Paying it forward: Thoughts on Peak Potential 2014

By Kim Kett Johnson

On Saturday night my husband Todd and I were fortunate enough to attend our 5th Peak Potential dinner and auction put on by 2020 Vision Quest and our friend Randy Pierce. We have attended all of the Peak Potential dinners over the past five years. Let’s face it, when you have three small children, having an annual event where you get to go out as a couple, dress up a little, and see many friends, all while supporting a fantastic cause is something we look forward to every year. I’d like to highlight a couple of the things I love most about the event.

Group photo of Randy and his fraternity brothers reuniting for a fun evening out.
Randy and his fraternity brothers reunite each year at Peak Potential for a fun social evening.

The social part: Randy Pierce and I have been friends since 1986. I see Randy and speak to Randy outside of the Peak Potential event, but every year at Peak Potential I reconnect with many other people who are mutual friends to Randy and me.

Many of these friends of ours are Randy’s fraternity brothers. Last night there were 18 brothers there so assuming each had a +1 that is 36 seats at the dinner that were there because of the brotherhood they share with Randy and with each other. A lot of people do not understand the bond and camaraderie of being in a fraternity or sorority but 30 years later the outpouring of support Randy’s fraternity brothers give him is fantastic to watch. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of the night. I was lucky enough last night to see a couple of my sorority sisters and my great friend and first roommate. We were all brought together by this wonderful event.

Kim gets into the spirit of the event by making a bid on silent auction items.
Kim gets into the spirit of the event by making a bid on silent auction items.

The philanthropic part: 2020 Vision Quest and Randy Pierce’s vision has grown to where he has introduced his message of true vision and believing in yourself despite adversity, to 34,000 students since the organization was started. How many of us can say we have touched the lives of tens of thousands of students over a few years? He is not stopping there. Randy spends his days traveling to any school that will have him in many states. All the efforts of Randy and 2020 Vision Quest benefit the organizations “Guiding Eyes for the Blind” and “The NH Association for the Blind”. Both of these organizations helped Randy in his darkest days when his vision of what his life would be like was much different than it is now. 2020 Vision Quest is the definition of “Paying It Forward.”

Everyone at Peak Potential pays for the dinner, bids on silent auction items, buys raffle tickets, bid on live auction items and some playfully bid against each other on bigger ticket items. It is a real tribute to Randy and what he and the 2020 Vision Quest organization has built as to how many people come out every year. Whether you have attended a Peak Potential before or are reading this and thinking about attending next year, I will see you there!

 Puppy dressed up with cuffs and bowtie
The next generation of Guide Dogs wants to know: Will we see you next year?

All photos courtesy of Kevin and Heather Green Photography.

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Quinn featured in “Pet Tales: Unconditional Love”

Quinn smiling
The Mighty Quinn: Definitely exemplary of unconditional love.

By Randy Pierce

It was one of the most touching tributes I could imagine when Eileen Doyon contacted me through our mutual friend, Kathy Dunn. She understood I had shared a bond of incredible depth and meaning though she’d never met Quinn or me, except through the stories shared by Kathy. Yet she appealed to me to write a short story that would deliver the essence of our bond for her newest book , Pet Tales: Unconditional Love, in a series that delivers a process of healing and messages of inspiration along the way.

Quinn adorns the cover of this book and his tale is as well told as I have ever managed within the pages. I encourage you to get a copy and read Quinn’s and many other tales and tell us what you think. In the meantime, I want to allow Eileen to bring her wonderful concept to you directly as a guest blog post.

Unforgettable Faces and Stories

By Eileen Doyon

Eileen Doyon surrounded by the keepsakes that inspired the creation of her books.
Eileen Doyon surrounded by images and memories that helped to inspire the creation of her books.

It has been quite a journey publishing Dedications: Dads & Daughters, and Keepsakes, Treasures From the Heart in April 2013. Most people will deal with loss at some point in their lifetime. The loss of my mom and my brother early in my life has been extremely difficult. In 2011, I lost my dad to lung cancer and was with him ‘til the end. Since then I had been trying to figure out how to deal with death due to it being so much a part of my life. The year that followed my dad’s death was depressing, complicated, and dark. Receiving two treasures, my dad’s dog tags, and my grandmother’s chandelier, meant so much to me, my attitude, and my outlook on my own life. With these keepsakes, I felt their presence and their love all around me. I knew that others in my situation had to feel the same way. If so, I wanted to help. So that became my mission…. to help others talk about their loved ones who have passed and to tell their stories of their own personal keepsakes. Our military is very precious to me. We owe so much to our veterans that have served and protected our country. So that became my theme of my second book, Dedications: Dads & Daughters, daughters telling stories of their dads’ service to our country.

