No Barriers empowers people to break through barriers, find their inner purpose and contribute their best to the world. The No Barriers Podcast is an exploration of the gritty reality of the struggles we all face, with the detailed stories of those that have persevered to find amazing outcomes on the other side. The No Barriers Podcast is a production of No Barriers USA, a not-for profit corporation as designated under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All donations are tax-deductible.To learn more about No Barriers, visit nobarriersusa.org and find out how you can get involved in our programs.
Charlie Engle is a writer, runner, recovering addict and speaker. He’s run across the Sahara Desert, the Amazon, and is currently embarking on his audacious pursuit to run from the lowest point on earth; the Dead Sea to the tallest; the summit of Mt. Everest! But, Charlie says his greatest challenge has been becoming sober. He has stayed clean since 1992 and has channeled his addictive nature into his passion to run and what he calls “positive, purpose-driven pursuits.” In 2016, he wrote a memoir titled, “The Running Man” to illuminate the lessons he’s learned in his struggles and his triumphs.
Tish Scolnik is the CEO and co-founder of GRIT, a social enterprise that created the Freedom Chair, which is the mountain bike of wheelchairs. GRIT believes that everybody deserves access to the outdoors and adventure, regardless of their physical ability. Tish graduated from MIT in 2010 with an SB in Mechanical Engineering and a Minor in Applied International Studies. She met her co-founders at MIT, and they came together around their shared passion to use their skills to make a difference. Tish is a 2009 Truman School for public service and a 2009 Glamour Top 10 College Women.
J.R. Martinez is an actor, best-selling author, motivational speaker, advocate, and wounded U.S. Army veteran. He hails from a small town in Georgia, where he grew up as the son of a single working mother who emigrated from El Salvador.
After high school, he joined the army and in 2003 was deployed to Iraq. One day his humvee hit a roadside bomb, ejecting the three other soldiers and trapping J.R. inside. He suffered smoke inhalation and severe burns to 34 percent of his body. He spent 34 months in recovery and had 34 different surgeries, including skin grafts and cosmetic surgery in the eleven years since his injury. During his recovery, he discovered the power of sharing his experience and listening to others. He now travels the world spreading his message of resilience and optimism.
He has spoken to troops at various bases around the world, universities, non-profits, and Fortune 500 companies.He’s starred and co-starred on a number of shows including daytime drama All My Children and in 2013, on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars he and partner, Smirnoff, were named season champions.
Martinez is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book, Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, and Spirit, a memoir about how he was able to take his own personal tragedy, and turn it into an inspiration for others.
Please enjoy this LIVE podcast that we recorded onstage at our No Barriers Summit at Lake Tahoe this past June.
Mandy Harvey is an award-winning singer and songwriter who also happens to be deaf. Mandy was a Vocal Music Education major at Colorado State University, when she lost her residual hearing at age eighteen due to a connective tissue disorder that affected her nerves. She left the program and pursued several career options, including education, but returned to music in 2008, as her true passion could no longer be denied. She quickly became a successful performer and has released three albums and won numerous awards. Most notably, in 2017 she was on America’s Got Talent where her performance of her original song “Try” while playing the ukulele, moved Simon Cowell to press his Golden Buzzer to send Mandy straight to the Quarterfinals. She went on to make the Finals and placed 4th overall.
Mandy is also an ambassador to both No Barriers USA and Invisible Disabilities with a mission to encourage, inspire and assist others to break through their personal barriers.
Though her hearing loss is profound, her timing and pitch are perfect and her passion is tremendous. With support from friends, family and her faith, Mandy continues to find joy in music.
Warning: Adult Content Included
In 1992, two months after his 22nd birthday, Gabriel Cordell was en route to his first professional audition when an accident changed his life forever. Only a mile and a half away from home, his Jeep was t-boned and flipped, and Cordell was ejected from his vehicle, hitting a telephone pole that crushed his spinal cord. The accident left him paralyzed from his mid-chest down. After four months of recovery and physical rehabilitation, Gabriel continued to pursue his dream of being an actor, now as a paraplegic. He established his acting career on stage and screen, with credits including CSI, Dexter, and Numb3rs as well as national ads for IBM, Maxwell House and Pizza Hut. At the age of 42, Cordell focused on a different kind of role. He became the first person to roll across the United States in a standard, manual wheelchair — a 3,100-mile journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the final destination being his hometown of West Hempstead, New York. The inspiring trek is the subject of an award-winning documentary film called, Roll With Me: A Journey Across America. In 2014, Gabriel traveled to Israel and mounted a Roll for Peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, completing that 100km journey from Haifa to Tel Aviv in his wheelchair. In 2015, he teamed with the North Shore Animal League America and Bianca’s Furry Friends to raise money and awareness, by rolling 123 miles across Long Island, New York. As a motivational speaker, Gabriel Cordell finally gets to share his inspiring story of turning tragedy into triumph.
