A Mountain of Motivation

I’m devouring motivation like an extra large pizza with the works. Whether it is from podcasts, blogs, social media groups, my friends and family, I am looking for ways to get pumped up daily.

I’ve talked about my family and friends often because they are a constant source of strength. The Two Gomers podcast and the Sub-30 Club have helped me a ton, even though they are really “strangers.” (I should add that the Sub-30 Club is amazing and everyone should check them out. I have a feeling many in this group will become friends in the coming years.) 

Then there are people you have been blessed to meet over the course of time. Bill Burke, a friend of my parents, sits at the top of this category.

Bill is a great mountain climber. His quiet determination and tenacity are respected within the community and a source of awe for a guy like me. If you want to get more details of what makes Bill special, check out his website (eightsummits.com) where he chronicles his climbing adventures.

If you go to the website, you’ll quickly learn that Bill is a bit older than most scaling the world’s toughest peaks. He is the American record holder having conquered Mt. Everest at 72 years old. Oh, did I mention he climbed that beast from both sides? That’s right, Bill has reached the summit of Everest from both the south and the more difficult north. He was on the mountain six times for those two summits.

My admiration for Bill and his amazing wife, Sharon, started almost the moment my dad introduced us. We were at my parents home and Bill and Sharon were visiting. The conversation was riveting.

After some time, we all went to look at pictures of one of Bill’s attempts to summit Everest. He went through the pictures telling us stories of the trip. There were two parts of the evening that really stuck out to me – Bill’s love of his “training partner” and his quiet determination.

First, Bill’s training partner is his grandson, Ollie. Ollie exhibits the signs of having Angelman Syndrome. Ollie clearly impacted Bill in the best way possible. The gleam in his eye as he talked about Ollie and the impact his grandson had on his life was something I will never forget. Bill’s dedication to doing more in life is clearly inspired by Ollie.

As Bill talked about his trip, the same type of reverence came through about Everest and the people he encountered along the way, especially the native Sherpa. What’s amazing is Bill did not summit that year, and at this point, he hadn’t. This is the other piece that sticks with me.

Bill explained that he came within a couple of hundred feet of the summit in 2007 but turned back because he did not know if he could make it down safely. He was not willing to put his own life in danger, but more importantly those of the Sherpa and other climbers that would undoubtedly come to help. This kind of discipline is inspiring at a whole new level.

You can tell this was a painful, difficult decision. Bill had to ponder “quitting” on the world’s tallest peak as he was within sight of it. How many of us push on when we know it would be better to turn around? How many of us could spend that kind of time (not to mention money) to be within reach of our ultimate goal only to turn around? Even bigger, how many of us would see this as just a blip and go back to try again? And again. And again.

I was an instant fan after this time with Bill. I’ve followed his adventures since. Now, at 74, Bill is back in the Himalayan mountains trying for another summit.

In 2014, Nepal opened up over 100 new mountains for climbing. One of those mountains was christened Burke-Khang. Bill was shocked by this honor.

He’s been to his eponymous mountain twice but it was not safe to summit. The mountain, by Bill’s own account, kicked his butt last year. So, what is there to do? Go back.

Right now Bill is on the mountain and hopes to summit on his 75th birthday. I’m following along and encourage everyone else to do the same.

Bill’s tenacity and grit are not those of a WWE wrestler. He is more matter of fact about how he goes about business. His genuine spirit and love of family are as inspiring as his feats on the mountain. The fact that Bill is the oldest non-Asian to summit Everest and the only person to conquer the world’s seven summits after the age of 60 is only a fraction of his life.

My parents are blessed to have Bill and Sharon in their lives. And I’m lucky to have met them. Bill’s ongoing impact on how I view “my Everest” is a little surprising to me. I didn’t realize the impact until I started thinking about what has motivated me lately. I was following his trek and it became clearer and clearer that this nearly 75-year-old grandfather that I’d met only briefly was a big inspiration for me.

I’m going to keep gobbling up motivation by the calorie-free gallon. I need all the help I can get.