People were so excited, emotional, happy, and sad all in one, but it was all good. We laughed and cried talking about memories and stories of loved ones. Sometimes, those feelings are buried deep down due to the crazy hectic lives we all live, and sometimes it just hurts too much to think or talk about. Everyone’s comments were so supportive and positive. It really became a healing to all and made people feel good.

"Pet Tales: Unconditional Love" is available now!
“Pet Tales: Unconditional Love” is available now!

So, in this hectic life, I decided to create a series of books titled Unforgettable Faces and Stories. We all need to stop and think about people in our lives, both past and present, and stories of those unforgettable magic moments. Those moments consists of happy memories whether with our pets, traveling the roads, or particular topics of life… our theme is… YOUR story told by YOU! We provide a creative outlet to enable people to tell their own story, share their own pictures of special moments in their lives, and hopefully to use this storytelling as a healing process as it was for me.  The third book in the Unforgettable Faces and Stories series, Best Friends: Forever and Ever published in November 2013 is comprised of heartwarming stories of friendship that everyone can relate to. Our books also present a way to give back to the community with a percentage of profit of each book going to a specific charity related to that book’s theme. The next book in our series, Pet Tales: Unconditional Love is now newly available through our website. No matter what type of animal, pets provide many of us with companionship, unconditional love, security, healing and in some cases they are trained to assist us to enable our lives to be more functional. This book is filled with stories of these very special relationships.

I am so excited and honored that Randy Pierce submitted a story about “The Mighty Quinn” for this latest release!

Randy’s story is inspirational in itself.  How he shares Quinn’s story with us is unforgettable!  Look for Quinn’s story and many others in Pet Tales: Unconditional Love available through our website now.

 

 

 

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Guest Blog: Waypoint Adventure! It’s all about access

By Rick Stevenson

Access:  (n.) – the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. (www.dictionary.com)

For our friends all around us with various disabilities, it’s all about access. It can be about other factors too, of course, but access is often a huge issue. Access to some things can be relatively simple: a home or office… a database… a person’s attention… property. But how about a mountain trail… a pristine forest near your home… a wall at a climbing gym… a glassy-calm river in summer? Are these easy for all to gain access? Unfortunately, no, not yet. That’s not as simple as adding a new wheelchair ramp or railings, but people and organizations are out there making progress.

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the   Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).
Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two events offered by Waypoint Adventure, an eastern Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides life-transforming outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities. One event was a weekend in February at Pinkham Notch, NH (at the base of Mount Washington) when eight of us ascended the Tuckerman Ravine trail toward the floor of the huge bowl. Two of the group had cerebral palsy and rode up in “sit-skis”—modified lightweight chairs mounted on pairs of cross-country skis, with ropes and bars for pulling and restraining. With an afternoon temperature of around 15 degrees F and the wind from the west howling down the trail at us, the trip up and down the famous trail was adrenaline-pumping, hard work, exhilarating and full of joy for all eight participants. Trust was critical, especially on the descent—when anything less than excellent execution would have meant too much risk—and teamwork and communication were superb.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.
Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

The second event was a Volunteer Appreciation Night held at the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Watertown MA, at which Randy Pierce was guest speaker. About 50 current and/or future Waypoint volunteers packed a room at the gym for a great meal, brief presentations about Waypoint, and expressions of appreciation, as well as Randy’s keynote about ability awareness, goals, and how important an engaged, enthusiastic community is to a volunteer-based organization. Afterward, attendees had a chance to try out the walls of the gym and/or take a certification class in belaying.

Waypoint’s mission is to “…help youth and adults with disabilities discover their purpose, talents, and strengths through the transforming power of adventure.” They believe that all people, regardless of ability, should “…have opportunities for adventure and through them realize their personal value, strengths and abilities. These experiences will help people become stronger individuals and community members.”

Access is, almost literally, about leveling a playing field. It’s also, thankfully, about pushing the envelope of what was previously thought to be impossible, so that people of all ages with disabilities can keep having new, exciting, stimulating experiences. Problem-solving. Creative thinking. Often that’s all that stands between a person with a physical disability and a challenging, thrilling, life-changing adventure, and here’s where some of the similarities between Waypoint Adventure and 2020 Vision Quest become most obvious.

Randy Pierce, as an adventurer who happens to be blind, has a need and a strong desire for access. Access to mountain trails, road races, ski slopes, a martial arts gym, a tandem bike. He’s solving challenges every day of his life, either in teamwork with his guide dog or human guide or on his own; whether training for a road race, hiking a trail, getting around his house or around Nashua, or running 2020 Vision Quest. And in turn, one of 2020 Vision Quest’s many value-adds is helping other vision-impaired people gain access–to whatever is most special in their lives.

