer he carried the Olympic torch through his hometown. ”I can’t hide from the fact I’m blind, but, at the same time, I would rather compete with everybody else and not be put into a special section,” he told The Guardian earlier this year. “Being visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t run.”