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New York Family follow-up with Alison

[Over the past 2 weeks, we have been thrilled to share with you the experience of apple seeds co-founder, Alison Qualter Berna, as she led her blind friend, Dan Berlin, on a 46-mile journey across the Grand Canyon. Our friends at New York Family followed up with Alison to get her post-Grand Canyon adventure reflections.]

Grand Canyon Run: Epilogue
Five lessons one local mom learned after guiding the first blind runner across the Grand Canyon and back in one day.
by Alison Qualter Berna

Dan Berlin made history as the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim and back in one go. I served as one of Dan’s four guides and I am forever changed by the experience.

Running rim to rim to rim is not easy. It is a 46-mile route over rocky terrain including 25,000+ feet of elevation change, and in certain sections, dangerous switchbacks on narrow trails beside 1,000-ft drop offs. I took turns guiding Dan with my fellow guides Charles Scott, Brad Graff, and Pete Kardasis, usually two at a time—one in front and one behind to keep him safe. We took only short breaks to refuel, refill water supplies, repair damaged feet and other body parts, wrap sore joints, and encourage one another not to give up. Perhaps the most amazing part of this for me was that we were completely self-supported, and at one point with no water stops in sight for miles, had to refill our bottles from the Bright Angel Creek.

Partying up the North Rim almost halfway!
In order to guide Dan across the Grand Canyon, I needed to train. A lot. As a working mother of three, I share the daily struggle of thousands of woman trying to achieve the elusive work-life balance. I constantly toil between wanting to be involved in my kids’ school and never missing one of their activities, with managing apple seeds (an all-in-one children’s play space that my husband Bobby and I founded with Allison and Craig Schlanger). We’re in the midst of launching national franchise program, and I felt as if I never had enough time to train adequately for this intimidating endurance challenge. I had difficulty squeezing in an hour-long exercise class, let alone the hours and hours of trail running I needed to do to get my body ready to take on 46 rugged miles in the Grand Canyon.

But I did it. I simply made the time. Yes, I often felt torn about missing work. And yes, I sometimes felt guilty about not being with my kids. But I also realized that I was a better mother and a better business owner when I made time to run outside on trails on practice my beloved yoga. At first, I felt selfish forcing in time to train, but I had no choice. Dan was counting on me to be in shape and to guide him. And over time, I realized that it wasn’t healthy always to put myself last. As I made time to train, I began to feel happier and healthier.

Alison with her family at the end of the journey.
When the time came to guide Dan across the Grand Canyon, I was ready. I learned a lot about myself on this run.

I learned that I need more confidence in myself. In the months leading up to this adventure, I relied on my friend and training partner Charles to remind me (on a daily basis) that I could do this crazy thing. Looking back, I think I knew I could do it all along, but fear and lack of confidence stopped me from fully believing it.

I learned that I enjoy setting goals. When I turned 40, I promised myself “one adventure a year,” preferring something outdoors and athletic to not only feel strong, but also allow me to try the many things I’ve wanted to do in the limited time I have on this planet. Running the width of the Grand Canyon and back in one day exceeded my expectations, and as I reached the final few steps, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. That feeling won’t leave my mind or heart too soon, and I would never know that feeling if I had not tried.

I learned that my kids want a lot of things from me as a mother, but ultimately, they simply want me to be happy. What they need is my unconditional love and my unfettered support in their schooling, activities, hopes and dreams. Through this past year of training, I grew even closer to my children, as I began to realize some of my own dreams. I’ve watched as they’ve absorbed my journey into their little minds, and I hear them setting their own goals, believing they can do anything…if they put their mind to it. I think they already realize that trying something is more important than thinking about something, and they understand that a working mother is also a woman with her own hopes and dreams. This is a powerful message.

I learned that I deeply need the loving friendship and support I have around me. My husband Bobby, my business partner and closest friend Allison, the many women I am so fortunate to call my friends, and my friend and training partner Charles. Without each of them, quietly reminding me to keep going, never judging me when I broke down after spinning my feet in the hamster wheel, and devotedly holding my hand along the way…I learned that love and friendship are the guideposts in my survival guide, the most fundamental part of my ability to be resilient and keep going.

Finally, I learned how lucky I am to be able to do this crazy run. Throughout the sometimes hilarious, sometimes grueling 28 hours, I felt, above all else, gratitude. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I could fly to the Grand Canyon, bring my family with me and complete such an athletic feat. But I was even more overwhelmed with gratitude simply for having my eyesight. Guiding Dan was a way for me to help another person, sharing something extraordinarily powerful with someone who needed me. But it was also somewhat selfish. Guiding Dan enabled me to shift my mind from my own fear of possibly taking a wrong step to certain death, or transfer any pain I may have felt from swollen, blistered feet. As I’d run or hike, I would sometimes close my eyes for a few seconds and try to feel what it was like for Dan. As we ran through the night, and I could see only a few feet of light in front of me, shining from my headlamp. But looking up at Dan, I did not feel frustrated but rather grateful for those few feet of comfort. I knew that the sun would rise, the trails would become clear again and I would once again see the beauty of the canyon. Dan would never be able to see its glorious paths, its varied ecosystems and the magnificent colors reflecting off its walls.

