January 2015-Timmy O’Neill Grand Canyon Reflection

Although best known for his climbing exploits and comedic personality, Timmy O’Neill cut his adventure teeth paddling in Pennsylvania with his father. He is a founder of Paradox Sports, which improves people’s lives through adaptive sports communities. When he is not slack-lining or hanging off the edge of the Earth, he volunteers as an ophthalmic surgical assistant for communities in need in Asia and Africa. Timmy served as a guide and safety boater on the No Barriers Grand Canyon Expedition.

The high point of this trip was standing with a throw rope in my hands ready to rescue, in case Erik got flushed into the swirling crashing slot on river right. Half way through the rapid Erik flipped in the V Wave and as he successfully rolled I roared with joy. But he was suddenly pushed back over by the Big Kahuna wave which was followed by another hip snap and roll back up into the light and air and then he was quickly flipped again by the surge off of Black Rock and as he rolled back up I threw my hands into the air and celebrated with a mighty yell into the canyon.

There’s a vulnerability in watching a blind person stumble across uneven ground. You need to manage the conflicting feelings of allowing the possibility of failure in order to promote the potential of success. I cannot assume weakness on my part or theirs but instead strive for neutrality that allows the person their blindness and normalcy.

Lonnie’s sense of fearlessness allowed him to become an accidental mentor to Erik due to the ongoing difficulty of the radios as they clogged with silt which greatly diminished their effectiveness or stopped them completely. It was not an obvious choice to remove the radios, yet that simplicity became a necessity, when we needed to save the radios for the biggest and most difficult rapids.

It was a great intellectual joy and physical feat to participate in a blind kayaking expedition and realize that while guiding Erik I was paddling for two reputations, in that if I failed to choose the best line and there was a complication not only might he swim or worse but I would be to blame. This may not seem like a rational thought and for that matter neither does kayaking blind. I equated it to playing two video games simultaneously although the consequences were not virtual, and I thought of Erik and especially the bow of his boat as a cursor on a screen. I needed to project the line, often through sudden powerful change, with the best trajectory and intensity of strokes, while remaining an appropriate distance to prevent collision, yet close enough to properly see past the exploding waves and hydraulics. All the while I needed to make sure that I wasn’t neglecting my own game and being devoured by the voracious holes.

— Timmy O’Neill