If watching drama unfold on Real Housewives of New York City is one of your guilty pleasures, you’ll recognize Heather Thomson from the reality TV show. But Thomson is also the creator of Yummie by Heather Thomson and an ambassador for the charity No Barriers USA. She’s sharing the journey involved in summiting a 14,000-foot peak with the organization—including what inspired her, how she prepared, and what it was really like—in this two-part column. Missed part one? Catch up here.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, the alarm clock in our room rang out at 5 a.m. No need; we were already awake!
I was with my best friend since fifth grade, Remembrance Staber, who first introduced me to No Barriers USA. And now here we were, about to embark on my first What’s Your Everest event.
We jumped up, got dressed in layers, grabbed our Camelback backpacks and drove toward the trail head. Guided by the light of a magnificent full moon, we headed up the very, very bumpy trail to Kite Lake, Colorado, where our trek would begin.
As the sun broke through the darkness, Mount Democrat, Mount Lincoln and Mount Cameron rose up in the distance, beckoning us in the crisp morning air. Everyone was buzzing with excitement, ready to tackle the 14ers (as peaks over 14,000 feet are called), as we shoveled in a high-carb breakfast at the base of the peaks.
We could barely contain our nerves, and at 6:15 a.m. our journey began.
We moved onward and instantly upward. The terrain was really rocky with small, medium and large rocks underfoot. Some were boulders big enough that you had to navigate around them—it’s clear why they call them the Rocky Mountains!
As I navigated my steps, with two good eyes and four of my own perfectly working limbs, I looked back to see Ryan Garza slowly and methodically moving up the trail. This was Ryan’s first climb with his new prosthetic leg, and as I waited for him to join me, I thought I saw pain in his face—but as I looked closer, it was determination.
With that determination, Ryan summited his first 14er, Mount Democrat at 14,154 feet—and it’s a memory I won’t soon forget. This type of perseverance and positive attitude is the No Barriers mindset at its best.
As we climbed the second and third peaks, I continued to gaze down the trail. It was astonishing to see how far we had come.
In hiking, as in life, it’s important to stop and look back to see just how far you’ve come. No Barriers’ Erik Weihenmayer—the first blind climber ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest—always says, “It’s not about the summit, it’s about the journey.”
And, as I reached the third peak, I had the honor and privilege of watching others do the same, although we are not exactly the same. Scottie, who is blind, came first behind me, with his rope team leading him with a bell. You could feel Scottie’s love of life, challenge and possibility, in every calculated step he took.
A team of three girls from New York City reached the third summit next. One was overcoming her extreme fear of heights, and she clung to the side of the mountain while her girlfriends and John Toth, director of No Barriers Warriors, talked her across the ridge. They all were filled with emotion, as she summited.
As I watched climber after climber reach the summit, and break through barriers, I too was filled with emotion. And after many hugs, high-fives and tears at the top, we were ready to make our descent back down.
Going down can sometimes be the hardest part of a climb. The momentum of the incline can work against you when you’re already tired: It’s hard on the knees, and your footing is not as sure. So, it’s important to maintain a strong focus.
While descending, I remembered all the training I did with Will: engage your core, watch your footing, use your legs. And I thought about my all of my new friends—some who may not have core strength, or sight, or hearing.
I will never forget seeing Ryan coming down off the summit, slowly and methodically moving down the trail with his prosthetic leg. The tears of joy streaming down his face were unmistakable through the sweat, and as he finished the last few yards of his journey, the tears came down all of our faces too.
What was even more striking was was the pride and accomplishment in his eyes. He finished with a power that was palpable—a most sacred moment of true existence.
My first What’s Your Everest was an immensely transformative experience. The climb gave me the opportunity to push past my own (sometimes self-inflicted) barriers, such as finding the time and sticking to it, to reach my goal. And getting to witness and celebrate others pushing past their barriers—real barriers—while discovering their own true potential, was life-changing.
Thank you to Erik Weihenmayer, his beautiful family and my No Barriers family for such a meaningful and beautiful weekend. And thank you to my amazingly supportive team—who even gave me a surprise sendoff at my final pre-climb workout with my trainer Will Torres. My own personal rope team, my husband Jonathan, and several members of team Yummie were there—it was a real sweaty celebration, WillSpace style!
I’m excited to continue my journey with No Barriers, and next I will be attending The Women’s Summit in Telluride. I couldn’t be more excited to participate in an event aimed at helping women discover their true potential.
And finally, thank you for being a part of this amazing experience with me, I hope that in some way, I have encouraged even one of you to take action toward living a No Barriers life: one that is full of purpose and meaning. —Heather Thomson
(Photos: No Barriers USA)
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