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Fall 2006 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Finding My Way Around the Figurative Mountain: Lessons Learned While On the Inca Trail

By Justin Grant, History Major at University at North Texas, Arlington

Abstract: A young person shares the insights he gained while participating in a hiking expedition up the super Inca trail and to Machu Pichu in southern Peru.

Key Words: Family, blind, personal experience, vision loss, mountain climbing, world travel, confidence building

In 1999 I was diagnosed with Stargarts disease. I was told there is a possibility of me losing all my central vision. I was told everything would change and my world would be turned upside down. I was only in the fifth grade.

From elementary on to junior high, I wanted nothing to do with anyone who asked about what was going on with my vision. I was irritated whenever anyone asked me if I needed help to see anything. I knew they were just trying to help, but I didn't want to be in the position where I needed help. I was young and I wanted to fit in with everyone else. I thought there was no way I could fit in at high school if I always needed enlarged copies of everything we did in school. My parents noticed how I was reacting to the new way things were working out after I began losing my vision. They both came from homes where the lesson of "if something is in your way, find your way around it" was taught. So as any other parent might, they passed it on to me. I wanted to find my way around it. I knew though, if I were going to settle the score with losing my vision, something would have to happen; I would have to change my attitude and my outlook on what was going on with me.

This wasn't until my junior year in high school, when my DARS / Division for Blind Services counselor sent my parents an e-mail about a trip for blind and sighted students going up the super Inca trail and to Machu Pichu in southern Peru. When my mom first told me about the e-mail and the trip, I wanted so much to go. Luckily the company that was sponsoring the trip accepted me into the group. There were 18 of the "supers" as we were called. Nine were sighted, five were totally blind and four were visually impaired. We all met for a retreat in Estes Park Colorado, where we met Erik Weihenmeyer, the first and only blind man to summit Mt. Everest. We had been told that he would lead us up the trail in Peru.

When we arrived in Lima Peru, my first impression was, "Wow, this place is chaotic." I couldn't even imagine how much of a foreign world this place was for a totally blind person. After I got to know everyone pretty well, I began to notice how self-centered I was being, coping with my vision loss. Being around people that had lost all of their vision made me realize that yes, I may be losing my vision, but I still have some. At first, losing my vision seemed unfair to me. But sometimes these things happen, and just like I learned to do during this experience with people who are now some of my best friends, I am finding my way around this figurative mountain. Just because they are blind, doesn't mean that they can't achieve the summit.

This trip to Peru turned the way I look at my impairment completely around. It's a part of who I am, and just as one of my blind companions, Terry Garret said, "I do not let my blindness control me, I control my blindness." Terry Garret and all of the other blind students that went with us taught me that even though I had a disability, along with them, it didn't mean that I couldn't achieve higher goals in life. The trip to Peru changed the way I think about my disability, as well as opening new doors for me.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010