Then there’s Waypoint Adventure, the creator of the two events mentioned above and pictured here. Run by co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich and program coordinator Julia Spruance, (one of whom, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, but I won’t reveal which one), they not only create adventure programs but also invent and fine-tune unique “access methods” that allow individuals with disabilities to enjoy many of the same adventures as others. Methods and tools like the “sit-ski” (photo above left), an off-road wheelchair, an adaptive kayak, or an adaptive rock-climbing harness. You could say they’re in the access-creation field.

A final story that helps define and illustrate access: at a 2013 indoor climbing gym event run by Waypoint for teenagers from the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the boys, after some training and a few exhilarating trips up and down the wall, asked a Waypoint volunteer if she worked at the gym.  Hearing that no, she was with Waypoint and this was a gym open to the public, he asked, “So is this a gym for blind people?” The volunteer explained that no, there were sighted people there too. Final question: “Then am I climbing on a special wall?” Upon hearing her final answer, that “…no, you’ve been climbing on the same walls as everyone else,” he lit up with a wide grin. His biggest thrill of the day—perhaps the week or month—was realizing that he had been climbing on the very same walls as everyone else.  There’s that access again. Behold and marvel at the difference it can make!

Learn more about Waypoint Adventure.

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Spreading inspiration: The lessons of Peak Potential 2013

By Melissa Caruso

Randy and Quinn greet their fans at Peak Potential 2013.

Peak Potential has never quite been your run-of-the-mill event. Sure, some of it’s the same stuff I’d see at a fundraiser for my kids’ school: food, silent auction, raffle, the usual suspects. But at Peak Potential, you get to hear about the latest adventures and accomplishments of Randy and the Mighty Quinn, which never fail to uplift and amaze. You can get puppy kisses from the next generation of guide dogs, attending with their raisers. And the enthusiasm and support of the 2020 Vision Quest community is truly warm and wonderful.

Peak Potential is always a little special. But this year, the event transcended “a little special” and became a truly wonderful and moving experience.

With the sad medical news about Quinn’s bone cancer, I wasn’t sure if I’d see him there this year. But there he was, making the rounds as usual — only this time, his admirers got to feed him Charlee Bears. It was good to see his wagging tail and get a greeting sniff (after getting permission, of course). And he had a lot of admirers to greet — the place was packed almost beyond capacity.

The audience listens to Randy's moving presentation about the 2020 VQ mission.

Randy’s presentation began with assurances that Quinn’s life at home these days had turned into Play-a-palooza and Treat-o-rama, and that he and Tracy were spoiling the Mighty Quinn as thoroughly as he deserved. The applause that greeted this announcement was so vigorous and heartfelt that you’d have thought the Patriots scored a touchdown. It was one of many signs of the amazing, positive, supportive atmosphere in the room that night.

Randy also shared a video and photos that showcased Quinn’s playful side and gorgeous grin. To me, the way Quinn zips around like a happy maniac when out of harness underscores how incredible guide dogs are — he’s very much just a goofy, sweet, yellow lab, just like my own significantly less accomplished dog, but look at the amazing things he can do! The fact that Quinn and Randy are, when it comes down to it, just a normal dog and guy — they’re not actually superheroes, even though they may seem like it sometimes — only makes their example more powerful.

Quinn greets the next generation of Guide Dogs.

This is part of why Randy is one of those rare people who makes you feel like a better person just for knowing him. It doesn’t seem to make sense — how can just knowing someone improve you? But through his contagious inspiration, he does. I’ve seen it in action.

Due to winning a bid at an earlier Peak Potential, my family had the great honor of being a part of Randy’s hiking team for his penultimate hike in the summer 48, Mt. Carrigain. When planning for the hike, I agonized about whether to bring along my two little girls, who at that time were aged 6 and 9. They’re seasoned hikers compared to most kids their age, but at 10 miles round trip, the trail would be nearly twice the length of their longest previous hike, with a far greater elevation gain. But then I thought of the 2020 Vision Quest message, and I realized that there was no way I was going to tell my girls “you can’t do this, it’s too hard.” And sure enough, they rose to the challenge beautifully, and completed a hike that most grownups would consider a substantial accomplishment.

Peak Potential, Randy’s philosophy, and the sterling example on the trail of Randy and Quinn’s amazing partnership all made that possible. Without them, my girls and I still wouldn’t know that they had the capability in them all along.

I thought of that hike as Randy spoke of the accomplishments of 2020 Vision Quest this year. There was a lot to be proud of. Back when Randy first announced his intent to hike all 48 of the 4000’+ peaks in the White Mountains, those of us who knew him well suspected he might accomplish this goal early — but even so, we never would have guessed he would do it twice by 2013! And hearing Randy’s account of how the funds raised by 2020 Vision Quest for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind have grown dramatically from year to year was as heartening and inspiring as his comparison of the impressive numbers to the staggering cost of training a single guide dog was sobering.

The most popular item at the auction--an inspirational photo of Quinn.

