“The hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
That’s how judo fighter Sarah Chung describes her recent hike through 6,800-foot-high Round Valley in Utah — with only the help of her guide dog and a group of strangers (most of whom have disabilities). Sarah, who is visually impaired, says she has spent much of her life taking on new adventures and trying to prove those who doubt her wrong.
“I wanted to do something hard, something life changing,” says Sarah, who relied on her guide dog to navigate the steep and uneven terrain. “It’s both terrifying and humbling to put complete trust in even your closest companion when your next step could cause a bad injury. I had to work hard emotionally and physically, and I’m proud of what I accomplished.”
Sarah’s hike was one of 50 events offered to more than 800 people who face adversity — from disabilities to cancer — at the No Barriers Summit in Park City, Utah.
The summit, sponsored by Wells Fargo and hosted by No Barriers USA, encouraged individuals to test their limits and overcome physical and mental barriers. No Barriers USA is a nonprofit working to empower people of all abilities through transformative experiences.
The events included physical challenges, such as mountain climbing and scuba diving, as well as activities like songwriting and adaptive painting for the visually impaired.
Community of support
“It’s really inspiring,” says Karolina Rivera, who attended the summit with her husband, Ivan, and their 12-year-old daughter Maria. Maria, who has spina bifida, experienced several firsts at the event, including a swimming lesson, kayaking in an adaptive kayak that provides support to her legs and back, and horseback riding. Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the spine and can cause physical and intellectual disabilities.
Gliding into the water on her kayak at the Jordanelle State Park Reservoir, Maria’s fear of tipping the boat was palpable, but she soon began paddling, smiling, and trying to race her father who was nearby on a paddleboard. After 30 minutes of paddling around, she was ready to get out of the water and take on her next adventure: equine-facilitated learning.
Maria says she was inspired and determined by hearing Amy Van Dyken, an Olympic gold medalist, speak about her efforts to overcome a paralyzing spinal cord injury. The swimmer is now able to walk with the help of an exoskeleton and intensive physical therapy. Maria says, “They said she wouldn’t walk again, but she’s proving them wrong. Maybe I’ll grow up to be a swimmer, too.”
Maria’s parents want to be sure that she knows she has a community of support behind her as she gets older. Karolina says, “It’s important that she knows she can achieve anything. Here, we’ve tried new things and sometimes it’s been scary for Maria, but she’s conquering her fears and we want her to do that in all aspects of life.”
Dave Shurna, executive director of No Barriers USA, says, “We are creating a community of people united by a desire to live purposefully and an understanding that we all face adversity in some way.”
Judo fighter Sarah recently competed in the blind Judo World Games and is training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Born visually impaired and legally blind, Sarah, a Korean American, says that she has faced discrimination for most of her life and struggled to establish her independence. She says, “As a person with a disability, I’m a minority within a minority.”
Sarah received a scholarship from the nonprofit, funded by Wells Fargo, to fly to Utah and participate in the event, held July 9-12. Without the financial help, she says she wouldn’t have been able to attend.
“We could not be doing this without the support of Wells Fargo,” says Dave. “Wells Fargo’s support makes this event financially accessible for participants and provides communications and marketing assistance to help get the word out. The company’s volunteers have been invaluable staffing and planning the event.”
In addition to supporting No Barriers USA’s biennial summit, Wells Fargo sponsors Warriors to Summits, a program of the nonprofit, which uses mountain climbing to give military veterans the opportunity to take on challenges they previously thought unreachable. In 2015, a group of wounded veterans is training to summit Wyoming’s Gannett Peak at an elevation of 13,804 feet. Previously, Wells Fargo sponsored the 2014 Soldiers to Summits team, which summited California’s Mount Whitney on Sept. 11, 2014.
Kathy Martinez, Wells Fargo Marketing Segment manager, says, “This is about empowering and promoting the inclusion of people with all abilities in all aspects of life. Through our work with No Barriers USA, we hope to support and inspire this community of adventurers and explorers.”