When misfortune comes your way in life, there are three things you can do: fall apart, keep on keeping on, or do something you’ve never done before. For Retired Sergeant Marty Bailey and Army Captain Scotty Smiley that last option was the only way they wanted to go.
Four years ago Bailey was serving in Afghanistan when a grenade explosion took his eyesight forever. Smiley also lost his sight when he came across a roadside suicide bomber in Iraq. But despite their struggles, these vets came together to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal: to climb the tallest mountain in North America.
Alaska’s Mount McKinley—also called Denali or “Great One”—is 20,332 feet high. But these men weren’t content with just reaching the summit. Together with their eight-member team Blind Strength, Bailey and Smiley scaled the West Buttress of the mountain, a feat that no blind climber had ever done before. And both agreed that the three-week climb changed their lives.
The journey was harrowing to say the least, complete with unpredictable weather, subzero temperatures, and dangerous terrain that has claimed climbers before. But by relying on each other, the team was able to make Bailey and Smiley’s dream a reality and reach Mount McKinley’s peak.
When asked about the experience, Blind Strength’s expedition leader Eric Alexander said, “Through this climb I would hope [Marty and Scotty] get the ability to lean on others and realize they can have a great adventure in their current state and embrace life and hope again. The summit is like the icing on the cake.”
Aside from their great achievement, Bailey and Smiley were also able to raise awareness of wounded veterans as well as promote the research happening in the U.S. and Australia to cure blindness through robotic eyes. But even without their eyesight, nothing’s going to stop these vets from having great adventures and climbing to even higher heights.