By C. Julia Nelson
cjnelson@reporternewspapers.net

Codee Burton intends be the first member of his immediate family and the third on either side of his extended family to graduate from college.

During a presentation at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School where Burton is a senior, the 18-year-old found a renewed source of inspiration to achieve that goal. Presenting the story behind why he chooses to climb mountains as a blind man, Erik Weihenmayer visited about 400 fifth- through twelfth-grade students on April 10 to inspire them to keep “reaching” to attain their goals.

He came to the school through the efforts of parent, Dave Brooks of Dunwoody, who’s daughter Jennings Brooks, 8, attends the school in Laurie Edmunson’s third-grade class. Brooks and Weihenmayer met at a conference and as a result, Weihenmayer has been interacting with Jennings’ class about “reaching” goals.

“I can’t think of anything more important than encouraging an 8-year-old to reach,” Brooks said. “The challenge to build character is exceptionally important for kids. This type of real life example should be shared and celebrated.”

The relationship started as a simple question and answer session through Brooks, which inspired the class to create its own “Reach” book, outlining their goals. It eventually led to Weihenmayer’s visit to the school with his canine, Willa.

“These kids are thinking about their lives and their direction,” Weihenmayer said. “It’s an honor to be in front of people where life is being shaped at this moment.”

As the only blind man to have climbed to the top of the “Seven Summits” (the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents), Weihenmayer has identified a personal goal to inspire others to “reach” to achieve great things.

“We need to help others break through their own obstacles,” he said.

So far, Weihenmayer is well on his way to making a difference.

“Now that I know about (Weihenmayer’s accomplishments), … it makes me feel like I can resort back to this,” Burton said. “This guy had something within him to do it, so I need to find that within myself.”

A resident of Boulder, Colo., Weihenmayer lost most of his vision by age 13 to Retinaschesis. About the same time, with what little vision he had left, Weihenmayer witnessed amputee Terry Fox run a marathon in 1976. At that point, he made up his mind to face his adversity; Weihenmayer has been climbing since age 16 and became a full time climber in 1997.

“We’ve got to square off with our challenges and with adversity,” he said. “We have to turn into the storm and walk into it’s midst.”

Using the Rocky Mountains as his training ground, Weihenmayer trains in mountain climbing and biking, ice climbing, skiing and paragliding. His drive has become an inspiration to people around the world as he has continues to share his story.

“(Weihenmayer) makes me feel like I can do more than I think I can, but at the same time it makes me want to push myself,” Burton said.

Burton, who resides in Buckhead and will attend Valdosta State University, will also be one of the 28 seniors that represent the first graduating class of Mt. Vernon in May, an achievement the school has been anticipating for years. Following high school graduation, Burton has yet another goal in mind: tryout for the Valdosta baseball team. “I’m at least going to try to walk on,” Burton said.

While he continues to travel offering inspirational messages, Weihenmayer has also authored two books: “Touch the Top of the World” and “The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness.” Brooks testifies that the consistent message of breaking barriers and reaching for goals makes these books perfect for anyone.

“In his book, “Touch the Top of the World,” he talks about the reach and knowing that it’s out there and working toward it,” Brooks said.

More information about Weihenmayer is online at www.touchthetop.com. To view “Reach,” created by Mt. Vernon’s third-graders, visit www.tenorconsulting.com/digitaljones/Reach/bookpics. 

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