A love for the outdoors leads many Tahoe area residents and visitors to sports like rock climbing, cycling and kayaking. But what if youre blind and want to climb anyway? What if you love to mountain bike, but cannot use your legs?No Barriers Festival 2007, a five-day event opening June 28 at Squaw Valley USA, promises to offer support, guidance and the latest technology to people who want to pursue outdoor sports while communing with nature. More than 600 participants are expected to attend the first No Barriers Festival held in the United States, including storied adventurer Mark Wellman, one of the groups founding directors.Its about any type of person with disabilities being able to see the possibilities of the outdoors, Wellman said in an interview last week.Wellman is a hometown hero, a well-known athlete who happens to be disabled. Five years after a back injury left him a paraplegic (with a broken back an unable to use his legs) Wellman became the first person with that disability to climb El Capitan, the 3,000-foot, vertical granite wall in Yosemite Valley.I did 7,000 pull-ups on El Cap, Wellman said in explaining his climbing technique. It took us eight days.That was in 1989 with famous climber Mike Corbett as his partner, and the aid of a special device the two men developed called an ascender. The device, which looks like a double-ended bike grip attached to a rope and an alloy paperclip (but much stronger), allows Wellman and others with similar injuries to climb vertical peaks under their own power.
Since then, the 47-year-old Wellman, a full-time Truckee resident, has become a leader in using technology that enables the disabled. He mountain bikes, road bikes, rock-climbs, cross-country skis, downhill skis and makes movies about his adventures. And a quick peek around his garage reveals enough equipment to make the most devoted gear-junkie salivate.I want to let you know that none of this would be possible without Mark though hell never admit it, said Jim Goldsmith, chairman for the new event.Goldsmith, with Wellman a founding director of No Barriers, is a 73-year-old self-proclaimed exercise freak who has lived and worked in the Tahoe area for more than 40 years.Goldsmith said the idea for the festival started at a 2002 Christmas fundraiser in San Francisco that he and Wellman attended. They began talking and realized they had a lot in common.We were neighbors in Tahoe Donner and had a mutual contact, Wayne Hanson, [who] makes [and provides] wheelchairs for Third World children, Goldsmith said.
The three men and Goldsmiths son-in law, Paulo, became the nucleus steering committee for the event. The first two No Barrier events were held in Italy in 2004 and 2005 in the Italian town of Cortino.Goldsmith said the logistical planning was difficult and the event and its planners took the year off in 2006, setting the stage for the first No Barrier event at Squaw Valley.And thats why Goldsmith said this years event is [The] first of its kind in the U.S.Having it closer to home has advantages no language barrier, no dollar-to-euro conversions and, most of all, theres the locals.The support of this community has been overwhelming financially and otherwise, Goldsmith said.The participants will be as diverse as the program.We have nine Nigerians and a person flying in from Japan, Goldsmith said. Wellman added that about 50 U.S. military veterans, most from Iraq and Afghanistan but also from Vietnam, will attend.Goldsmith said that given the nature of the modern warfare, the veterans wont all be amputees, but several expected to participate suffered traumatic brain injury.Wellman conducts several clinics with disabled veterans, and said he loves their gung-ho attitude.Whats the El Cap in your life that you want to accomplish? That is the question Wellman likes to ask vets, but also the message of the No Barriers event.Participants pay $125 for a badge that entitles them to engage in any and all events. People with disabilities and their requisite companion (needed companion) will receive first priority to the clinics.The event has several sponsors, including Wells Fargo, Nike, Verizon, Lumber Liquidators and Disabled Sports USA.
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