Colin O’Brady hunkered down as 50-mph winds buffeted his tent pitched on the side of the tallest mountain in North America. Inside his sleeping bag, he tried to stay warm while he waited for a break in the weather.
His goal: to summit the 20,310-foot Denali in Alaska — the last peak separating him from two world records.
Eventually, the weather did break. When O’Brady scaled Denali on May 27, he became the fastest person to summit the tallest peak on each of the seven continents — plus ski to the North and South poles — in only 139 days.
The two challenges are called the Explorers Grand Slam and 7 Summits. He shaved 53 days — almost two months — off the previous record. Previously, only two people completed the challenges in less than a year.
“At hard moments, the easiest thing to do is to give up,” O’Brady told hundreds of students in the gym at Hearthwood Elementary School on Wednesday. “But you guys, in cheering me on, helped me to keep going.”
Explorers Grand Slam and 7 Summits
• What: Summit the tallest peak on each of the seven continents plus ski to the North and South poles.
• Colin O’Brady’s record: 139 days, set May 27.
• Previous record: 192 days.
• South Pole, Jan. 10.
• Mount Vinson (Antarctica): 16,054 feet, Jan. 17.
• Aconcagua, Argentina (South America): 22,827 feet, Jan. 31.
• Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (Africa): 19,341 feet, Feb. 9.
• Carstensz Pyramid, Indonesia (Oceania): 16,024 feet, March 4.
• Elbrus, Russia (Europe): 18,510 feet, March 10.
• North Pole: April 19.
• Everest, Nepal (Asia): 29,029 feet, May 19.
• Denali, U.S. (North America): 20,310 feet, May 27.
Follow on Twitter: @Colinobrady and @Beyond_72
On his blog: http://beyond72.com/
The professional endurance athlete visited Hearthwood Elementary to celebrate the completion of his around-the-world expedition. He had first visited the school in November, when his goal was just a dream.
“You never know what’s going to happen when you’re out there,” he said.
Then he shared his story about trying to summit the tallest mountain in South America in January when bitter cold and persistent winds forced him to turn around.
“I had to go back down the mountain that day,” he said.
Later, he successfully summited the Argentine peak.
He recalled the challenging North Pole environment of pulling a heavy sled loaded with supplies when the temperature was 40 degrees below zero in April.
“As hard things trip you up, never, never give up on your dreams,” O’Brady told the students.
When O’Brady began his trek toward the South Pole in January, the Hearthwood students followed along on social media and sent him letters and messages of encouragement.
Another part of the athlete’s message is to inspire kids to aspire to active, healthy lives. When O’Brady was severely burned in a fire, doctors predicted the athlete would not be able to walk normally — let alone scale mountains. O’Brady proved them wrong.
Hearthwood students presented the athlete with letters, posters and stories of their own bravery in meeting challenges. One girl said she had always wanted to try gymnastics, but was afraid. She thought of O’Brady’s challenge and faced her own.
“You inspired me to be the healthiest I can and not be lazy,” a boy told him.
The logistics of the multiple-summit trek were managed by Jenna Besaw, O’Brady’s fianc?e, a fellow mountaineer. He proposed to her at the top of a peak in the Ecuadorian Andes.
As the time at Hearthwood Elementary came to an end, a boy asked O’Brady if he would ever climb those mountains again.
“I’m not sure I’m ever going to climb these same mountains again,” O’Brady said. “But I’m going to keep having adventures. I’ll continue to dream big and find what the next adventure is going to be.”
He held up a rock he’d picked up at the top of Mount Everest and said: “The tallest mountain in the world! I’ve dreamed about it since I was a young kid.”
Then he challenged students: “Close your eyes. Focus on one goal in your life. Picture it. Really grasp it in your mind.”
What’s next for O’Brady, who grew up in Portland? He’s only 31. He and Besaw have started a foundation, Beyond 7/2. Their goal is to raise $1 million to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and to empower kids to develop lifelong, healthy habits.