Blind ASU student to scale African mountain in June

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Monday, March 2, 2009
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Sociology sophomore Tanner Robinson is used to overcoming challenges.
Robinson was born blind, so finding his way around campus took six weeks during the summer before coming to school, but he now has no problem getting to his classes.

Now, Robinson is preparing for another challenge. He and seven others who are blind are training to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, in June.

Robinson had never hiked before he was given the opportunity to participate in the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb by the Foundation for Blind Children.

“This is something new entirely,” Robinson said. “Before, I just didn’t get out much. I spent most of my time inside.”

And though hiking is unfamiliar to Robinson, he said the opportunity came at the right time.

“I’ve always felt like I wanted to show that I could accomplish things everyone else can,” Robinson said. “I had been thinking I wanted a challenge, and a week later [I] got thrown this opportunity.”

Now with the hike approaching in June, Robinson has been training with the team of hikers and on his own.

The team is made up of eight climbers who are blind, and two sighted guides for every visually impaired hiker.

About twice a month the team gets together to hike various points in Arizona, like Camelback Mountain and Mt. Humphreys, to prepare for Mt. Kilimanjaro, Robinson said. The practice hikes have been something he looks forward to.

“It’s been really nice getting to know [the team] and developing the team atmosphere,” Robinson said.

And since hiking is a new hobby for Robinson, he said he has faced some challenges like experiencing high altitudes, but he feels they are nothing the team cannot help him overcome. He said he knows all his hard work will be worth it when he reaches the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

One of Robinson’s sighted guides, Barb Edwards, agreed that the practice hikes are great team-building activities, though they have not been easy, she said.

Edwards, accounting specialist for the Foundation for Blind Children, said that in November the team hiked seven summits in two days.

“It was grueling. I said, ‘I don’t know if we can do this,’” Edwards said, but in the end, it brought the team together.

“That’s when everybody gelled as a team,” she said.

And though the practice hikes and the Mt. Kilimanjaro trip will take its toll physically and mentally, Edwards said, it will be worth it.

“I want as many people as possible to know that given the right tools, people with disabilities can accomplish a lot,” Edwards said.

Another challenge has been raising funds for the trip, she said. The goal is to raise $500,000, and anything that isn’t used to fund the trip will be donated to the Foundation for Blind Children. Funding for the trip has been completely based on donations, she said.

And though there have been some obstacles so far, it is all for the cause, said Marc Ashton, executive director for the Foundation for Blind Children. Ashton is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro along with his 13-year-old son, Max, who is visually impaired.

Ashton said the idea for the Mt. Kilimanjaro hike came about when he met Erik Weihenmayer, a blind man who hiked Mt. Everest and made a documentary out of his trip, called “Farther Than the Eye Can See.”

Though he was skeptical at first, Ashton said when he brought the idea back to the Foundation for Blind Children, staff and volunteers responded well.

“At first I said, ‘There’s no way,’” Ashton said. “So I brought the idea [to the foundation], and they said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

And with the team working together and helping each other through practice hikes, Ashton said he is excited and proud to be part of the group.

He said he hopes that the trip will spread awareness and show that visually impaired people are capable of doing anything they put their minds to, including hiking the highest free-standing mountain in the world.

“People ask, ‘Why does a blind person want to climb to the top if they can’t see the view?’” Ashton said. “[I respond], they just see it differently. They know they’re at the top. They feel the wind. They feel the sun. They’re at the top of the world; it’s an incredible feeling.”

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