Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Greetings and welcome to my blog!
I've tossed the idea of my own personal blog around in my head for some time now and I figured... "why not?". Some of you visiting this blog may know me and of some of my adventures that I've taken in the past and where I might be heading in the future. Others, may not know anything about me. So before I start delving into why and what I'm going to be posting on this blog, I thought you should know just a little bit about me.

My name is Kyle Coon. I am currently a junior at the University of Central Florida (UCF); studying Interpersonal/Organizational Communication (IO COM). When I was ten months old I was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer known as Retinoblastoma. By age six the damage done to my eyes from both the cancer and the treatment we used to fight it had damaged my eyes beyond repair. My left eye was removed when I was five and my right when I was six, leaving me totally blind. Fortunately, I didn't have long to dwell upon my loss of vision.

Barely a month after I lost my sight my family was introduced to Ed Weihenmayer whose son, Erik, was a World Class Blind Athlete. Erik was a rock climber, mountaineer, downhill skier, skydiver, tandem cyclist, motivational speaker and much much more.

Ed met with my family after he spoke at my Dad's Rotary Club and arranged for us to meet Erik the next time he was in town. So the next time Erik came to town for a speaking engagement we met and talked. I was just a seven year old kid, but Erik took the time to talk to me. Erik encouraged to give rock climbing a try and gave me something much greater, hope. About a year later I started rock climbing and about a year to a year and a half after that I was competitivebby rock climbing.

In 2003, I was invited to be a surprise guest for Erik Weihenmayer on the Oprah Whinnfrey Show. Shortly after that, my family and I went skiing for the first time; fell in love with the sport and made it a regular family vacation (to try and go skiing in Colorado as often as we could get away).

In 2005, I applied for, and was accepted into the Leading The Way Program (LTW) led by Erik Weihenmayer in partnership with Global Explorers. LTW combined blind and sighted students from aacr the US to travel and hike together through the Peruvian Andes to Machu Picchu. In 2006, we accomplished our goal by spending almost two weeks in Peru where we performed a service project, learned about Inca history and culture, as well as explored several Inca ruins and hiked the Ankascocha Trail into Machu Picchu.

On the train ride from Machu Picchu to Cuzco (former capitol of the Inca Empire) several of us talked about our trip and how inspired we felt to do more. So we decided to do so. We asked one of our trip leaders, Eric Alexander, to lead us up Mt Kilimanjaro (tallest mountain in Africa) the following year and he agreed. Later after we had all returned home, Global Explorers contacted those of us who were planning our Kilimanjaro trip. Global Explorers offered to ta'e on the organizational side of the trip and before we knew it, nine of our twelve team members (encompassing our three blind, one visually impaired and six sighted students) were standing atop the African Continent.

On the journey down the mountain my friends Brad Jaffke, Justin Grant and myself talked about the possibility of us climbing more mountains together. Several months after we returned home from Tanzania we officially formed and named our climbing team, Team Sight Unseen. We eventually found and recruited three other climbers to join our team. We are now comprised of four sighted climbers, one visually impaired climber (Justin) and one totally blind climber (myself).

Our fourth team member was a friend and rock climbing partner of Justin's named Joe Mayfield and our fifth and sixth team members came about via an unconventional means.

After we'd returned from Kilimanjaro, I wrote a short piece and submitted it to Backpacker Magazine. Backpacker published it in their Winter 2007 issue and that article was read by Peter Green, a lifelong outdoorsman who had some aspirations to through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail with a blind person (his mother and sister are both visually impaired). When Pete read my piece in Backpacker he thought I might be a good candidate and contacted through Global Explorers. I got in touch with Pete via email, and later by phone. Peter wasn't just a backpacker, but a big time mountaineer and rock climber as well. I told him that Team Sight Unseen was more into mountaineering than long distance backpacking, but that his trip idea of doing the PCT sounded intriguing. Pete immediately offered his services to teach us anything we wanted to know about mountaineering and the outdoors in general. So in July 2008, Brad and I flew to Oregon and met Peter Green for the first time. Peter took Brad and I through a week long mountaineering 101 course that he'd created. We learned numerous mountaineering and outdoor techniques and climbed upto 9000 feet on Mt Hood and then climbed and summitted Mt St. Helens. When Brad and I returned to Wisconsin and Florida respectively, we conferenced with Justin and Joe on the phone and then formally extended an invitation to Peter to join our team. Peter accepted, and we began planning a second trip.

