Friday, June 05, 2009

Day 2 - No Barriers USA Festival, Miami FL

Wow. Where do I begin. We're only on day 2 of 4 at this fabulous event here in Coconut Grove, and I'm already speechless. As if the day, packed full of adventure and tumultuous weather, weren't enough to render someone in awe, but tonight's speakers put the fork in me. And I have two more days to go.

We started out the morning with the technology symposium, learning about some of the most amazing medical advancements for the blind, from a tongue stimulator that stimulates a new visual pathway (yes, you didn't read that wrong) to IRIS (Intelligent Retinal Implant System) that restores visual perception. The symposium finished with new discoveries in treating spinal cord injury here at the Miami Project; as if we weren't already confident Craig would walk again, I now see the future is nearer than we think.

After lunch we headed over to Shake-A-Leg Miami's docks for an afternoon of adventure. Craig settled into the outrigger canoeing team (recruiting for the 2016 Olympics). Adapted by actually removing the outriggers off two boats and strapping them together, the system not only creates better balance for the adaptive rowers, but it also gives more room for twice the bodies, and thus, twice the speed. The media boat trailed them pathetically and I got to watch those 10 men and women shout "HUT, HO!" to the tune of fast strokes through a very choppy bay with the acuracy of Hawaiians, despite having met each other just 45 minutes before. As they came in I heard one of the ShakeALeg vols say, "I've NEVER seen an outrigger go that fast!" Inspiring? Yea.

They've got sports stacked upon each other every day so the pickin's are actually thick, not thin, and we won't have the chance to see or do it all. I managed to snap the water sports today though while watching the outrigger canoe, kayaking, both single and tandem, and plenty of sailing (including a female quadriplegic and a world class olympian teamed up, with her steering and swinging around the boat on a mobile chair while he tacked and jibbed... or whatever!). What we missed? Stand up paddleboarding, blind sailing, and adaptive swimming.
We got to hang out with Molly the pony, whom we mentioned in our previous post, watch adaptiave yoga, and check out the equipment in the Coast Guards hangar- Solorider golf cart, a powerchair-adapted land rover, and a trike that is beefier than anything you'd see on American Chopper. Woah.

Then there were tonight's speeches. We started with Jesse Billauer's story, truly an inspiring one made even more so by hearing it live- we've known Jesse for some time and Craig interviewed Jesse for the I Can Do That motivational series in 2006. I edited the interview, so I knew his story. But hearing him tell it live, from his near-paralysis experience prior to the actual paralysis, to his brother's guilt and grief, and all the jokes and tears in between was truly inspiring. But not the end.

No, the real tears came when Craig and Kelly Pearson got up to tell one ridiculously amazing story of triumph and success. In 1995, after 3 years of worry, medical visits, and waiting, she received a donor heart, and then climbed every nearly mountain on the planet with it. From Mt Whitney to Kilimanjaro to El Capitan, they racked up miles quick on her second act in life. But it was Mt Fuji that was the inspiring one. Craig received a phone call from Kelly's donor's daughter right before the trip- Kelly had already left- and asked Craig to not only take a wish up there with him for Kelly for her mom, but to also take her mom's ashes. Because of Kelly's triumphant story, and because part of the Pearson's mission was awareness, the Japanese media went along for the ride. To protect Kelly from the burdon, Craig didn't tell her of the daughter's wish nor the box of ashes until she summited (in case of failure) but when he did the tears streamed down and the media snapped it all. Thanks to them, Japan is now doing heart-transplant procedures.

This is a very small taste of what this No Barriers event is all about. Inspiring people with stories of triumph over adversity and physical tests, sharing their love of each sport and each adventure with each and every one of us.

I have no more words but thanks.

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