Lee's Summit Journal

‘Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you can’t do it.’ LS teen climbs to goal

Isaac McBurney, 15, stands at the summit of the mountain he climbed in August as part of an event with the non-profit No Barriers.
Isaac McBurney, 15, stands at the summit of the mountain he climbed in August as part of an event with the non-profit No Barriers.

You might think being only being able to see 5 feet in front of you would get in the way of hiking up a mountain — but then you aren’t Isaac McBurney. The 15-year-old Lee’s Summit North freshman recently traveled to Colorado to hike a mountain with his hero, who is also visually impaired.

The Aug. 24 hike was a trek in the Arapahoe Ski Basin area in Dillon, Colo. Though it was Isaac’s first time hiking on a mountain, it’s far from his first hike. An avid Boy Scout, he’s already traveled to Philmont Scout Ranch, which boasts physically demanding hikes and activities.

Isaac has been visually impaired since he was born prematurely as one of triplets, but he hasn’t let his impairment stand in his way. In the summer, he spends time at a camp for kids with visual disabilities, where activities include rope courses, archery and rock wall climbing.

“That’s really fun knowing that just because you’re visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t do sports like that,” Isaac said.

At the camp, Isaac received an award for being a leader and showing compassion to other campers. The award was named after Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind hiker to reach the top of Mount Everest.

Weihenmayer was the one leading the Aug. 24 hike. Approximately 200 people took part in the hike to the 12,456-foot summit.

“It was so cool to see my kid meet his hero, someone who really is a role model for kids like Isaac. Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” said Kara McBurney, Isaac’s mom.

The hike, held by Weihenmayer’s non-profit No Barriers, was set up to accommodate many types of disabilities.

“Everyone was getting to where they needed to go, if that means someone’s describing the trail for you so you don’t trip” or even being pulled or pushed up the mountain in a wheelchair, said Kara McBurney.

To stay safe and on track, Isaac followed the other people and the sounds of their voices to make sure he was walking in the right spot.

“Because of Erik’s message and because of the amount of support he gives and the support of others around him, we got to climb the mountain sand say, ‘We reached the summit,’ and that we can overcome the challenges in our lives,” Isaac said.

Isaac got connected with No Barriers in July after he sent Weihenmayer a copy of a speech he’d written about disability empowerment. He got a response inviting him to come out for the hike, but Isaac didn’t think he’d be able to go.

Just after he got home from summer camp, his mom surprised him with an offer to take him to Colorado for the hike.

“I was really excited. I was very emotional,” Isaac said.

Everyone on the hike was supposed to fund-raise $250 to support No Barriers. Isaac put the word out via social media and raises $4,300.

“He’s a kid who’s going places. He’s so comfortable and open and honest. He’s very matter of fact of, ‘Yeah, I don’t see as well as other people but so what? These are the things I can do,’” Kara McBurney said.

For a future challenge, he’d like to climb Pike’s Peak, which has adaptive trails available. Isaac also hopes to do some motivational speaking in the future.