Dan Berlin refuses to let his impairment hold him back. What’s stopping you?
Blind man climbs mountain, puts the rest of us to shame
Berlin, 46, lost his eyesight to cone and rod dystrophy, a degenerative condition that has impaired him since he was 7.
Last week, Dan Berlin reached the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, completing his summit up the tallest mountain in Africa. The ascent was done almost entirely at night, to raise awareness for blind athletes—like Berlin.
Berlin, 46, has progressively lost his eyesight to cone and rod dystrophy, a degenerative condition that has impaired him since he was 7.
For most of his life, the disease didn’t affect his lifestyle much—he drove, played sports in high school, and read books—but after a driving accident in 2007, Berlin knew it was time to give up his license and make some changes.
The disease had caught up to him. But the Fort Collins, Colorado, resident wasn’t going to slow down. So he got a mobility cane and started running.
What started as a hobby that allowed him to reclaim independence quickly became an opportunity to inspire others.
Berlin (second from left in the photo above) started planning expeditions, and with a team of guides and trainers, claimed speed and ultra-distance records in some of the most remote and challenging terrains in the world.
In 2014, he became the first blind athlete to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim—a 46-mile route that has proven arduous for even some of the most accomplished distance runners. Last year, he tackled the trail marathon through the Peruvian mountains to Machu Picchu.
For his 2016 mission, Berlin set out to summit one of the tallest mountains in the world—all 19,361 feet of it.
Berlin and his Team See Possibilities, which supports efforts around the world to support blind children, partnered with Intrepid Travel to make sure they met the appropriate safety guidelines for rapid ascent.
“Unlike our previous challenges, where the guides could rely on seeing the terrain accurately, in this trek we changed to a dual hiking pole technique,” Berlin says.
On the mountain, a trail guide held a hiking pole in each hand, and Berlin carried the other end in each of his hands. This allowed him to feel the ups and downs of the trail, he says.
But despite the tricky terrain and conditions—freezing temperatures, 50-mile per hour winds—Berlin and his team successfully made the climb in just 2.5 days, about half the time of a normal 5- to 6-day summit trek.
“It was an amazing experience in forcing the use of all our other senses to experience the mountain in an entirely new way,” Berlin says. “And trekking in the dark brought the entire team a deeper understanding of how to impact the world while not relying so much on what we see.”
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