Marisa Hamamoto is an activist, dance artist, and speaker looking to empower people through dance and storytelling to disable bias, encourage others to get out of their comfort zone, build new connections, and create breakthrough innovations. After 20 years of dancing ballet and contemporary dance in both the US and Japan, Marisa discovered and fell in love with ballroom dancing while recovering from spinal cord infarction, a rare stroke which caused her to be temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. In 2015, Marisa founded Infinite Flow, An Inclusive Dance Company, leading a global movement to make dance accessible to all and use dance to inspire inclusivity. She has brought Infinite Flow’s professional dancers with and without disabilities to perform at over 100 events, from school assemblies to corporate events with Apple, Red Bull, Porsche, Kaiser Permanente, and others. Infinite Flow’s videos have been viewed by over 50 Million people and she has been featured in over 100 media outlets including NBC Today, Good Morning America, Refinery 29, and others.
Scott Kim is the CEO of NEOFECT USA and one of the founders of its parent company, NEOFECT, a rehabilitation technology company headquartered in South Korea. In 2018, NEOFECT went on an IPO and is currently traded on the KOSDAQ. Scott was born with spinal bifida and has undergone surgery and understands the long process of rehabilitation. His prior experience in the gaming software industry has also contributed to his ability to create the games and software for the Rapael Smart Glove in the US market. Scott just joined us to present at our No Barriers Summit in Tahoe last week as part of the Innovation Panel.
Before founding Runway of Dreams Foundation (RoDF) in 2014, Mindy Scheier spent 20 years working in fashion on the design team for the INC collection and as a stylist for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mindy was inspired to start RoDF after her son Oliver, who has Muscular Dystrophy, dreamed of wearing jeans like everyone else. After using her design skills to adapt a pair that met his needs and increased his confidence, she went on to conduct extensive research to develop modifications — including alternate closures, adjustability of waistbands, pant and sleeve lengths and alternative ways to get in and out of the clothing. Following launch, RoDF collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger on the first mainstream adaptive clothing line for kids in 2016.
Mindy’s work with RoDF expands beyond adaptive clothing. Founded on the basis that clothing is a basic human need, the Runway of Dreams Foundation develops, delivers and supports initiatives to broaden the reach of mainstream adaptive clothing and promote the differently-abled community in the fashion industry. Through adaptive clothing donations, employment opportunity initiatives, adaptive design workshops, awareness building campaigns and scholarships programs, RoDF is empowering people with disabilities with opportunity, confidence, independence and style. Envisioning a world where fashion is mainstream and accessible for all, Mindy continues to break down barriers and challenge industry norms.
Natasha Nurse held various stints in the corporate world prior to making a foray into fashion and writing. Having been a victim of bullying as a child growing up in NYC, Natasha sought out fashion as a source of strength early on and actively uses it as a personal means of empowerment. Natasha started Dressing Room 8 which provides web-based resources through her fashion and lifestyle focused blog, consultation and coaching services. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Nassau Community College, Lifestyle Editor for Plus Model Magazine and the Program Coordinator for Long Island Girl Talk, a Long Island community-based start-up program that teaches teenage girls of color how to produce, direct and star in their own television show about women’s issues in their communities. Recently, she partnered with her husband to create the new podcast WokeNFree and she is the host of Our Voices on 90.3 WHPC. Natasha will lead a women’s track session at our No Barriers Summit this June!
Jamie Petrone is a renaissance woman with many talents and achievements under her belt. She is the Executive Director and Founder of THISAbility, a performing arts conservatory and professional theatre company, cultivating inclusion in the arts. She is also the Executive/Musical Director for Tabor Arts in Branford, CT, and for numerous productions through The Westchester Sandbox Theatre and Queens Theatre in NYC. An Actresss as well, Jamie is the subject of an award winning documentary: "And…Seen" as well as appearances on Madam Secretary, Law & Order SVU and the Today Show. Not to mention that she water skis, rock climbs, and is a professional wheelchair dancer. She will be performing at our No Barriers Summit during Opening Ceremony and leading workshops throughout the weekend.
Koichiro Kobayashi, known as “Koba,” is a “paraclimbing legend.” Koba went blind at age 28 from a degenerative eye disease and at age 31 decided to take up climbing. He has since racked up a number of gold medals around the world! Koba envisions a world where various groups of people can live together without being worried about their handicaps. To pursue his vision, he established a Tokyo-based non-profit organization called Monkey Magic that promotes free climbing among those with visual impairments. Koba believes climbing “is a lifetime sport that people with disabilities can enjoy throughout their lives which increases exercise opportunities, promotes self-reliance and social participation by empowering, and improves quality of life.” Koba is joined today by his guide, Naoya Suzuki.
