Professional climber and irreverent comedian Timmy O’Neill visited Moab, film crew in tow, to link high-lining with altruism in a video project with the Himalayan Cataract Project. With local professional slack-liner Josh Beaudoin, he rigged to capture the process of defying gravity.
Under a clear blue sky on Thursday, May 24, Beaudoin and O’Neill led a film crew on a desert hike leading to a gaping canyon. Across a 50-foot span of open air, the two slung a high-line--a one-inch wide piece of webbing--and prepared to walk out over the abyss.
“It’s basically about embracing exposure,” O’Neill commented, referring to both walking the highline and his latest project in philanthropy.
Since he began climbing at age 19, O’Neill has made a number of impressive accomplishments in the sport, including climbing the nose of El Capitan in Yosemite with Dean Potter in a stunning three hours and 24 minutes. Also an avid slack-liner, mountain biker, BASE jumper and paddler, O’Neill has spent enough time in Moab to call the town a semi-home. This time in Moab, though, his time here was spent focused on philanthropy.
“If you look at the way I live my life, it’s based on a couple of principles, one being adventure and the other being philanthropy,” O’Neill explained. For the past 11 years, the climber has worked as an ophthalmic tech for the Himalayan Cataract Project, a non-profit organization that works to cure preventable blindness in developing countries. “Curing blindness doesn’t leave only a legacy of sight, but one of infrastructure and deep training. We’re heavily partnered with the domestic facilities in Ethiopia, and we have an equally involved program in Ghana, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, O’Neill continued, describing his most recent trip with the organization. “We did 2,300 individual eyes. We brought the light and life not only to the patients but to their families and friends, because when you free a person with bilateral blindness, you may have light.”
O’Neill is no stranger to philanthropy. In 2007, he co-founded a non-profit called Paradox Sports, which offers adaptive equipment and opportunities to disabled athletes. “Helping to cure blindness for the last 11 years stemmed off of an already deep process of care-giving,” he said of his work. “I love this organization because it gives me an opportunity to be so engaged.”
To O’Neill, high-octane adventure sports and striving to cure preventable blindness are intricately linked. “I embody my work through my play because my play is my work,” he said. “Adventure is risk assessment, critically assessing the world you live in, being aware of objective hazards, embracing crux mindsets, always looking for the solution after identifying the problem. Really always being engaged,” he continued. “Learning is a lifelong process.” It is these aspects, and how they pertain to curing blindness in developing countries, that he hopes to embody in his film project.
“If it’s walking across a highline, if it’s getting through your red-point crux, if it’s going to cure preventable blindness in Ethiopia for 2,300 people, it only happens because you go and get it,” O’Neill elaborated. “It’s seek and find, not sit and dream.”
“If you make it hard on purpose, when it becomes hard on accident, you’re able to deal with it. You’re able to be calmer, you’re able to have more grace, you’re able to be more patient, and more articulate, describe the symptoms and get to the cure.”
More information about the Himalayan Cataract Project can be found at www.cureblindness.org.