Alison celebrating with a handstand.
Deep down, we all knew that Dan’s completion would inspire hundreds of athletes and children affected by blindness. With that as our unspoken guiding light, in 28 hours, we never broke down. Each of us had different moments of frustration and despair, but Dan’s fortitude to keep going, I believe, carried all of us. Dan describes his blindness as “an inconvenience rather than a disability.” Instead of focusing on what he cannot do, he explores what he can do. And so we did too.

That philosophy is really a lesson for all of us, isn’t it? We all face some degree of adversity and it’s easy to let perceived impediments keep us from pursuing our dreams. Each of us took a different path to enable us to take on the Grand Canyon, and stumbling through life’s hurdles was simply part of the process. Dan stumbled many times while crossing the canyon, but he didn’t give up. He lives a life focusing on what is possible and then makes it happen. That is, perhaps, my greatest lesson of all.

We’ve received a lot of donations to the two blindness foundations we’re supporting—Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Blind Institute for Technology. Thank you! For those who haven’t donated, but would like to, the page is still open: youcaring.com

Take a quick look at what it was like to guide Dan on the North Rim:

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the immediate reaction to the run!

by Alison Qualter Berna

We did it! Dan Berlin just made history as the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim in one go. I am forever changed by my experience as one of his four guides…it’s hard to capture it all into words and I’ve been crafting different essays on what it was like to guide a blind person for the first time, how it changed me, and long and complicated road to get here, squeezing in training into an already difficult work-life balance as a working mother of three. In this moment of celebration, I wanted to share some details and photos of the run itself. As I look back on the last few days, reeling in the joy of my experience, the words that come to my mind are inspiring, exhausting, breathtaking, challenging and FUN. So much fun I would do it again (I said it here first). 

Running Rim to Rim to Rim is not easy. It is a 46-mile route over rocky terrain included 25,000+ feet of elevation change, and in certain sections, dangerous switchbacks on narrow trails beside thousand-foot drop offs. I took turns guiding Dan with my fellow guides Charles Scott, Brad Graff and Pete Kardasis, usually two at a time - one in front and one behind to keep him safe. We took only short breaks to refuel, refill water supplies, repair damaged feet (blisters!!) and other body parts, wrap sore joints, and encourage one another not to give up (this last one was big as we all dipped into a bit of despair at various moments, thankfully not all at once). Perhaps the most amazing part of this for me was that we were completely self-supported, and at one point with no water stops in sight for miles, had to refill our bottles from the Bright Angel Creek.

Here is a photo of our group near the end of our adventure:

Alison Qualter Berna, Dan Berlin, Charles Scott, Pete Kardasis, and Brad Graff

Dan is a powerful person. He is quiet and kind and quickly put his trust in each of us, knowing that his completion could inspire hundreds of people affected by blindness. He describes his blindness as an inconvenience instead of a disability. Rather than focusing on what he cannot do, he explores what he can do. 

That philosophy is really a lesson for all of us, isn’t it? We all face some level of adversity or choose to see the perceived impediments to our dreams. Overcoming the obstacles in our lives is never easy, but Dan’s example proves that with dedicated focus and unconditional support, it IS possible.

We've received a lot of donations to the two blindness foundations we're supporting. Thank you! For those who haven't donated, but would like to, the page is still open:


We're getting lots of press interest, and more press is in the works. We have even more TV and print coverage coming up later in the month... 

I am so proud of Dan and I am honored to have been a part of this experience!!

Here are a few more pics:

Enjoying my favorite activity…handstands by the Grand Canyon

Group pic at Phantom Ranch: Alison Qualter Berna, Charles Scott, Dan Berlin, Brad Graff, and Pete Kardasis
Approaching the Colorado River

Pausing to party on the way up the North Rim

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When a 7 Year Old Says She’s Fat

by Wendy Bradford

My daughter told me she’s fat. My seven-year-old daughter told me casually one afternoon that she is fat; “I wish I was skinny,” she added. She didn't seem upset, and it came not from a conversation about clothes or bodies or anything that would prepare me for this statement. When I asked where she heard something like that, she said, “It was on my brain.”

I took her out of the living room, where the rest of our family was hanging out, watching television, coloring on the floor, and into my bedroom. I needed to concentrate. My own brain was scrambling to find the “right” thing to say.

“You know you are perfect the way you are. Those aren't terms we use to describe ourselves or other people.” Is that right or is it bad to say “perfect”? “Did you hear that in school? Or on one of your iPad apps?” …That I shouldn't let you play with in the first place.

“No. I just know it.”

“Did you hear that on one of the Disney shows?” Damn Disney shows with all the perfect teenage hair.

