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March 23. 2013 3:04AM

48 peaks

A sightless vision of summits in winter for Nashua man


Blind hiker Randy Pierce of Nashua and his guide dog, Quinn, are the subject of "Four More Feet," a documentary film screening at the University of New Hampshire on March 25. (JUSTIN FULLER)

DURHAM -- When Randy Pierce, a blind hiker from Nashua, was about to embark on a journey last winter to summit all 48 of New Hampshire's highest peaks in one cold season, novice filmmaker Dina Sutin asked if she could tag along and film the journey.

The result is a documentary titled "Four More Feet," which will have its Seacoast premiere in the University of New Hampshire's Memorial Union Building on Monday night at 7 p.m.

The title has multiple meanings: one focusing on the four-legged support of Pierce's dedicated guide dog, Quinn, and a second that is shared as the film, and the journey, progresses.

Sutin said she got much more out of the experience than she was expecting when she began filming in December 2011.

In a word, she described the experience of following Pierce as "humbling." And, she added, audiences seem humbled as well once they've seen the film.

"You immediately reconsider your own abilities when you see someone that has an alleged disability who is so well adapted and manages to continue to do all the things they love seemingly effortlessly," Sutin said.

The key word there is "seemingly." In fact, Pierce's life has been far from effortless.

Shortly after graduating from UNH in 1988, he began losing his vision to a neurological disorder that also confined him to a wheelchair for one year, eight months and 21 days.

Two successful experimental treatments got him out of the chair and on his feet. Friends with the UNH Outdoor Education program then got him out on the mountains.

Last March, Pierce, Quinn and co-hikers Justin Fuller and Kyle Dancuse, another UNH alum, completed their journey. Sutin chronicled it all: three months, 200 miles and 88,000 feet of elevation.

At the beginning of the winter of 2011-12, 46 hikers were on record for summiting New Hampshire's 48 peaks in a single winter. Pierce became the first blind person to accomplish the feat, and Quinn became the first guide dog to do so.

Having a guide dog willing and excited to walk tough terrain came by chance, Pierce said.

"He showed an incredible aptitude for it," Pierce said of Quinn. "Guide dogs are not trained for this kind of thing. Most of the trails in the White Mountains are the type of environment they are trained to avoid."

Throughout the film, Pierce said, Quinn's happiness is in evidence - from his wagging tail to his boundless energy.

In the end, Pierce said, what the pair accomplished first and foremost is "ability awareness versus disability awareness."

That's an issue he speaks about to students all over the state through his charity 2020 VisionQuest, founded in 2010. The goal of the organization is to "inspire people to reach beyond adversity and achieve their highest goals," Pierce said.

His winter hiking journey began as a way to lead by example. His message is about choice.

"The challenge is real, and it has a real impact on every one of us," Pierce said. "The choice of how we respond to that challenge is always ours, and the choice we make will have a bigger influence on our life than any challenge ever could.

"I like to think I'm verification of that theory."

One of his next goals is to summit the 48 peaks in the non-winter seasons. He, and Quinn, already are more than halfway to their goal.

"I hope to be climbing in life for a lot longer still," Pierce said.

Accompanied by "the Mighty" Quinn and Sutin, Pierce will be in attendance at Monday's screening to answer questions after the film.

For a limited time, the DVD will be available for purchase online at www.2020visionquest.org.

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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