Randy’s presentations are always a highlight of the evening, but I didn’t expect the auction itself to be thrilling and moving. I should have known better — with 2020 Vision Quest, you should always expect the unexpected. The incredible generosity and enthusiasm of the community came through in the live bidding, with heated but friendly competition for all of the items. Even the silent auction blew me away — this was the first time I’d ever seen such a high percentage of the items in a silent auction go for full price (or even more). But the most moving moment of the auction came when it was time to auction off a gorgeous print of the Mighty Quinn, beautifully mounted with a quote from Gandhi.

This auction went a little differently. Randy started out by asking how many people in the audience would be willing to pay a low price — $40 — for the print. A forest of hands went up. Then he asked us to keep our hands up, as he said higher and higher numbers, until he came to a price that we weren’t willing to pay. And he began counting.

The lucky winners, with part of the 2020 VQ team.

As he got up past $100, some hands went down, but many remained firmly in the air. Randy asked Tracy to tell him when to slow down, and kept counting, quickly. At $200, she still hadn’t asked him to — many hands were still up. $250, $260, $270… still, several hands thrust up with conviction in the crowd. A hush fell over the room.

As Randy kept counting, I looked around at the faces of the people bidding. I’m not sure I can describe what I saw there, but it was beautiful. The dedication, good will, love, faith, and more that one mighty dog has instilled in so many hearts was incredibly moving.

And Randy kept counting. Past $300, past $350, and still Tracy didn’t need to tell him to slow down. $400…$450…$490… $500.

Randy stopped, and asked Tracy how many hands were still in the air. There were four. With the agreement of all, he decided to make three more copies and give them each one for $500… so we’ll never know how high he would have had to count.

I like to think of those four prints, maybe hanging in the living rooms of four wonderfully generous people, and imagine guests asking about them. I envision those four lucky winners trying to explain, with an enthusiasm familiar to all of us who’ve done it ourselves, the Mighty Quinn and Randy, and all the amazing things they’ve accomplished.

Because when inspiration is that contagious, just knowing them is all it takes for it to spread, and take root, and grow.

We'll love you forever, our Mighty Quinn.

 

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The evolution of Peak Potential and what sponsorships mean to us

Heading into our Fourth Annual Peak Potential Dinner & Charity Auction, we are very excited to have three of our top sponsorship slots filled already. Joining us are Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) as our Platinum Sponsor; and Bank of New Hampshire and Fairway Independent Mortgage as our Gold Sponsors. (Check out our sponsor page for more on what those levels mean.) As we celebrate these new partnerships, I’m reflecting on where we started and how we’ve grown.

When I first proposed the idea of a charity dinner to the 2020 Vision Quest staff, it was met with trepidation: Is it the right kind of event for our newly founded organization? Is it too high a ticket price? Do we risk losing money instead of raising it? Will our (then small but growing) audience appreciate this kind of event? How could we possibly put it together with our tiny volunteer staff? After much discussion we decided to plunge in.

Our first year’s challenges were what you might expect: Deciding on a budget that we could “risk” if it didn’t go well. Finding a hall that was right and within our price point (i.e., as close to nothing as we could get, while still providing an appropriate level of quality for the event we envisioned). Coming up with auction items. Scheduling where we were least likely to conflict with attendees’ other commitments. Getting people to buy tickets. Oh, and Randy and Tracy getting married a few weeks before the event! Sponsorships were just a dream.

For the hall, we lucked out by finding The Derryfield in Manchester. They have great food, a beautiful space, and supportive staff.

Friends of 2020 and local businesses rallied to provide an eclectic array of auction items, targeting an audience whose makeup was as yet unknown. Gradually, ticket sales crept up, a table here, a couple there.

A few weeks before that first event, I was gleefully able to tell everyone we were in the black! Every penny raised from then on would be direct to the charity instead of covering event costs. I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.

By the end of that first Peak Potential dinner, we knew we had a success on our hands. People were telling us how much fun they had, how great the food was, how impressed they were by Randy’s presentation. We could feel it in our hearts–it was the right way to celebrate the year’s accomplishments with our friends and supporters of 2020 Vision Quest’s goals. It was a personal and fiscal success.

Year two ran even more smoothly and Laconia Savings (now Bank of New Hampshire) jump-started our sponsorships. We got to thank members of their team personally when they attended the dinner. But each year, we still have that holding-our-breath time as we wait to cross the threshold into actual fundraising.

Last year, year three, we had a new and exciting challenge: What happens if we sell out the event? This year, it’s a sure bet we’ll be full to capacity.

Our expenses are kept as minimal as possible: PR, credit card fees for registration, the hall rental, and our biggest one, the food itself. Planning and implementation of the event is done entirely by volunteers, and each year we’ve set our fundraising goals higher as teamwork improves.

