Randy Pierce is a study in determination and motivation. That may come as little surprise since he is a motivational speaker, telling his story of adversity to inspire others.
But Pierce’s journey toward becoming a rare and intrepid hiker was littered with disappointments and uncertainty.
Last winter Pierce became the first visually impaired person to summit all of the 4,000-footers in the White Mountain National Forest, a total of 48 peaks. And he did so in one season.
He will share the story of that quest as well as his life’s journey when he speaks at the University of Southern Maine on Friday at a fund-raiser for the Guiding Eyes Maine Puppy Raising Region.
After he lost his sight completely Pierce faced further hardship in 2003 when a neurological condition destroyed his sense of balance and forced him to use a wheelchair.
Pierce spent almost two years in a wheelchair. But he worked his way out of it and onto crutches, until he improved his strength and was free of crutches.
Once he developed his strength to where he could again walk, Pierce didn’t stop getting stronger, physically or mentally.
“It was hard. It gave me a newfound appreciation for walking. And hiking is walking, with a lot more interesting terrain,” Pierce said.
He started viewing goals as positive adversity. He looked at each challenge as a peak he wanted to bag, a new trail to conquer. And the best part of his conquest of each new goal was that he did so as part of a team — trusting, reading and communicating with Quinn, his guide dog.
When the two started hiking in 2009, Pierce started with a 2,000-foot mountain that he spent more than four hours navigating with Quinn. A year later they did the same mountain in the rain in two hours. And a year after that, they knocked it off in 45 minutes. They were on their way to a hiking career.
“Quinn took right to it,” Pierce said. “They don’t train guide dogs to climb mountains. When we walked out on the trail, he faced everything he was trained to avoid.”
Pierce loves to put Quinn’s job into perspective — how, at 2 feet high, the Labrador is leading a 6-foot-4 man towering above him.
“If we were doing Quinn’s job we’d be guiding someone 18 feet tall up narrow twisty trails and snow drifts. He does all that for someone who can’t see, while he can’t speak. He is fully responsible, and he does his job well,” Pierce said.
These days Pierce speaks about his hiking adventures at schools, corporate groups and colleges. In three weeks he’ll give the commencement address at White Mountains Community College in Berlin, N.H.
This hiking team travels through New Hampshire sharing their stories to help raise money for charities in New Hampshire that support the visually impaired.
But Pierce doesn’t just talk of past challenges. His life philosophy is based around continually reaching for new challenges.
A week ago Pierce was at Sugarloaf speaking to visually impaired students. He came to speak about hiking until the group asked him if he had ever skied. He had not.
So in the midst of an inspirational talk, Pierce embarked on a new challenge and, in his mind, a new way of living.
When he strapped on a pair of skis at Sugarloaf, he couldn’t use his guide dog. So he simply learned to listen and follow the skiing guide ahead of him.
“Eventually comes this moment of freedom, when all things come together and you appreciate where you are. The person you are following is 20 yards ahead and below you, and the terrain you’re feeling as you go. I was feeling it on my own. I don’t have that feeling very often,” Pierce said.
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: