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Portland man helps blind Navy veteran summit Mt. Everest

<i></i><br/>Michael Neal

Michael Neal

By Jeffrey Lindblom

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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — A few months ago, Michael Neal, a Portlander, shared the story of his friend Lonnie Bedwell, who is a blind Navy veteran and had his heart set on being the fourth blind person to climb Mount Everest.

With the help of Neal, and many others, he was able to achieve that goal, but “he says you couldn’t give me a billion dollars to do that again.” However, not for the reason one might think.

Neal said usually people climb for themselves, but this time he climbed with the sole purpose to make sure his friend made it to the top, “and Lonnie was climbing mainly for his community of blinded veterans. He said, ‘I did it for them, and I have no reason to do something like that again.’”

However, Neal says Bedwell’s inspiration goes further than the community of blinded veterans.

“I’m not blind or a veteran and it’s inspiring to me, and I think to others who see him do something, ‘If he can do that, so can we.’”

Neal helped start Sightless Summits, to inspire blind veterans by climbing the tallest mountain on each continent with Bedwell. Now, with a good team behind him, they have achieved Everest. Which was their second on that list. But Neal called it no easy feat, especially for a blind man.

“Everything on a mountain is harder. Everything is more challenging and more difficult for him,” Neal said.

Neal said at his last check, this is the third deadliest year for Everest climbers. Unfortunately, he said they saw a few who didn’t make it home on their recent trek.

“Thankfully he had strong team,” Neal said about Lonnie. “Most importantly, he was strong. We try our best to help him and make it easier, but he is good at putting his head down and just moving forward with a lot of grit.”

The team originally set out to climb Everest and its neighbor Lohtse, which would have made Lonnie the first blind person to conquer both. However, Neal said they had a different team steal some of their oxygen tanks. He said he understands, since he believes they needed them to survive, but did say it contributed to why Lonnie couldn’t manage both.

“Lonnie was done when he got finished with it. He was really tired,” said Neal.

Still, Neal says Bedwell became the fourth blind person to summit mount Everest, “which I think is still an accomplishment to summit it by itself. He doesn’t feel any let down.”

Neal stresses that if his friend can do it blind, maybe others will be inspired too.

“To believe in themselves, that they can also do it.”

Travelling for several days, Neal said he’s exhausted. However, he said isn’t planning on resting too long, as Bedwell wants to climb another mountain in December. To do that, they’ll have to fundraise.

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