The devotion of our volunteers and the enthusiasm and giving nature of our attendees is what makes our sponsors so important. Our goal is to put every penny possible back into 2020 and our education programs, allowing more schools to include Randy’s presentations about achieving through adversity in their curriculum. Sponsorships allow us to do just that. Subsequently, we support New Hampshire Association for the Blind and Guiding Eyes for the Blind as they drive someone to a much needed doctor’s visit, or help that person learn to walk with a cane, or provide them with a life-changing guide dog.

Each Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze sponsorship we receive is one more success for the amazing group of people working so hard to help others.

Sponsorship also spread awareness of 2020 Vision Quest’s mission to people who may not yet have heard of us, and in the process, makes our supporters aware of the good work our sponsors do for their community. It’s community supporting businesses supporting community. A win all around.

Thanks again to DCU, Bank of New Hampshire, and Fairway Independent Mortgage, our Platinum and Gold sponsors for this year’s Peak Potential. We still have opportunities available–won’t you consider sponsoring this year?

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Guest blog: Hiking Mt. Isolation

By “Sherpa” John Lacroix

Hiking on Mt. Isolation

Almost 4 years have passed now since I first met Randy and Quinn on Mount Agamenticus in Southern Maine. Prior to that meeting, I had never met a blind hiker, though had heard stories of a few in existence. They were largely elusive in nature to say the least. It has been an immense pleasure to get to know Randy over these years and to watch him develop and ultimately flourish as your everyday peak-bagger.

When I first met Randy, I wrote a trip report of my own titled “Seeing Is Believing” (linked to above). Every time I hike with Randy, I try to bring some new folks along so they can indeed see it, and believe it, that a blind man and his dog are legitimately tackling each and every 4,000-footer in New Hampshire.

I’ve done the 48, a few rounds now actually. I attempted to hike them all in one winter and came a few peaks short in the final week. I know a small part of the struggles, both mental and physical that Randy is taking on in his quest to complete the 48. Certainly winter hiking comes with perks. The rocks and roots are largely filled in by deep sticky maritime snows. Summer offers challenges some would say are unimaginable for this team. And yet, they soldier on. The rocks and roots are all there. So are the raging stream crossings of an unusually wet spring and summer, mud pits of various and sometimes surprising depths adorn the trails, and the bugs are as bad as they’ve ever been.

Stream crossing on Isolation.

Before moving to my new home state of Colorado in 2011, I had the honor of guiding Randy and team out to Owls Head. Many consider Owl’s Head to be one of the least popular summit of the 48. Nine miles from the nearest road and without any spectacular summit view. It was a two-day excursion that took everything we had to make it out and back. We took on bushwhacks, steep rocky slides, feet thick ice and knee deep snow on that trek. Not to mention the mind numbingly frigid streams.

On our first trip together, Randy stood emotional on top of South Twin and asked if I “really thought he could hike Mount Washington.” Never mind the 48, in one trip, Randy went from thoughts of 48 success to just summiting the tallest one. I told him then, “Randy, I truly we believe that with patience, we can so anything we put our mind to.” And so it was. It was on the Owl’s Head trek that I saw just how far Randy’s patience and mental resilience would take him on this journey. To the end.

Dry River Trail on Mt. Isolation

So it was with Isolation that I had the honor once again to guide Randy to and from one of New Hampshire’s highest peaks. This time, to the other of the least popular peaks. Isolation is a 14.6-mile round trip on the Rocky Branch route from US Route 16. A closed hike, we had packed it with 10 human souls and one guide dog. Unfortunately, the day of the hike only saw 6 human souls and the dog.

Doubts were expressed in the parking lot about our ability to negotiate the days hike with such a small crew. I never doubted it for a minute. I’ve seen what Randy is capable of, and heard of other tales along the way. Never once did I doubt our ability to make it to the summit, especially now with Randy exhibiting signs of “Summit Fever.” Though, I had convinced myself early on, that we’d get as far as we could before having to turn around at a reasonable time and that’s truly it.

Hiking through the wilderness at Mt. Isolation.

Our crew consisted of Randy and Quinn, Tracy, Jim Roy, Mike Cherim, Rick Stevenson, and myself. Quinn led to the height of land before I took over and guided Randy down to the first of five river crossings. It’s tough being 5’6″ and guiding a 6’4″ blind man. Trees I casually walk under without a thought I sometimes forget to mention to the other guy. Randy, in all likelihood, has a few dings on his head from this hike. It’s ok though… it builds character.

While guiding Randy, I watched him flip upside down and lay in a trail-turned-stream, bump his head a few dozen times, and get lost in shin-deep muck. Mike took over from River Crossing 1 to the summit. He did a fine job for his first time, really communicating well with Randy to tell him of the trails hazards and obstacles. They made surprisingly great time. We were on the summit in about 7 hours. There, we enjoyed a spectacular views of a cloud covered southern presidential range. I’d guide Randy back through the river, which we chose to just trudge through given our wet status, and then Mike would guide him back out to the car from there. All told, our 14.6 mile day took around 14 hours to complete.

