by: Nerissa Cannon
One of the original Freedom Chair Trailblazers, Nerissa, now works as GRIT's community manager! Her own journey with chronic illness has made her passionate about helping other people get the most out of life in spite of a disabling condition. In her new series, IT'S A GRIT LIFE, she shares how the GRIT Freedom Chair helps her engage in her favorite activities and live a life of adventure.
I know it’s been a while since you’ve last heard from me. It’s been a very busy and adventurous summer, and I’m excited to catch you all up on it! If I had to summarize this summer, I would say it has been the “Summer of Teamwork.”
When I first started using my GRIT Freedom Chair, I limited myself to trails I could do 100% on my own. If I encountered a challenging section that was beyond my skill level, I would either turn around or get out and scoot along the ground while pulling my chair with me. I was stubbornly independent, which many view as a positive trait. However, I was actually limiting myself and those who cared about me. I came to realize that, in order to do the things I wanted to do with the people I wanted to be with, I had to take a good, hard look at myself and come to humility.
The first big test of this came during a fundraising hike for the nonprofit organization called No Barriers—the hike is an annual event called “What’s Your Everest.” A group of people, all with different levels of ability, meet together each year to enjoy a beautiful day on a challenging hike near Rocky Mountain National Park. I was quite nervous about having people I didn’t know help me up the mountain. It wasn’t even that I was worried about my safety; I trusted that they would keep me safe. I was worried about their safety and well-being. I didn’t want them to hurt themselves or overexert themselves while focusing on getting me over the obstacles. Voicing my concern for the other members in the group became my role on the team. I made sure people took breaks, rotated positions, and watched their footing. Accepting assistance on such difficult terrain became easier as the team bonded throughout the day. We developed an unspoken connection that allowed them to sense when I was able to do things myself and when I needed a boost.
The biggest internal change I experienced was no longer feeling like a burden on anyone—this has always been my biggest fear. In fact, I often allowed the team to help me when I didn’t need it. I could see that it made my teammates feel good to help and, in a small way, this was something I could give to them. It was a wonderful day that taught me so much about the nature of teamwork and I feel very blessed to have been a part of it.
The ultimate test of my “Summer of Teamwork” came in mid-September. Some of the friends I made at What’s Your Everest had begun cultivating an idea to climb one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. As we continued to talk about it, others became interested and the idea became more and more of a reality.
And then, on 5AM on September 16—with headlamps guiding our way—myself and twenty-five other individuals set out to summit Mount Bierstadt.
The support my new team gave me left me speechless. With their assistance, my GRIT Freedom Chair made it to about 13,815’ of elevation (about 250’ from the top). It was there that a large boulder field stood between us and the summit. The team leader and I decided it would be best to leave the chair and use other means to reach the summit. One of my teammates, Braden, volunteered to carry me on his back up to the summit. At the top, I was humbled to sit there with so many people who had each put in so much effort to get me to the top.
It took us about five hours to reach the summit. We had about fifteen minutes to enjoy, and then we had to head back down, because the descent is often more challenging. Braden once again carried me down through the boulder field and I then got back into my chair. When I started getting tired and overwhelmed, another teammate, Jeff, volunteered to carry me for a bit.
I think the thing I learned, above all, by doing Mount Bierstadt, was that it is okay to be vulnerable, and there is strength in vulnerability. I’m so grateful to call so many of those teammates my friends now, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures we have in store.
If there is something you really, truly want to do, ask for help and get a team behind you—no matter how difficult the endeavor. It’s about making the most of the time we have with the people who care about us.