George Basch, is the Chief Cook and Founder of The Himalayan Stove Project, a humanitarian & philanthropic program dedicated to preserving the Himalayan environment and improving the health of the people by donating and distributing, free, clean-burning, fuel-efficient Envirofit cook stoves for families and transforming the indoor air quality. George is also an Adventurer, Explorer, Photographer and a Creative Entrepreneurial Businessman. Born in Vienna, George immigrated to the United States as a small child, ahead of Hitler’s Hordes, and holds dual US and EU citizenship. He grew up in Chicago and graduated from MIT in 1959 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, and earned an MBA in 1961. He discovered that large corporate life did not suit him, and seeking something more stimulating and rewarding he moved to Denver in 1968 and embarked on his adventures as a serial entrepreneur. These endeavors took him from Denver to Anchorage, Tucson and Phoenix and eventually to Nepal and around the world.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor, a former stand-up comic, an author of two best selling New York Times list books, and a speaker. She served as the founding Pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado. Most recently, she finished writing her third book, Shameless, a challenge to the antiquated ideas our society views sex, gender, and our bodies.
Jeff and Erik are solo podcast hosts this episode. They met with Sean Swarner, a local legend, who has many athletic accomplishments under his belt and who uses his accomplishments to spread a message of hope. Background on Sean: With only one functioning lung, a prognosis of fourteen days to live, and being in a medically-induced coma for a year, Sean Swarner is the first cancer survivor to stand on top of Mt. Everest. Sean has broken through defined human limitation in order to redefine the way the world views success. Diagnosed with two deadly, different, and unrelated forms of cancer, once age thirteen and again at age sixteen. Sean astounded the medical community when he survived both. He realized that after defeating cancer twice, no challenge would ever be too great, no peak too high. He has since topped the “7-Summits”and skied both the South and the North Poles. He continues to test his own endurance and inspire and motivate people around the world with his message of hope. He founded the non-profit organization, The CancerClimber Association, and is now an author, speaker, and most recently the feature of the documentary: True North.
Our guest today is Craig DeMartino. Craig was an excellent climber, a self proclaimed “dirt bag,” but was derailed when during a climb in Colorado in 2002, he survived a 100 foot drop off an anchor resulting in an amputation of his right leg below the knee. After his recovery, Craig worked to slowly get back to climbing and is now one of the most formidable adaptive climbers in the business. He was the 1st amputee climber to summit El Capitan in Yosemite in a day and lead the first all disabled ascent of El Capitan, is a paraclimbing national champion and hosts a show on the Outdoor Channel called, “Fight to Survive.” Catch Craig’s film, “Craig’s Reaction,” now making the rounds on the film festival circuit.
In the studio, our hosts are joined by Angie Shireman. Angie is a jewelry artisan, small business owner, certified yoga instructor, wife, mom and a lover of adventure. Angie’s business, Good Vibe Tribe Jewelry, is where she focuses her artistic energy and creates jewelry to inspire, elevate and celebrate. No stranger to overcoming obstacles, two years after she underwent a preventative double mastectomy and several reconstructive surgeries, she was diagnosed with a very rare brain disorder. In 2014, she underwent two brain surgeries to correct the disorder. Recovering from years of uncertainty and numerous surgeries threatening her free spirit, depression began to impact Angie’s life. Then, Angie persevered and found a way forward.
A professional mountaineering guide, Luis has summited the top of the famed “Seven Summits” a cumulative 32 times, including being a six-time summiteer of Mt. Everest. He currently serves as the 1st State Director for the Outdoor Recreation Industry office for Colorado. Years ago, he spent a decade managing the leadership development school, Outward Bound Professional in Colorado. He also served as COO and Director of Operations for Adventure Consultants (AC), a highly respected New Zealand-based global expedition firm with a long and storied history of leading trips on Mt. Everest that was featured both in the book Into Thin Air and in the movie Everest. Luis has reported from Mt. Everest for ABC-TV News, and has filmed segments for National Geographic on Mt. Everest. Ultimately he believes, “If you really challenge yourself, you can truly change your world.”
The No Barriers Podcast team sat down with Bob “Diggs” Brown, to talk about his experience serving his country and all the twists and turns in his life since then. Diggs is a US Army Veteran who served for 34 years, first as an enlistee and later as an officer in the Army Special Forces. Not only did Diggs fight in Afghanistan, but he voluntarily participated in rebuilding, supplying and teaching at a local village school. Additionally, he worked to procure supplies and assisted in rebuilding what would become one of the first girls’ schools in the region. In spite of his post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Diggs has been the recipient of several awards in recognition of his service including “Community Hero” from the SAFECO Insurance Company, “Citizen of the Year” by the Fort Collins Board of Realtors and the “Veteran of the Year for the state of Colorado” by the Daughters of the American Revolution. He looks forward to utilizing his vast experience supporting veterans with social, political, economic and health related issues.