The views get better as you near the top!

I could go on and on about the beauty of the Dry River Wilderness. The soggy trail. Soul-sucking mud. Lack of any truly spectacular views we all long for. I could go on about how well this team worked together to seamlessly get to and from one of the longest summits in a day. I could go on and on about how it rained at the end, and we all finished a bit soaked from head to toe. But that’s not the story here. The story continues to be Randy, Quinn, and Tracy. A family who has set out on an unimaginable journey to complete the 48 4,000-footers in the non-winter season. Close your eyes and hike a mile sometime, then think about it, then remember that that’s not even close to what it’s like for Randy. Think about his tenacity, his resiliency, his mental drive. Get out there and see it with him. See it all. Because Seeing is Believing.

It has been an incredible honor to guide Randy on his Owls Head and Isolation journeys. I appreciate his trust in me and others to lead him to these places given their unfair and unfortunate reputations. But as I’ve always told him, “Sometimes the view within is better than the view out.” We all need to remember that Randy continues to lead us… where our leading him is merely circumstantial. Thank You, Randy. Left-Right-Repeat, my friend. The end of the journey is near. It’s all downhill from here now. We’re all with you in spirit, no matter how near or far away we live. And thank you for the amazing opportunities to be a small part of your journey.

Fist bump! We're with you til the end.

~Sherpa John

http://www.sherpajohn.blogspot.com

*Photos courtesy of Tracy Pierce, John Lacroix, and Mike Cherim.

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Inspirational Guest Feature: “Expedition Outreach”

By Randy Pierce

Scrambling down an incredibly steep, icy, and challenging section of the Falling Waters trail in May 2013, I paused to talk to a couple of climbers ascending the trail. Realistically, we had to pause to manage passing each other safely on this perilous stretch, and each of us was glad for the moments of communication that provided a brief break.

As I was introduced to Michael and Serenity Coyne, I quickly realized there was an incredible story in front of me which I hoped I could share with our community. We are, after all, significantly in the business of inspiration and adventure, both of which these two incredible people demonstrate beyond the wildest imaginations of many! Rather than giving you my version of their story, I’ll let them tell it in their own words. Suffice it to say I am in awe of and appreciate their response to challenges and life. I hope you may find a similar appreciation and inspiration in their tale.

***

The 2013 Icelandic Wild Heart Expedition

By Michael Coyne

Expedition OutreachI am the team leader for a group of athletes and explorers from the New England area called Expedition Outreach, a charitable organization I founded in 1995. My team will be setting out on expedition in August of 2013 that kicks off a series of trips around the world from Costa Rica to New Zealand and Africa where we will rock and ice climb, race in triathlons and SCUBA dive to raise awareness of heart disease testing.

Sometime ago, I had heart failure in the transition zone of a triathlon equivalent to 2 massive heart attacks that was related to an assault that happened on duty as a Massachusetts State Trooper, when a man tried to kill me for no other reason than the uniform I was wearing. My doctors told me I had an ejection fraction of 15, a measurement of the amount of oxygen that leaves the heart, and had roughly 5 years to live and would never SCUBA dive or climb again. The heart failure was related to sleep apnea that I sustained due to the head injury I sustained during the assault, something I could have been tested for if I had known at the time about the correlation.

As a lifelong athlete I was devastated, I was forced to retire and now I train full time to rehab my heart and extend my life span. In 1 year I have improved my E.F. to 45%, not normal but something my doctors thought unprecedented. I desire now to come back stronger than ever: Inspiring all those who have experienced adversity in their lives.

In Iceland I will attempt to climb the highest peak and set the Guinness Book World Record for the fastest ‘“Alpine” face first Luge. I currently hold the “Official” World Record for the highest altitude Luge run in Bolivia.

Expedition OutreachMy team and I take the publicity we receive from our “extreme” sporting and mountaineering adventures, expeditions and races and focus it on education and awareness: In my life I have broadcasted live from the summit of a previously unclimbed peak in Alaska across the nation on ABC Television and named it Mount Hope, in the symbolism of the world working together to fight disease instead of each other, as a former US Marine I know too well about the effects of war. We were also the first to wakeboard the Amazon River complete with crocodiles and piranha to and wreck diving in Iceberg Alley. We first capture the attention and imaginations of our audience in order to better educate.

When I was told I had roughly 5 years left, my wife Serenity, a registered nurse and athlete we call “Cheetah Girl” since she dresses up as a cheetah for all her races to raise awareness for the highly endangered cheetah, planned these Wild Heart Expeditions and Races. Serenity is on the road to her first Ironman triathlon in New Zealand in 2 years. In Iceland she will race in the Reykjavik Marathon. Iceland starts the filming for our extreme sports documentary designed to educate about the importance of facing our fears to understand the nature of this planet and our own hearts.

