At a talk last weekend, my fourth of the week (a new personal best!) I was asked: ”When was the last time you said no to someone?”. Which got me thinking. Mostly about the time in sixth form when I was told I’d be neglecting my future by pursuing my Everest dream rather than my education.
Two years later, I was trekking OUT of Everest base camp when I dropped all of my University offers via email and the weak 3G signal on my iPhone. And nearly one year later, I’m just three weeks away from going back to pursue the very same dream, without regretting a single thing. Because I have learnt so much more than anyone could imagine, even myself.
This became apparent when I thought back to everything I’d done last week. The people I’d met. The stresses, fears and successes. The six training sessions. The diet and the routine. The audiences I’d spoken to and what they’d taken away from it. When I stripped Everest away from the equation…. I realised how much of my life had been enriched by simply having the courage to pursue a passion.
Last year a typical day for me would have been sending sponsorship emails and logging it into a spreadsheet from dawn to midnight, when I wasn’t working or training that is, securing the funding needed to get to Nepal. I’m very glad that I’ve been largely spared of the same monotonous slog this time round as my expedition sponsors were finalised before Christmas, in particular my headline sponsors Active Cheshire and Westgrove Group and ‘base camp sponsors’ Dayinsure.
In my talks I’m often asked: ”How often do you train?”, ”do you ever just watch TV?”, ”do you have a strict diet?”. Albeit perplexed why anyone would be so interested in me or my life, I thought I’d give you an insight. Nowadays… a typical day begins about 7am. I hate lie-ins passionately. Through the Summer it would be 5:30am every day- but five hours sleep for an endurance athlete led to chronic fatigue. Porridge is the very first thing, without fail. Usually with a combo of banana, berries, peanut butter, flaxseed, cinnamon powder and soya milk, then black coffee. Don’t ask. A typical meal after that could be grilled chicken or tinned mackerel, with a carb-tastic portion of brown rice or pearl barley, houmous and raw veg.
Since starting a structured diet plan with my personal trainers (I work with two Sports Scientists from the University of Exeter), I have about 5 meals a day and 3000kcal. But if you want to know any more, you’ll have to start training with them! How can I expect to gain muscle from my training or maintain my weight, when there’s a deficit of calories? Everything I eat is weighed obsessively. ”Just guess?”, many ask. Precision is key. You wouldn’t put diesel in a petrol engine, would you?
I rarely eat with the family anymore – I don’t expect them to be as strict and I need to know exactly what I’m taking in. Whilst training in Scotland, I often came in to the hostel kitchen to see people fussing about with pans chucked everywhere simmering stuff as passionately as Jamie Oliver. Admittedly it smelt good and probably tasted better, but I was sorted in 5 mins with just a fraction of the time, effort, and expense; when I’m busy or jaded after a day in the mountains. Food has simply become fuel; the rest is a bonus. On the mountains or on the bike, I eat enough Soreen Malt Loaf that I should probably be sponsored by them.
The rest of the day varies so much. Usually it involves walking the dog for 30 mins or so, maybe more, which can be the most mentally demanding and stressful part of the day! Even when walking him, or sat on a bus, I’m constantly doing something, I can’t switch off, usually completing my regimented daily diary on my phone.
A trip to the Mill Hotel gym for intervals and/or strength training can take four hours or so, considering the travel- a bike ride between 3 and 5 hours, up to 30 hours training a week or 50 when training in Scotland. Meetings or talks can absorb an entire day. Most of my time is sat working on my laptop, playing music almost the entire time to keep my focus, albeit trashing my hearing. Besides getting up to stretch my legs and chasing the dog around the house, I’m on the laptop doing everything from sending press releases or emails, to doing accounts/budgets, to planning logistics, testing kit, doing interviews, posting social media updates, networking or researching kit, or brainstorming things in my planner. Co-ordinating meetings or ‘admin’ as I call it, takes up an astonishing amount of time. I generally work until I’m so tired I can’t think clearly- rarely before midnight. If I get a mental block, I just go and sit in front of my Everest poster. Until December, I was working between 30-50 hours per week at a local restaurant, which basically involved cramming the same above into a much smaller time to complete my ‘to-do’ list. Burnout is a familiar feeling- hence I dropped the restaurant job to keep myself in health, and focus on the bigger picture.
