This column by Carol Carlson appeared in the Dec. 21, 2018 Vail Daily. Carlson is the concurrent enrollment coordinator at Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley at Edwards. She has lived with multiple sclerosis since she was 24 and is a breast cancer survivor.

By Carol Carlson

This fall, I had an experience that created a paradigm shift in the way I see myself in the world. I was fortunate enough to be selected by the Reach Foundation as a scholarship recipient to attend the No Barriers Summit in New York City. You see, I have multiple sclerosis, and the No Barriers Summit is a gathering of people, many with disabilities, who want to live a No Barriers Life. I have lived with MS for 27 years, and during this time, I have slowly lost my ability to walk, hike, ski and do many of the outdoor activities I moved to Colorado for. Over the years, accepting these new limitations has been hard; however the No Barriers Summit changed the way I look at the challenges I face.

I couldn’t have been more excited and terrified to travel to NYC. I had never been to New York City, but I knew the pace on the street was going to be fast, much faster than the pace of little old Eagle, where I live. I was also nervous about traveling on an airplane with the scooter I use to help with mobility.

Both of these worries proved to be non-issues. The scooter worked just like a baby stroller and was able to be gate checked, and the streets in New York were busy and fast, but accessible, which made it exciting and energizing. I was able to get around easily.

Carol Carlson and Erik Wehenmayer

Carol Carlson with Erik Weihenmayer at the No Barriers Summit in New York.

To understand No Barriers, you first need to know Erik Weihenmayer. Erik is an adventurer who has summited Mount Everest and kayaked the Grand Canyon – and he happens to be blind. He developed seven life elements as the core of living a No Barriers Life: Vision, Reach, Pioneer, Rope Team, Alchemy, Summits and Elevate. Each one of these play an important role in living your best No Barriers Life.

The opening ceremony for the summit was at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. My husband Ralph and I met so many amazing people, listened to inspiring speakers and attended breakouts where attendees could try new things like adaptive sports, singing, dancing, Broadway, wellness, rock climbing, self-defense and so many others.

One of our challenges for the weekend was to try something that was scary or took us out of our comfort zones. I tried rock climbing and was scared to death. I couldn’t believe how scared I was. Even though I knew I was tied off and couldn’t fall to the ground, I was hanging on for dear life. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, and was oh so pumped when I got down.

The second day of the summit was a New York City scavenger hunt called the Questival. This was a lot of fun and a great way to see the city. We connected with another couple from the summit and walked and wheeled our way throughout the city taking pictures, answering questions and doing silly things for the scavenger hunt. We did a lot of laughing.

We went out to dinner that night with our new friends Amanda and Keith and started building part of our Rope Team. Amanda is an amazing person who also has MS and has to work through challenges and barriers every day

The summit ended in the evening in Central Park with concerts and getting to hear Erik speak. He is an amazing person who inspires all who hear him to go out and live a No Barriers Life, just like he does every day.

The summit was filled with inspiring people, including Erik and a man named Karl. Karl has a disease called O.I. – osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease. He is so determined and became a huge inspiration to me. He traveled to the summit alone, which I find so brave because that was something I have been afraid to do since walking has become difficult. After the summit, and with Karl as an inspiration, I faced the traveling-by-myself fear and met some friends in Florida for a girl’s weekend last month. Not only did I face my fear, I had a blast! And I could see that I had become my own barrier.

No Barriers is a mindset now. There is nothing I can’t do. “What’s within me is stronger than what’s in my way.”

The No Barriers Summit really helped me see that even though I have a disability I still have a lot to offer the world. I want to help people reach and see their own potential in life. Everyone faces challenges and we all need to persevere, no matter what the challenge is.

I encourage everyone to try to attend a No Barriers event. You will be so inspired to live a No Barriers Life when you see people who have many challenges living their best life with a smile on their face. That’s the way I want to live, with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart with a No Barriers mindset. Join me. ❤️ #nobarriers #summitwithus