SunGardHE Summit: Eric Weihenmayer

(Notes from SunGardHE Summit Keynote Address on Sunday, April 13)

Highlight of Summit kickoff was the keynote by Eric Weihenmayer, a renowned adventurer and the only blind person to summit Mt. Everest. His talk was inspiring and enjoyable. Much as people speak of the good that can come from “unintended consequences,” Eric speaks of the opportunities to be found in the face of adversity. Amazing results are found overcoming adversity. Eric lost his sight as a teenager, he has overcome this challenge and has overwhelmingly overcome the limitations others would place upon a blind person. His Seven Summits accomplishment is testament to his abilities.

After sharing ample examples of overcoming adversity and actually innovating due to this adversity, Eric went on to share assistive technology that may help eliminate barriers. Leading up to a video sample, Eric spoke of how it is the brain that “sees,” the eyes are our data input device. Making use of an oral input device, Eric was shown to “see” his environment while reaching for a coffee mug, playing tic-tac-toe with his daughter and extending his arm to a handhold while rock climbing. A computer is converting video input to a physical sensor that Eric’s brain reads as input from his tongue. An amazing approach and display of challenging adversity. I believe this work is related to the BrainPort. Learn more at How Stuff Works or from a CBS News story. No Barriers, a non-profit started by Eric, supports efforts to expand the assistive technologies available.

Eric’s talk was sparked by his witty humor and compelling stories. I enjoyed stories of his friend Chris and his use of “optimistic pessimism.” With optimistic pessimism you followup a pessimistic comment with another negative comment that might make you feel better about the intial comment. His friend’s example came from crossing a crevasse on a bunch of ladders strapped together by sherpas.

“These ladders sure are rickety, but at least the wind is blowing.”

There were also touching stories of loyalty and friendship. While preparing for their Mt. Everest climb on a nearby mountain, a friend and team member became sick and had to be rushed down the mountain for medical care. This episode required a prolonged recovery which kept Eric’s friend from his usual rigorous training that threatened his preparedness for the Mt. Everest climb. His friend came to him saying that Eric should replace him, that he isn’t ready to support the team. Eric refused to give up on his friend and told him he was still on the team. The friend stated that he wasn’t ready to get himself to the summit but will do it to get Eric to the summit. It turns out that 19 of the 21 team members (including the first blind person and the oldest person to reach the summit) made it to the peak which is still a record for any Mt. Everest ascent.

One Reply to “SunGardHE Summit: Eric Weihenmayer”

  1. Wow, now I am jealous. The articles that I have read about Eric Weihenmayer are inspiring – it would be great to hear him speak in person. Seven summits is on my life-long to do list.

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