Our hosts sat down with Shannon Galpin in a rare moment when she was back in Colorado and not traveling the globe! Shannon is an author, artist, global women’s rights activist, film producer, and a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. She spent a decade working on humanitarian projects in Afghanistan including creating the groundbreaking street-art project, Streets of Afghanistan. She is a producer on the feature documentary, Afghan Cycles and has published two books including her memoir, Mountain to Mountain. Shannon was awarded an honorary diploma by the International Olympic Committee for her work promoting women’s equality through sports, and is a Fellow of the Explorer’s Club. Above all else, Shannon is a mother, and she’s determined to raise her daughter to use her voice for those that don’t have one.
Our hosts sat down with Steve Rae, an accomplished leader in the Corporate world to discuss how to weave the themes of No Barriers into business leadership. Steve is a Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at Berlitz and the CEO of ConnectEdPlanet, a learning consultancy focused on the design, development, and management of innovative learning programs through the application of social, experiential, and gamification strategies that maximize learner engagement. He has been instrumental in bringing his expertise to the No Barriers Board team and building No Barriers Corporate Leadership programming. Prior to Berlitz, Steve built learning solutions at both Apollo Education group and was a senior executive at IBM. Listen in for key takeaways for leadership teams and how to face internal problems in the workplace with a No Barriers mindset.
Jeff, Erik, and Dave speak with Heidi McKenzie, a young woman from Kentucky who was pursuing her dreams of a fashion career until a car accident left her a T4 paraplegic at age 21. Our team met Heidi when she was selected for a Reach Award and attended the 2017 No Barriers Summit. She was chosen based on her many accomplishments that were not despite her disability but because of it and the difference she strives to make in her own community.
An entrepreneur, Heidi started Alter UR Ego, a clothing line for people in wheelchairs that includes clothes that are as fashionable as they are adaptable. Heidi is also an outspoken advocate for accessibility, serving on various boards and working for community organizations. She was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair Kentucky in 2012! Listen to Heidi describe her journey and the positive attitude she employs to approach the barriers in her life.
Our hosts talk with Tom Dixon about his innovative app that he created as the result of an injury he sustained in his mid-twenties when he was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. His TBI caused seizures and severe losses in his episodic memory, a type of amnesia meaning he does not recall the details of his day. Instead of retreating into a dark place, Tom used his new condition to be the catalyst to create the innovative mobile app ME.mory that helps him fill in the missing memories. It’s similar to an external hard drive which he feeds with all the details of his day and later he can put these pieces together. Instead of having his brain store all kinds of information, his app can do it for him. Listen to Tom talk about his journey and how he has not only adapted to his post-injury life, but has thrived and created an ingenious tool for himself and others.
Our team sat down with George Heinrichs, CEO of ANDE, a Rapid DNA Analysis product that produces a DNA ID in less than 2hours (they usually require months of analysis) and can be used outside of a lab by non-technical users.
This is a public safety tool that has the potential to change the criminal justice system and combat terrorism. George discusses the barriers he's encountered in his storied career and the mindset and Vision he employs to push through them. George's story shows you don't need to be a CEO to employ the lessons he has learned.
Welcome to our No Barriers Podcast with hosts Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans, and Dave Shurna. We discuss what to expect in upcoming episodes and to introduce you to our hosts in more details. Enjoy and subscribe!
Our hosts connect with Gretchen Evans, a former Command Sergeant Major in the US Army, bronze star recipient, No Barriers Warriors leader, and a newly minted author. Gretchen details her journey of serving her country, becoming deaf from a rocket blast, and the struggle to find purpose and meaning outside of the service and with a disability.
Meet the legend: Mark Wellman. Mark met with our hosts at our studio in Golden to discuss his storied climbing career, his many first ascents and other athletic achievements, as well as his devastating accident that left him a paraplegic. Hear the humble genesis of No Barriers, the nonprofit Mark and Erik co-founded and the namesake of this podcast.
Our guest, Billy Lister is a Paralympic cyclist, who most recently represented Team USA in the Rio Olympics, competing in both track and road events. 18 years ago, Billy was diagnosed with a rare and acute brain abnormality which resulted in a loss of mobility due to a stroke. Listen to hear about his experience with adversity and his No Barriers journey to becoming a world-class Paralympian.
Meet Ethan Johnston, a young man living in Colorado who has overcome great odds in his life to find independence and happiness. As a young boy, Ethan was kidnapped from his family in Ethiopia, blinded and used as a beggar. He was found and eventually adopted to a family in the U.S. and discusses the path that led him to finding his way out of so much darkness.