The incredible story of the blind climber: enter Andy Holzer

By Domenico Di Maio
Artwork by Diego Soprana

Week 49

How can you deal with the power of the mountain without having all five senses?
Inevitably sport requires one to have strong physical abilities and mental energy. Moreover, to obtain extraordinary results, extraordinary determination is required. It is the fine line that defines winners from the rest.
Successes are often achieved with commitment, perseverance and skills, as well as a predisposition to victory and competitiveness.
There are however sporting examples that go beyond mere training and the superficial focus on body and business. This occurs when there is irrepressible willpower, which must inevitably take over when physical shortfalls impair or prevent sporting practice.
Compiling a list of all those disabled athletes who have achieved incredible feats would be endless. This week we are focusing on mountaineering and we must mention one special case: Andy Holzer.
Austrian and blind from birth, Holzer was able to put power of mind over muscle; for him, physical limits to climbing do not exist, “nothing changes if you are blind, or you only have one leg, or you have blond hair or black hair … the important thing is to get to the top.”
With this mindset one can expect results.

Andy Holzer is nearly 50 and is part of the Seven Summits, the list of climbers who have reached the highest peaks of the seven continents, overcoming all degrees of difficulty.
The natural heightening of the senses that takes place in people who are blind allows for extreme adaptability: Holzer manages to use all of his other senses to reconstruct a mental topography of the mountain. He uses smell to identify the substances that make up the mountain or to identify deeper cracks by smelling the moisture in the surface crevices. He uses his sense of hearing to listen to the movements of his climbing partner, the noise of the carabineers that snap into place, in order to acquire the rhythm of ascent.
Andy in all his humility, with the attitude of one who is constantly hungry for more, is a prime example of when strength of mind surpasses all seemingly insurmountable physical limits.

Andy Holzer is also singer, guitarist, and bassist in dance band DOLOMITENDUO