Visit Expedition Outreach website

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Guest blog: “I suppose it all started with kindness to strangers….”

Northland Adventure: the charity begun by Ed Spaulding to empower and heal people through adventure therapy and education.

My name is Ed Spaulding. To date, I have rescued one adult, and two children from drowning; saved one child’s life with the Heimlich maneuver, rescued a baby from an overturned vehicle, and been the first responder for many a 911 call.

As fate would have it, I didn’t perform these rescues while I was an EMT traveling in an ambulance full of equipment–all of these instances happened when I was off duty. But on or off duty, fate found me and called me to help strangers in need.

However, even when confronted by fate, we have the choice to walk the other direction. Helping people often carries risks with it, especially when we are called to help people we don’t know and the emotional stakes are low. Each of the aforementioned incidents posed a serious risk either through exposure to infection by biohazards or by potentially placing my own life in danger.

I want to be as prepared as possible to answer the call of fate in these situations, so I’ve made the choice to minimize the risk by getting trained as a lifeguard, as an EMT, as a wilderness first responder, as a psychologist, and by carrying a medical kit in my car.

Adventure education experts operate under the philosophy that youth and adults learn best through experience.

This power of prevention became even more evident to me shortly after my time as an EMT, while working with adjudicated youth in a wilderness therapy program on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. While there, I learned if we could just prevent the problem before it resulted in an emergency call, we could not only save a person’s life, but we could often change the course of a person’s life in the long run, preventing this disaster and the rippling traumatic effects it would have on their family, friends, and their community.

As a part of this program, I was able to help over 500 youth–but nonetheless, as a single person, I still couldn’t make as much as a difference as I wanted to.

That’s what led me to develop an idea: to create an organization that seeks to empower and heal people through adventure therapy and education. Our environment is critical in our development as people and in what we value and learn. In a wilderness environment, we learn to value other people, the basics of life, and the parts of ourselves that create a thriving community. These values prevent many of the problems we read about every day in the paper or hear of through the news.

"Come experience Northland Adventure!"

Northland Adventure Education and Therapy Center has become the vehicle for this idea. This 501c3 non-profit, fully-insured organization is dedicated to promoting education, research, and mental and physical health through adventure education and therapy programs. The idea has become a reality.

But we need your support! We hope to achieve many things: to expand our summer camp program to include a day-care for younger children; to build an outdoor classroom for year-round programming; to provide canine-assisted therapy; and to develop a sailing program on Lake Champlain for experiential education by recreating Samuel Champlain’s boat. We have been asked to provide group programming for veterans returning from combat, and we have been working hard to provide group programming for substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Please support us in this worthy cause! I hope you can help us help others and show the world that the kindness of strangers happens every day.

Northland Adventure

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Guest Blog: A Picture Tour of Randy’s Presentations

By Kathy Dunn

From Randy's introduction at a school presentation, read by a blind student

For many of us we read about Randy’s speaking engagements and the interactions he has with the children in our communities.  However we don’t always have a chance to see them firsthand.

Donavan reading his introduction
Randy and Donavan enjoying a few moments together

I was lucky to have this chance as I traveled with Randy from Dover, New Hampshire to Portland, Maine. I watched a great deal of these speaking engagements through my camera lens, which I hope gives you a chance to see Randy sharing his message.

Our morning began at Woodland Park Elementary School in Dover. We received a wonderful greeting at the door from Donavan who would be introducing Randy to his entire school. Donavan is in the second grade, and like Randy, he is blind.  He read his introduction using Braille and with much exuberance told his fellow classmates that Randy climbs mountains, has a dog named The Mighty Quinn, and asked “Did you know he is also blind like me?”

"I have a question!" Woodland Park Elementary School

The students were incredibly attentive to Randy and I am certain it wasn’t only because of his cute dog. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I probably took 15 pictures of Quinn alone in his cute dog poses.) Students asked thoughtful questions and kept their hands raised in hopes of being able to ask the next question.

Woodland Park Elementary School

Portland, Maine was our next stop to speak to the students at East End Community School. They heard about some of Randy’s initial challenges and the progression of his vision loss. Randy also talked about the work that Quinn provides for him and the independence it continues to give him in his life.

East End Community School
Randy showing the kids how he uses technology to help him in his life
Randy and Quinn having a hug at the end of a presentation

Most importantly, Randy communicated his message encouraging children to accomplish the things they want in their life. Randy’s words: if they try… if they work hard… they can do it. Don’t give up in the face of the challenges. Keep working. You can do it.

These words were well received to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students as well as this student of life.

