Alpinist, author urges Fraser crowd to “alchemy” in support of Nepal
Erik Weihenmayer was a freshman in high school, and his world was going black.
A rare disease was attacking his retinas, and his window to the world was closing quickly.
He recalled a night spent with his right eye pressed hard against a television screen, hungrily absorbing those precious vestiges of visions that would be gone forever in just a few months.
He was watching Terry Fox, an amputee and cancer patient who attempted to run across Canada in the early ’80s to raise money for cancer research.
Despite the grueling toll the running took on his body, Fox’s face was “full of exaltation,” Weihenmayer said.
“It was as though there was light inside of him that seemed to be able to feed on frustration, on setbacks to use those things as fuel,” Weihenmayer said. “The greater the challenge the brighter that light just kept burning, and I hoped, you know, I prayed that it existed in me.”
Fox was an alchemist, Weihenmayer explained at a Thursday, Sept. 3, fundraiser for Nepal in Fraser. He was able to harness adversity to fuel his own fortitude.
That concept would later manifest in Weihenmayer’s own life, when, many years after the night spent pressed against the television screen, he became the first blind man to step foot on the summit of Mount Everest.
Last Thursday, this existential alchemy was blossoming again, Weihenmayer said, as the Grand County community coalesced in support of Nepal.
Roger and Michele Hedlund, founders of the non-profit Oslo Foundation, and Fraser Mayor Peggy Smith, organized the event, which also included a silent auction.
It’s the last in a fundraising campaign that has brought in $19,150 for the earthquake stricken nation.
“We certainly would like to thank all of our major donors, supporters and the community,” Roger said.
Like many climbers who venture into Nepal’s Khumbu region to attempt peaks like Mount Everest or Ama Dablam, Weihenmayer and Roger stopped at the lodge and teahouse of Lhakpa and Tashi Sherpa.
The couple has visited Grand County every summer for years to sell jewelry in front of the Mountain Rose Café in Winter Park.
Weihenmayer first stopped at their lodge in 2000 on the way to attempt Ama Dablam.
“This beautiful lady, beautiful voice comes up to us and gives us some milk tea and we start talking and she says, ‘my husband is in Winter Park,’ because I’m in Golden, and it was an incredible connection and we’ve been friends ever since,” Weihenmayer said.
Tashi suggested that Weihenmayer come speak as part of the fundraiser.
Now an accomplished alpinist, author and motivational speaker, Weihenmayer said he gladly accepted the invitation.
The money raised from the event will go toward rebuilding the school in Lhakpa and Tashi’s village as well as supplementing the sparse aid that Nepal’s government is able to provide to the rural area where Lhakpa and Tashi live, Roger said.
During his presentation, Weihenmayer acknowledged the enormity of the devastation in Nepal.
“I imagine in the midst of those forces sometimes we all feel like we’re reaching into darkness,” Weihenmayer said. “We’re just flailing in darkness, but I don’t think this is the time to lose our will, to be clouded by fear and doubt, to be swept to the sidelines and forgotten.”
Rather, Weihenmayer challenged the audience to embrace adversity and transform it into something constructive.
In this case, let it be a motivation to join forces in support of Nepal, he said.
“I think the world is crying out for alchemy, and I think we’re the alchemists right here in the room,” Weihenmayer said. “You might be the world’s best hope for alchemy right here.”
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After their soccer game Saturday, the Grand County Wildcats suited up for a very different type of game.