Climber’s talk in Edwards will benefit The Literacy Project | VailDaily.com
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Climber’s talk in Edwards will benefit The Literacy Project

Nicole Magistro
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyEric Alexander, a mountain climber, will speak Wednesday at Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards. Alexander is author of "The Summit."
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EDWARDS – There’s no doubt that learning a new skill takes a lot of energy. Just ask Eric Alexander, who started a professional climbing career by scrambling up every vertical surface he could find as a youngster.

And while Alexander’s enthusiasm is hard to curb, what really made the difference wasn’t his desire to improve as a mountaineer. It was the time that two mentors took to show him the ropes.

“There were two men who had great character and strong family relationships. [They] gave of themselves, along with their expertise and skills,” Alexander recalls. “They taught me not just how to climb, but how to be.”

Mentoring, and the one-on-one bond that the young climber and his leaders discovered, is the central message of Alexander’s presentation Wednesday night to benefit The Literacy Project. He hopes to pass along his passion and devotion to the kids, parents, teachers and volunteers who attend.

Learning to lead

Alexander grew up skiing in Winter Park and saw blind skiers on the slopes regularly. When he came to Vail in the early 1990s, he got involved with the blind ski program and eventually met the man he would lead to the summit of Mt. Everest.

“We started out climbing the ice right here in East Vail,” said Alexander. Eventually they joined the largest team to the top of the highest mountain in the world. And it was all done in measurable and attainable goals.

The same system of mentorship works for the blind students who join Alexander to climb Colorado’s fourteeners, hike the Inca Trail and summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“They’re never sure what they’re getting themselves into in the beginning,” Alexander said.

But little by little, the team of two sets reasonable milestones – hiking instead of walking on a smooth surface, listening to the sounds of the trail rather than relying on the light. Once a new climber knows about the partnership, the verbal communication skills and the tools at his disposal, small goals start to add up to big ones.

Inspiring others

Alexander’s technique comes in handy for people conquering other kinds of mountains, according to Colleen Gray, executive director of The Literacy Project.

“When someone is totally unfamiliar with our language, learning to speak English seems like climbing Mt. Everest,” she said. “But through careful help and guidance from our volunteers, every student is able to make progress that really makes a difference in their own life.”

The motto for Gray’s 25-year-old nonprofit organization is “read well, speak well, live well.” And by offering free tutoring to more than 500 adults and children each year, she feels the effects are exhilarating.

“Our students climb mountains every day they learn a new phrase or fill out a job application,” Gray said. “We want them to know they’re not alone in reaching new heights.”


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