“No, I just wish I was skinny.” She was giggling and fidgeting on my bed, a little embarrassed and definitely not upset. But where would that come from?

I say many things in front of my children that I immediately or eventually regret. Talking about weight, however, is forbidden. They see me step on the scale—often—but I never visibly attach a value to the number; I never express disappointment or satisfaction. At least I didn't think I was.

As crazy and delusional as I can be about body image—because I am crazy and delusional—I don’t let my children witness it. And I thought I was extremely good at that. We talk about exercise being healthy, and too much sugar being “unhealthy.” We never say fat and skinny. Hearing my little daughter talk about her body that way is excruciating. Never in one thousand years would I guess she was clued in to the overused, devaluing words we use to describe our bodies. And it’s possible she heard those words and still doesn't understand what they mean, what they imply, the inevitable comparisons they bring.

The issue ended when she said she was done talking about it: “Can we go back to the living room? I’m tired of this.

It is not over for me though as I realize how easily it is for girls to funnel any bad feelings they have into their beliefs about their bodies. I know I could do that still: My writing isn't going as well as I would like? I feel fat. Someone’s mad at me? I need to lose three pounds. What a waste of energy and time.

Everything I can do to protect them from the vicious cycle of equating success and worth with body weight, I will do. I will try to do. Protecting them may be less effective, however, than arming them with knowledge that the images they see and the messages they get from out there aren't real and ultimately, don’t matter.

I’m a little grateful, albeit still shocked, this came up in second grade and not later. The uphill battle may even out a bit if we start fighting it now.

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Finding Myself On The Edge

by Alison Qualter Berna

My friend and colleague in the parenting world, Eric Messinger, published this NY Family essay I wrote about my efforts to create more adventure in my post-40s life.

Alison training on Bear Mountain
I am extremely daunted by the challenge I face tomorrow, and it was not an easy road to train to get here. I’m sure I did not do it all correctly, sometimes compromising time my loving kids, or my exciting work, or my supportive husband. But I know that when I come up onto that South Rim at the end of the 46 miles tomorrow – whether I am running or hobbling – I will be joyful for having created the space to make this happen. I will be mostly proud that – with my friends Charles Scott and Brad Graff - I was a guide for Dan Berlin, the first blind athlete to run across the Grand Canyon and back in one day. The opportunity of a lifetime.

Creating adventure is one way to ensure we are staying in the present moment. Life passes by too quickly. I look at my kids lying in their beds at night and wonder how nearly a decade flew by. There are moments I want to stop time, and there are moments where I suddenly want to do everything in my bucket list as soon as possible.

I used to think that a bucket list meant “things I’ll do when I’m old, before I die,” but then, almost suddenly, I realized…old? what am I waiting for?!

Now is the only time we have.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Click here to read the entire NY Family essay. 

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Overcoming Obstacles -- I’m guiding the first blind athlete to run across the Grand Canyon and back in one day and would love your support!

by Alison Qualter Berna

Try to close your eyes for 10 seconds.
Now open them. Imagine that when you open them, you’re still surrounded by darkness.
Imagine if everything – your job, much of your independence, your ability to see the ones you love – had slowly faded away.

That’s what happened to my friend Dan Berlin. Dan slowly lost his sight in his 30s from a degenerative condition called cone rod dystrophy. 


What inspires me about Dan is that he decided to become a marathoner only 5 years ago, after he went blind. Next week, Dan will attempt to become the first blind athlete to run across the Grand Canyon and back in one day.

Tomorrow, October 7, my friends Charles Scott, Brad Graff and I will guide Dan on a 46-mile "rim to rim to rim" run from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, up to the North Rim, back down to the River and then back up to the original starting point. It's intense, dangerous, includes over 20,000 feet of elevation change, and this is an ambitious bucket list challenge for ultra runners. 


With one week to go, the four of us are raising money for blindness research, specifically for two organizations that have an impact on Dan’s life. The Blind Institute of Technology is a nonprofit whose mission is to prepare the visually impaired and the employers who hire them for success in the workplace. The urgent mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness is to drive the research that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases.

You can find more information on their websites and you can help us by making a donation – however big or small! – at the fundraising page we created for this run:

http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/the-blind-team-challenge-running-the-grand-canyon/234468

Even a few dollars can make a difference, and please know that I deeply appreciate your support.

We have a photographer who will film the experience, and ultimately produce a short documentary focused on facing adversity and overcoming obstacles.

I am nervous, already questioning how much willpower each of us will have to counter our body’s inevitable breakdown. But my predominant feeling is motivation. Dan faced adversity in a way that deeply inspires me. In losing his sight, he gained a different kind of strength. We all have obstacles we would like to overcome – sometimes small, sometimes seemingly insurmountable – but this “what are you waiting for” approach to life is one I aspire to (and I admit that before even finishing this run, I’m already planning my next adventure!)