Their next goal is to climb a mountain taller than 14,000 feet!
Melanie Knecht and Trevor Hahn are hiking buddies, both from Colorado. However, they aren’t a conventional hiking team.
Knecht is 29 years old and was born with spina bifida; Hahn is 42 years old, and five years ago he lost his sight due to glaucoma. Knecht uses a wheelchair, so in the past it was complicated for her to do anything “off-road,” although she found workarounds to make it happen. She even went to Easter Island where a friend carried her on his back using a carrier designed for parents to carry toddlers. On his part, since losing his sight, Trevor has continued to hike, but initially relied on having teammates who could guide him with spoken directions and by ringing a bell.
Knecht and Hahnmet each other last year at a course for adaptive exercise, and soon became friends. Their shared passion for nature and outdoor activities inspired them to form a team and undertake the adventure of hiking in the mountains together. “To us, teaming up to do this just seemed like common sense,” Melanie told reporter Kathryn Miles in an article in Outside.
“He’s the legs, and I’m the eyes!”
Knecht “walks” thanks to a custom-made carrier similar to a backpack that allows Hahn to carry her. Knecht, in turn, is a great guide. According to Miles’ article in Outside, she’s a professionally trained singer and “the queen of imaginative invectives,” so she’s a fun and able guide, describing the terrain underfoot and landscapes they traverse.
“He’s the legs, I’m the eyes — boom! Together, we’re the dream team,” Knecht told Faith Bernstein of Good Morning America. It gives Hahn, in addition to the pleasure of being on a mountaintop, a sense of purpose. “The best part is being able to make her smile,” he told Bernstein; Knecht says she loves the feeling of freedom, leaving her wheelchair behind.
They find their collaboration more comfortable than relying on the help of other friends, because “we both have the same responsibility: if one of us goes down, the other one goes down. It shifts the whole dynamic from feeling like a burden, to being essential for someone else’s experience in the outdoors,” Hahn told The Trust for Public Land. “The fact that we’re each helping the other out takes the pressure off,” Knecht added.
“It’s been great to share our story with people, and I hope that it encourages other people to try what we’re doing, or just for anyone to think outside of whatever box they’ve been put in. It goes to show you that we really are stronger together,” Knecht continued. She and Hahn share their experiences on Instagram and Facebook, and have granted interviews to many media outlets.
Focusing on accomplishments
At the same time, they told Outside, they don’t like being called “inspirational.” Hahn told Outside reporter Miles, “I’ve always hated it when I’m out snowboarding and someone shouts down from the lift to tell me that I’m inspiring. It can feel demeaning. You’d never say that to someone shredding the mountain who can see.” Knecht shares the sentiment, wanting the focus to be on her “accomplishments alone,” not on her being “the woman in the wheelchair.”
Perhaps rather than inspiring, we could call them “exemplary.” After all, every one of us is stronger in some aspects and weaker in others. There’s not a man or woman alive who doesn’t need other people whose strengths and weaknesses complement their own. Knecht and Hahn show us that “we are stronger together,” and that’s a lesson that has nothing to do with disability: it has to do with the human condition.