Friday, March 29, 2013

On top of the world...literally

Wow have I been slacking on the blog front. It's a good thing I have some super cool military friends who are doing super cool things that I can brag about in lieu of my own super coolness. 

Rob Marshall's super coolness was obvious the first time I met him: He was from Washington State, contagiously enthusiastic, drove an alternative fuel-powered vehicle, and was in the process of climbing the highest mountain on every continent to raise money for the families of Special Operations Airmen killed in action. 

It was this final point that led me to Rob. In 2009, I wrote a feature article on the U.S. Air Force 7 Summits Challenge. I was impressed not only by the effort itself--which, if successful, will be the first time a U.S. military team has accomplished the ultimate mountaineering feat--but also by Rob and his team's sheer commitment and determination. They used their own money to fund the climbs, and burned through personal vacation time. They planned, trained, and executed around two, three or more deployments-a-year schedules. Here I was, struggling to find the time and energy to make something other than frozen pizza for dinner. 

At the time Rob and his team had two peaks left to climb: Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and the crown jewel of mountaineering . . . Everest. A year later, I chronicled their preparations for the Antarctic climb, which they successfully completed just as I was leaving the Air Force. 
Rob and Graydon Muller at the summit of Vinson Massif
Rob and I have kept in touch, and a few days ago I got the news that IT'S ON. Everest or bust! As I write this,12 Airmen, including three wounded warriors, are en route to the highest mountain in the world to see a 12-year dream to completion.

I encourage you to read Rob's message below, explore the USAF 7 Summits website, follow their progress, offer support through thoughts and prayers, and, if you feel so inclined, through a donation to their very worthy cause. 

Be inspired. Be amazed.

In Rob's words:  

I'm about to depart on a huge journey.  On Thursday, March 28th, I'm flying to Nepal to lead a team of Air Force members to Mt. Everest.  Six of us will go for the summit, and six other Airmen will turn around upon reaching Everest Base Camp.  Three of these folks are wounded warriors who I invited to join us in hopes that it aids them in their emotional and physical recoveries.  No team of US military members has ever attempted to climb Mt. Everest.  If successful, not only will we be the first team of American military members to reach the summit, but we will also be the first military team from any nation to successfully climb the '7 Summits'- the highest peak on each of the seven continents.

I'm sure to most of you this isn't breaking news!  I created this climbing challenge back in 2005 with my best friend Mark Uberuaga when we were stationed with the Air Force in England.  Since then, I've been traveling the world, climbing mountains in an effort to raise esprit d' corps among Airmen, generate positive media stories, promote physical and mental health, and to honor my friends who have died since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.  We've also been raising awareness of a great charity that pays for all the college costs for children who lose a parent serving in US Special Operations, as well as a charity that serves the men and women of Air Force Combat Rescue- the folks tasked with saving lives in the worst of conditions.  Over the last eight years, we've raised over $70,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and That Others May Live Foundation.

Suicides in the military keep going up, so I'm really hoping we can strike a chord with the Air Force and other branches when it comes to the link between physical exertion and mental health.  I've been through my lows, especially when working from an isolated area or after the loss of a friend, but I found that the best medicine for me was to get outside, get my body working, and to start sweating.  There is also something healing about forests, mountains, rivers, and oceans.  It's my hope that I can help find a way to safely get military members suffering from depression, PTSD or a similar personal issue into the outdoors and give them the opportunity to sweat, get their heart rates up, and to renew their confidence and self esteem.  Perhaps after Everest I'll get that chance!

Many of you have generously supported me and these charities throughout these climbs.  Well, this is the last of the seven!  I'm sure I'll keep climbing, but as far as our project goes, this big one is also the final one.  So I'm writing to ask for your support for this last mountain.  If you are interested in making a donation, it's real easy this time.  You can visit our website.  It's possible to donate through Amazon or Paypal on our site. 50% of your donation will go directly to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which is a 501(c)3.  The other 50% will go to the USAF 7 Summits Challenge, a 501(c)19 'War Veterans Organization', and be used to pay for climbing gear, permits, and logistics.  So your donation is tax deductible in accordance with IRS regulations.  However, if you want to adjust the percentages, just let me know and we'll make it happen! 

I'm happy to say that we're going to be doing daily updates throughout the expedition.  Our website has been revamped thanks to the donation of a local Amarillo web development firm, so it's looking real nice!  Visit our blog, where you will be able to follow us up the mountain and hopefully see photos every day or so.  Our wounded warriors and climbers will be writing about the journey, likely in personal ways, so I think you'll find the reading quite entertaining.

My brain is pretty tired- it's soon to be 1:40am here and I've spent the day packing dozens of medications, first aid kit supplies, climbing gear, and clothes, so I better wrap this up!  Lots more packing to do tomorrow after work.  I'm smiling, thinking about what the next 70 days are going to hold for me.  My heart is happy, as I've wanted to return to Everest ever since I stood at its base in 2001.  I had no intention of climbing it, but when I visited it on a cloudy, deserted day in June, I had the strangest feeling that I needed to return.  But it needed to be for something bigger than just me.  Well, it took 12 years, but here I am, on my way back to the mountain, and it's for a cause bigger than I could have ever imagined way back then.  It is going to be an epic adventure and I thank all of you for supporting me with your friendship, love and wisdom throughout all these years.

Feel free to pass this on to anyone you think might be interested in following our progress on Everest.  Oh, and I am planning on setting a world record for pushups on the summit of Everest.  I've done pushups on every mountain I've climbed since I went to the Air Force Academy in '97.  Some people egg me on by pledging donations to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for every pushup I do in one minute.  If you'd like to do that, just send me an email with your pledge.  That way I'll have a little more motivation to knock out a few extra!  I'm aiming for 40 pushups in a minute, but it could be more, and it could certainly be less!

Good luck to Rob and the 7 Summits Team!