From the Shadows to the Summit, A Purpose Born

By Brian Smith

For most of his life, Pedro relied only on himself, even in the darkest places.

The Army Veteran said that he viewed self-reliance as paramount — any outside help on inner turmoil would mean, “admitting I could no longer manage myself.” Seeking treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder was anything but easy, he said.

But after climbing an 18,000-foot peak in Peru with No Barriers Soldiers, he changed his mind. It’s led him to be a strong advocate for veteran’s issues, especially for those with disabilities.

“Seeking help has nothing to do with one’s inability to admit defeat or surrender,” he said. “It has to do with going beyond our personal understanding of ourselves, and stepping out to take a look from the outside in.”

Pedro came across the work of No Barriers Soldiers after watching a documentary about our 2012 climb up the 19,300-foot Cotopaxi in Ecuador. He was encouraged to sign up for a trip after seeing the “hope in the interviews of those participants and how their lives were changed.”

Pedro 2On his climb, Pedro packed a full-sized American flag to the summit to symbolize veteran’s post-duty struggles and the sacrifice made by fallen warriors.

“To do things in life that are self-benefitting may seem unimportant to those of us who are used to serving others,” he said. “Especially when the thing you need to do causes you fear of misunderstanding … maybe even judgment.

“My life was changed for good,” he said.

Out of the blue, Pedro was asked to share his story on a local morning news broadcast. He gained confidence on his Peruvian climb and found a sense of obligation to help others find “that same hope I had found.”

At first he was nervous and unsure how to respond to the questions. He had rehearsed questions and answers. When the lights came on he remembered that the broadcast could help others.

“My nerves calmed, and I started to have fun,” he said. “The day after the interview aired, I went to the VA hospital for an appointment and several people stopped me and asked about (No Barriers Soldiers) and my experiences in Peru. Others asked me for my contact information to perhaps sit and talk about issues.”

Pedro found a new enthusiasm — one that took him to an unexpected location: the pitching mound of the World Series.

Major League Baseball wanted to honor veterans by having one throw out the first ceremonial pitch of the Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals.

The VA Hospital in Kansas City nominated Pedro. So, Pedro went to buy a baseball to practice. Again the bright lights and cameras were on. Again Pedro shined, getting some serious effort behind the ball.

“Two things went through my mind — gotta get the ball in the glove,” he said. “That’s important, but the other one was the veterans.”

He said he thought of carrying that flag to the top of the mountain in Peru and all that it symbolized in his life and millions of others.Pedro Sotelo

“I could have never have imagined how far this experience would go in keeping me inspired and leading me to encourage others to go beyond themselves and take charge in their own lives,” he said.

Now, Pedro is a No Barriers Soldiers mentor. He values the sense of community among Soldiers alum and strives to give back when he can.

“I can be an example to others to never give up, even when what you do not understand gets in the way of living the life you want,” he said.