When an organization’s mission is to “unleash the power of the human spirit,” participants suspect that challenging circumstances combined with lofty goals are probably expected. And, indeed, that is exactly what No Barriers Warriors does. The organization engages disabled veterans in challenging outdoor adventures that include hiking, paddleboarding, rafting and, ultimately, mountain climbing. The purpose is to help disabled veterans regain their confidence in spite of a service-related disability.
“When you take individuals from varying backgrounds and various levels of experience in the outdoors, you’re obviously teaching some basic skills—like how to pitch a tent or the fundamental techniques of camping,” said John Toth, director of No Barriers Warriors. “But it’s important to note that our purpose is not necessarily to build a skill set—our goal is to build a mindset.”
No Barriers Warriors was inspired by the tenth anniversary of blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer’s historic climb of Mount Everest. Weihenmayer, founder of No Barriers USA, joined his Everest teammates to lead a group of disabled soldiers to the summit of Lobuche, a 20,100-foot-peak in the Himalayas. The endeavor was captured on film and eventually became the documentary “High Ground.”
In 2012, No Barriers USA officially began incorporating its programing to include injured soldiers from all branches of the military, as well as survivors of the fallen. Today they are known as No Barriers Warriors (NBW). These individuals participate in mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging activities, personal reflection, and group interactions designed to remind them that what’s within them is stronger than what is in front of them.
Veterans from across the country have been helped through NBW’s unique curriculum and no-pay policy, meaning all veterans who attend the program do so at absolutely no cost. This is another way that NBW wants to eliminate barriers, even when it comes to funding.
“When our veterans are given this opportunity, we see how their lives are changed—sometimes even saved,” said Toth. “We set very high and lofty goals for our participants. When I see them accomplish those goals, I’m not surprised. I’m inspired.”
Veterans are able to participate in the one-of-a-kind program through the generosity of various organizations that donate to NBW. In November 2016, CoBank, a cooperative bank serving agribusinesses, rural infrastructure providers and Farm Credit Associations, announced a program that allowed its customer to nominate up to 50 rural veterans to participate in a No Barriers expedition. This corporate sponsorship allowed three Michigan co-op members and veterans to attend No Barriers Warriors adventures in 2017, Jesse Smith (Midwest Energy & Communications), Michael Valkner (Cherryland) and Christopher Irving (Great Lakes Energy). “America’s rural communities are home to millions of men and women who have sacrificed for their country through military service, many of whom are facing some sort of disability,” said Tom Halverson, CoBank CEO. “The No Barriers program provides these veterans with an opportunity to challenge their own limitations— both real and perceived—and to create a network of support that can last a lifetime.”
Smith, a mostly-retired therapist, took the opportunity to attend a NBW adventure in Colorado in September and has already recommended the program to his friends and clients.
“I can hardly put into words how liberating it was, at nearly 80 [years old], to go and do the things I did,” said Smith. “I would tell anyone who is even considering it, to not be afraid and just go for the adventure.”
Are you a veteran interested in being nominated for the 2018 No Barriers program? If so, please go to countrylines.com/nobarriers by Feb. 28 and complete the form to express your interest. Your co-op will follow-up with more detailed information.