WCSH Channel 6 saying hello to Quinn

If having three presentations thus far was not enough, we dropped in at WCSH Channel 6 as Randy was being interviewed by Rob Cadwell for their “207” program. After the interview, Quinn got the “Off Duty” call from Randy and could enjoy some hard earned love from some of his new fans.

Our day did not stop there as we were now headed to the University of Southern Maine to attend the Guiding Eyes of Maine event. I learned something new about Quinn and I think we now share something in common: we like puppies.

Now, the Mighty Quinn is diligent in his work like none other and always the consummate canine professional. But you put a few other canine professionals in the room and it is like a reunion!

Do I really need to give a caption to puppies?

“Hiiiiiiiiii!  I’m Quinn!  Who are you?!?!?!  I am so excited to see you!!!!! Oh wait… was I supposed to be taking Randy someplace right now?”

While Randy was doing some meet and greets before his next speaking engagement, I headed over to the see the future canine professionals… the pups!

The finale of our day was Randy speaking to an audience of all different ages and all different abilities about his journey and his future. As it was said in the introduction of Randy “[he] makes the most out of life and will make you want to do the same.”

We all have abilities in our lives.  Some come with known and unknown challenges, however we need to see beyond them. We need to work beyond them.

We can’t have these challenges hold us back.  We can get to where we want to be. Simply put… we can.

Randy presents at Guiding Eyes of Maine event
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“Doing the very best you can”: Doctors Without Borders

By Beth Foote

I’m covering the blog this week as Randy recovers from his recent whirlwind of school presentations. Randy will be back next week!

Recently, I was having a bad day at work. It was one of those terribly busy days when everything seemed to be taking twice as long to get done as it should have. So when my cell phone started buzzing on my desk, I glanced at the unfamiliar number on the caller ID and then looked back at my screen, letting the call go to voicemail.

I was curious, though; I looked up the area code and saw that it was from Kentucky. I don’t know anyone in Kentucky, but whoever called me from there had left me a message. Soon the curiosity was great enough that I took a break from the spreadsheet I was working on and called up my voicemail.

A woman’s friendly Southern-accented voice greeted me. “Hi, this is Mary Ann calling on behalf of Doctors Without Borders. We just really wanted to say thank you so much for joining our field monthly giving program and we wanted to say welcome to the team.” She went on to tell me that I would receive a welcome kit in the mail in a few weeks and that I would be invited to special events and conference calls where they would talk more about their work. She ended with, “We thank you so much for your commitment.”

You see, part of my 2013 resolution was to do more things that focused outside of myself and focused more on helping others. It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day trials and tribulations of one’s own life–I felt like I needed to get out of my own head a little more and get some perspective, and to “pay it forward.” In addition to the work I already do with 2020 Vision Quest, I also decided to become a regular donor (albeit a small one) to Doctors Without Borders.

The concept of Doctors Without Borders (or Medecins Sans Frontieres, commonly shortened to MSF) completely floors me. Their mission is to provide medical aid “to those most in need regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation,” to quote the website. They are a completely neutral humanitarian organization. They are not affiliated with any religious or political group. They purposely do not accept gifts from corporations that come into direct conflict with their mission, so as to retain their independent status. 90% of their gifts come from private donors.

Wherever there are epidemics, malnutrition, natural disasters, or those excluded from healthcare, MSF will most often be there too. They were in Thailand after the 2004 tsunami, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and Japan after the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. They have set up projects in the most dangerous and war-torn places in the world, such as South Sudan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria. They help people who need it most, regardless of who has fought against whom.

In the current climate of religious and political divisiveness in this country (the US), I find it very refreshing and heartening to remember humanitarian organizations like this exist for the sole purpose of helping people in need simply because we’re all people together on this planet and it’s the right thing to do. Making the world a better place benefits us all.

Nick Lawson, MSF-USA’s Director of Field Human Resources said it best in a recent newsletter I received:

“I think medical professionals like to work with MSF because it takes them back to the fundamental essence of the medical act and the Hippocratic oath. They can use their skills to do excellent work that’s not about the HMO or the legal environment. It’s about doing the very best you can as a human being to benefit another human being. That’s the essence of MSF.”

Further demonstrating their commitment to their mission, MSF puts 86% of their donations back into their programs and services, with 12.7% going towards fundraising and just 1.3% going towards management and other general expenses. For me, these statistics feel like an assurance that a donation to them will be used to the most direct benefit possible of people in need.

It humbles me to think about the work of charity organizations, who help others with no expectation of compensation. It reminds me that enriching someone else’s life is a reward unto itself. It puts things into perspective and encourages me not to dwell too much on what I perceive as difficulties in my own life.

Perhaps, too, this perspective will give me courage to try things I might not have before. As the 2020 Vision Quest mission states: ”Achieve a vision beyond your sight.” Here’s to having the courage to try to make a difference!

For more information about Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres, please visit their website: www.doctorswithoutborders.org

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