In 2009, I received my guidedog, but Brad, Justin, Joe and Peter tra"eled to Washington to do some climbing. Peter had recruited his friend and climbing partner Ben Meyer to accompany them. The five of them climbed and summitted Mt Adams and Mt Rainier. Ben officially became a member of the team to make us a crew of six and we all planned for a trip the following summer.

In February, 2010, Team Sight Unseen won the Gore-Tex Experience More Challenge and we received $10000 to put towards a trip of our choice. We decided to fund what we were considering a "training climb". Our goal was to eventually climb Aconcagua (South America's tallest mountain, 22841 ft, 6194 m) and Peter had picked out what he felt would be a good test of our abilities. So in August, we traveled to Wyoming to attempt Gannet Peak (tallest mountain in Wyoming). The trip was about 50 miles of round trip hard hiking and mountaineering. Unfortunately, I developed terrible blisters and was unable to make the final summit push. Justin elected to hang with me and we encouraged the other four to go for the summit.

Even though I didn't summit Gannet, I still learned so much about myself and my teammates on that trip. We haven't yet gone to try and attempt Aconcagua due to the fact that we feel we still need to climb together more, gain more experience, and we can't afford such a big trip just yet. Despite that, our goals are still firmly in mind. And that will bring me around to why I decided that it was time to start this blog.

It Takes A Journey:
"If you can anything you want but just uttering a few words, the goal matters not; only the journey to it." (Rhunón; speaking in "Eldest" by Christopher Paolini)

The above quote is what inspired me to come up with Team Sight Unseen's motto: "It's not the destination but the journey that makes the trip worthwhile". Howevera, it wasn't this quote from Christopher Paolini's fantacy series "The Inheritance Cycle" alone that helped to develop this motto. In his memoir, "Touch The Top of the World: A Blind Man's Journey to Climb Farther Than The Eye Can See", Erik Weihenmayer says "the real beauty hapfens on the side of the mountain not the top". And when we were in Peru Erik told our entire group about a time he and a friend had hiked the Grand Canyon from rim to rim and back in 24 hours. They told a Park Ranger about it expecting her to be impressed and she asked them whether or not they would run through the Smithsonian Institute, because that's what the outdoors is like. We should stop and appreciate the beauty of our surrounding environment. My high school chemistry teacher, Mr Sciullo, use to repeatedly tell our class "there is no path of least resistance". Renown World Class Mountaineer Ed Viesturs named his autobiography "No Shortcuts to the Top". The rough draft of my memoir is called "It Takes A Journey". So everywhere we look there's this idea of a journey. I hope that through this blog I might be able to inspire you with stories from my personal life or the lives of others to slow down and examine what's important in your life, your career, your relationships, etc. We all have a goal, we all want to reach our goal, but there's a journey that we must take to reach that goal otherwise we do not fully appreciate it.

I'll be posting a lot of papers, articles, etc that I have written that have to do with goal setting, values, leadership, teamwork, etc. But I'll also be posting things that relate to these topics but may not seem relevant. Such as?

I'm a certified Spinning Instructor and, hopefully, soon to be Personal Trainer. I might be posting things about exercise science and physiology, workout plans, techniques, drills etc. I promise it will all be relevant to this idea of taking a journey to reach our goals. I will also probably post some past trip reports of adventures that I have had the great pleasure and privilege in which to take part (Gannet Peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, etc).

So please, read, enjoy, and let's step out upon this journey we call "Life" together.

Climb High,
Kyle Coon

Websites to Visit: (Official home of Team Sight Unseen) (Team Sight Unseen official blog) (Erik Weihenmayer's website) (Eric Alexander's website) (Global Explorers website)