Team Everest Group Inspires With Stories of Courage and Triumph
Exploration is not just limited to the able-bodied, and that is something Gary Guller, expedition leader of a group of people with a wide range of disabilities, set out to prove with an inspiring journey to Mt. Everest’s base camp.
“The freedom to explore is a freedom everybody should have, regardless of their ability or disability,” Guller said. “I believed it then and I believe it now: Everyone should have the right to explore and be treated as a human being first.”
Johnson Space Center’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and the center’s Disability Advisory Group invited these atypical explorers to comingle with explorers, and facilitators of exploration, of another realm—space—while taking in the sights and inner workings of JSC. While here on April 5, expedition members took time to share their stories to a captivated audience.
The Team Everest group set out not only to conquer the world’s tallest mountain, but also to shatter existing stereotypes of people with disabilities. Following along with the 15 trekkers representing a range of disabilities from quadriplegia, paraplegia, fibromyalgia, deafness, missing limbs and more was a camera crew to document the experience. The movie borne from it, “Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey,” showcases the perils and challenges the group faced on the journey to their final destination of base camp, but also the amazing teamwork and support they had for each other.
It’s their profound teamwork that sets a shining example for people of all abilities to follow.
“It created, I think, one of the greatest documentaries on teamwork in very inhospitable conditions,” Guller said.
Their inspiring story can also be a lesson to us when it comes to doing the unimaginable—something NASA regularly aspires to accomplish.
“We’ll be able to pick up a lot of parallels,” JSC Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa said of the Team Everest explorers. “It involved an incredible amount of teamwork. With all that, they were able to achieve their mission success.”
The group trekked 21 days through the high Himalaya. From their departure in the Sherpa village of Lukla, the team reached an altitude of over 17,500 feet in one of the most inaccessible regions on the planet.
They didn’t go it alone. A Nepali support team was engaged to help push, pull and carry members over the rugged, dangerous terrain. On Mt. Everest, the altitude and intense cold can break even the most experienced hikers. However, with grit and determination, the team pushed forward to reach their goal. In making it to base camp, they became the largest group of people with disabilities to ever make it that far on the mountain. Guller, an amputee, went even farther and fulfilled his childhood dream of reaching Mt. Everest’s peak.
With stunning footage from the kingdom of Nepal, the movie is a heartwarming story of personal ambition, teamwork and cooperation that dares us to reach beyond our perceived limitations and explore our unlimited capacity to dream.
As Guller said of the breathtaking journey, “It’s like a magic land up there.”
Catherine Ragin Williams
NASA's Johnson Space Center