Acclaimed Athlete Visits Charlottesville

By: Autria Godfrey
By: Autria Godfrey

September 27, 2006

Students with special needs got a special treat Wednesday when world-class athlete Erik Weihenmayer came to Charlottesville to meet and talk with them.

Weihenmayer was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease at thirteen and then took up rock climbing at sixteen. Now nationally recognized and setting records, he stopped by Charlottesville Wednesday to spread his story and his words of encouragement.

"Being a blind climber is very unlikely, it's sort of like being a Jamaican bobsledder," Weihenmayer said.

However, feeling the rhythm and feeling the rhyme is what helped Erik Weihenmayer hit the summit of Mount Everest, setting a record for the first blind climber to ever reach the top.

"Life's a great adventure, despite our challenges and sometimes our challenges actually make life more of an adventure," Weihenmayer said.

An accomplished skydiver, rock climber, runner and biker, Erik took a breath from that adventurous lifestyle to chat with students of the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind. On everyone's mind, how does he do it?

Erik is one of only 100 mountaineers to climb the seven highest mountains on each of the seven continents, a feat extra encouraging to those also in his shoes.

"When I was in public school...people were like, 'Oh you can't do this because you're blind,' or 'You can't do that because you're blind,' but he didn't let people say that he couldn't do it and he just went ahead and did it and proved them wrong and he did what he wanted to do, so I know I can do it too," Brittany Savage said.

"I think he deserves the respect of other people...I respect him for what he does cause he's very into it," Tyler McDonald added.

Highly respected he is, but just like the rest of us, Erik puts his socks on one foot at a time, with one slight modification.

"I put safety pins on the top if their black, on the heel if their blue, on the toe if they're brown," Weihenmayer explained.

The risk taker says that his next great adventure will be adopting a little boy with his wife in about three months.

Erik is also helping raise money for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, a company that puts books on tapes for those without sight.

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