Oak Parkers Tom Lillig and David Shurna have spent decades working together to inspire others to face life’s challenges head on through their nonprofit organization, No Barriers USA. Co-founded by Lillig, Shurna and Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to scale Mount Everest, No Barriers USA gives individuals the skills they need to tackle hardships and lead full lives.
“It’s really an organization that is for people who are facing any sort of struggle in their life and seeking to live a life of purpose and meaning, despite the adversity they face,” Shurna told Wednesday Journal.
In their newly released book, What’s Within You, Lillig and Shurna share their personal stories of overcoming challenges and their experience helping others through No Barriers. The book offers readers a guide to navigating and overcoming challenges of all sorts — physical, emotional and cognitive. The book is dedicated to Lillig’s late mother, Tina Lillig.
No Barriers and its work has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and other media outlets. Inspirational football hero Rudy Ruettiger and renowned anthropologist Jane Goodall are among the many endorsements What’s Within You has received.
“We’re really blessed to have many great endorsements from people from all walks of life,” said Shurna.
No Barriers works with wounded veterans, adolescents, caregivers, business leaders, schools, people with disabilities and anyone looking to make a positive change in their lives. All of the book’s proceeds go directly back to No Barriers.
Lillig and Shurna’s journey together started at Emerson Junior High School, now Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, where they played on the school’s basketball team.
“Even at that early age, Dave and I both had visions of doing something that in some capacity would elevate others or do something powerful to benefit the world,” said Lillig. “We both knew we wanted to do it together.”
During their time at Emerson, Lillig and Shurna won the American Legion Award and were chosen to make speeches at their eighth-grade graduation.
A hint of what was to come, Lillig and Shurna’s speeches had messages of self-growth and conquering difficulties — both used props.
“For me, the speech was, I had a ladder, and we were stepping up to the next level of who we were,” said Shurna. “As I gave the talk, I stepped up the ladder to talk about how we were moving along in our journey and the next phase of our journey.”
Lillig used an apple as a metaphor for gaining knowledge.
“It was the apple of our education,” he said. “As I concluded it, I took a bite, signifying us taking that next bite out of our education journey.”
Shurna went on to become valedictorian at Oak Park and River Forest High School; he recently won OPRF’s Tradition of Excellence award. As a student of St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Lillig was senior class president and was awarded “Ignatian of the Year.”
“I think we always had that lens of, ‘How do we make a difference in the world, a positive contribution?'” said Shurna.
While Lillig and Shurna no longer live in Oak Park, both their fathers do. Since the organization’s founding in 2005, No Barriers has partnered with OPRF to bring programs to the school.
Lillig and Shurna care about the whole process of overcoming hardships and challenges, not just the happy ending.
“We really do deeply care about the struggle because we know it takes a lot for everybody day in and day out to get there,” said Lillig.
Most of No Barriers’ work centered on in-person events and seminars; however COVID-19 spurred them to move to a virtual format. The virtual format has allowed No Barriers to reach more people in more countries.
In late June, No Barriers livestreamed their annual conference No Barriers Summit, which 1.3 million people watched in 17 different countries. Lillig and Shurna estimate “tens of thousands” of people have gone through No Barriers programs.
According to Lillig, No Barriers supports and motivates people every step of the way during their journeys.
“What it is, is just making sure that every touchpoint we have with people is one that has the potential to transform a life,” said Lillig. “That’s why the book matters so much to me and Dave.”