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10/11/16 at 01:11 PM

Ask Gillian Roberts whether she thinks she’s brave for tying into a rope and climbing up a rock and she’ll tell you it’s no more remarkable than other challenges she faces every day. Gillian has optic nerve atrophy and has virtually no vision in either of her eyes. She joined a group of participants with visual impairments from the Expedition School, based in Austin, on their recent trip to Crested Butte. 

“It’s not always easy being blind, but experiences like this force you to challenge yourself. I’ve always had a lot of anxiety and I tend to freak out sometimes when I’m in a situation that’s scary to me,” she says. “While I’m here at the Adaptive Sports Center, I’m gaining a lot of confidence and learning how to live a more active life when I go back home to Texas.”

The Expedition School traveled to Crested Butte this summer with a group of eight teenagers with visual impairments. Gillian was the only female in the group and had the most significant visual impairment of anyone on the trip. The group spent a week rock climbing, paddling at Lake Irwin and exploring the Ropes Challenge Course.

“When we first met Gillian, there was an insular, shaky confidence in her,” says Expedition School founder and Executive Director Kimery Duda. “Since coming to the Adaptive Sports Center, her courage has blossomed. To see her not only learn to climb, but achieve the hardest climb of the day with the group is really exciting.”

When Gillian arrived in Colorado, she had never been rock climbing outside. She was intimidated by the uneven ground at Hartman Rocks, the feeling of the wind and rocks, and the strange sounds and smells that surrounded her as she scaled the granite cliffs.

“At first I was thinking about how terrified I was,” Gillian says. “But the instructors here know exactly how to talk you through your fears. I worked on taking deep breaths and listening to their advice while working my way up the rock. When I got to the top, I was so happy.”

The Expedition School’s executive director says Gillian’s experience mirrored the rest of the group’s time in Crested Butte.

“This is an opportunity for people to step outside of their comfort zone, and when they do there’s a pureness and a rawness to the experience and potential to grow that you don’t find anywhere else,” she says.

Gillian’s experience, and the Expedition School’s visit to the ASC, wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of an anonymous donor whose gift supports our work with people with visual impairments. Donations help cover costs associated with programming, travel, food, equipment and staff. Thank you for helping us change lives like Gillian’s. With your help, we help many more people push their boundaries and achieve their potential.  

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