“The only way he could do this was with friends,” CBS News reported as they described Dan Berlin’s 2014 epic 46-mile trek from rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, finishing in the dark after 28 hours. At that moment, he became the first blind person to accomplish such a feat.
Guiding him every treacherous step of the way were his friends, Aison Qualter Berna, Brad Graff and Charles Scott. He could not have done it without them. They became a team, and they remain one to this day—a foursome with a name, Team See Possibilities, and a mission, to spread the word, through the metaphor of adventure, that blindness, vision impairment, or any perceived disability can be a challenge that makes one stronger, not a limitation on what one can achieve.
They are more than halfway through their physical goal of tackling challenging long-distance adventures on seven continents in seven years. And everywhere they have been, they have met with children with vision problems. “I’m doing what I love to do with an important purpose,” Berlin said.
That’s not to say that it hasn’t taken weeks and months of training, that there haven’t been difficult, miserable moments. This fall the team took on three of New Zealand’s toughest treks, beginning with the 30-mile Tongariro trail with a 4,000-foot elevation gain, in 16 hours. The last four were on a muddy trail in driving rain in the dark. “I said to myself, what am I doing here,” Berlin admits. A few days later, the team went on to complete the 34-mile Milford Track in 19 hours.
Then it was time to visit schools and meet vision-impaired children. Berlin said he was especially touched by a teenage boy suffering from rod cane dystrophy, the same condition that caused his own blindness. The boy was adolescent and angry. “I told him that he could pursue his interest in auto mechanics. He’d just have to work harder and find a different way to do things. I pointed out that his increased sound perception could be a real benefit in working with engines.”
Berlin also was able to share the benefits of using a cane, explaining that he used one, not so much for himself, but to let others know that he could not see, giving the boy a new perspective.
While in New Zealand, Team See Possibilities launched their newest initiative, the TSP Global Scholarship Program, which will offer college scholarships to vision-impaired students with the drive and motivation to attend college. They plan to give five scholarship in amounts up to $5,000, to students in the U.S. and New Zealand in 2019.
The Team looks back with pride at their past adventures; along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2015, up Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 19,341 feet, accomplished in the dark in two and a half days, in 2016. They trekked in the dark to highlight vision impairment. The guides used headlamps and could only see a few feet ahead, increasing the challenge.
Cycling, trekking and kayaking on the Great Wall of China, the team covered 100k in three days in 2016.
Where will they go in 2019 and 2020? “We have Europe and Antarctica left,” Berlin says. “Right now we’re looking at options, from a trail in Iceland, perhaps a snowshoe or cross-country ski in Antarctica, perhaps an adventure in Jordan.
All four team members have intimidating bios that are difficult to summarize in a few words.
Berlin has done more than a dozen marathons, most recently the California International Marathon the week before I spoke with him. He ran fast enough to qualify for Boston, and he will make a return trip to the site of his 2013 experience there. He stood close to the finish line with his 12-year-old daughter, Talia, as the bomb went off. “Thank goodness, she had her wits about her and got us out of the chaos,” he said.
In 2017, he completed an Ironman in Boulder. In the summer of 2018, he was part of a Team See event that cycled 3,100 miles across America within a time limit of nine days. He is co-founder and CEO of Rodelle Vanilla in Fort Collins, a job that requires a significant amount of travel.
Charles Scott quit a position with Intel after 14 years to found Family Adventure Guy. He has cycled the length of Japan with his 8-year-old son, and wrote a book about it, “Rising Son.” He circled Iceland on a mountain bike for 40 days with his two children. “Discomfort is the birthplace of resiliency,” he says. He claims: “We become the average of our peers, those we choose to spend our time with.” He and Berlin have been friends for 18 years.
Alison Qualter Berna had never run a marathon until she guided Berlin on the 46-mile rim to rim trip. She’s a mother of three, co-founder of Apple Seeds, a nationally franchised children’s play space, and she has been a producer for NBC News and worked in global sports development for UNICEF. She is famous for her hand-standing ability.
Brad Graff also is an Intel dropout after 17 years, a graduate of Harvard Business School, a retired naval officer and logistics guy for TSP. He and Charles have been friends for 30 years.
TSP is a formidable team, in love with life and the ventures it offers, dedicated to each other and, through their nonprofit organization, to making life better for vision-impaired children everywhere in the world.