Since our good friends at the Daily Mail and The Guardian have recently jumped on the bandwagon from their high-rise office blocks, I’ve had a considerable amount of stick from an intrepid army of ‘keyboard warriors’. I’ve been bullied all of my school life, so nowadays these comments do nothing but amuse me and add to the fire. So, why care, or even give these people the relative worth of a mention on my blog, which promotes the causes and sponsors I’m honoured to be working with? Because it’s cyber bullying, and it’s about time someone stood up to it. The worrying thing, is that these remarks are coming not from naive schoolkids but adults, fully aware of their actions. Anyone attempting to climb Everest is resilient and seasoned through the mill enough to look straight through such poorly-researched slander, but what about the people who are more vulnerable? I’m determined to fight cyber bullying from the top of the world by supporting bullying projects in Cheshire/Warrington with the Alex Staniforth Adversity Fund. And not just that, but mental health and disabilities. As I’ve experienced myself, they all leave people feeling alone, and can be debilitating at the least. Too many people are bitterly told just to ‘get on with it’ like me. There is not enough help out there. I don’t feel I have achieved enough in my life until I have summited Everest, and created a legacy in the process.
Absolutely nobody has the authority to criticise and slander the dreams of other people, no matter what they may be. Our ambitions are personal to us and where we want to be, they drive and fulfil us. Whether that be to climb Everest, run a marathon, be a Doctor, or have six kids. Do Everest climbers care how many people have achieved the goal before us? If we wanted to be first, we’re a little late. Every Olympic games, huge numbers of athletes win the Olympic medals they have dreamed of. Does that mean they had to work, sacrifice, dedicate or persevere any less? Sorry Sir Chris Hoy, you’re going to have to return all seven medals mate … somebody else got one first! If climbing Everest with oxygen is cheating, then let’s go scuba diving without air, rock climbing without a harness, or driving without a seatbelt.
It’s a sorrow waste of potential that people are so buried within their own insecurities that they brand anyone willing to risk their lives at huge financial expense as selfish and egotistical. You can ask any close friend or family member of mine and they’ll laugh at the “clouded by my faux-fame” allegations thrown at me. I’m my own biggest enemy. Come to one my talks and you’ll see me poke fun at and self depreciate myself. I couldn’t give a Chimpanzee whether I’m the youngest Brit to climb Everest via the Southeast Ridge or the first to bring a kettle to the summit sponsored by Tetley Tea.
Our potential is for us to find. We owe nothing to convention. Our lives are given to us to make the most of and experience as much as we can- and giving back at the same time makes it even more rewarding. Pretty damn selfish, eh? They conveniently forget how the majority of climbers on Everest are supporting charities through the process of their expedition- just when fundraising the cost of the trip itself wasn’t hard enough. And just because the Guardian told them otherwise, they dismiss how much the climbing community and the expedition leaders do for the people they work with, behind the scenes, not for a Blue Peter badge but because they genuinely care about their friends. Maybe people are resentful that others have found a way to make a living from their passion thus spending their time freely doing something meaningful, rather than being trapped into the conventional conveyor belief that you have to live the same way as everyone else…unless that’s your dream, of course. But if you believe in something- please don’t holler from the anonymous security of a computer screen.
In my opinion, people judge their status by their job and the hours they ‘have’ to work, rather than what they’re giving back. The first question is too often; ”What do you do for work?”, when it should be: ”What are you passionate about?”. Passion is what counts.
Through my training, I went out with various people who had taken a risk and abandoned their comfortable secure corporate world, to pursue work in the mountains. Why? Because they didn’t care about the money, but about enjoying life. I have an incredible amount of respect for this. Hopefully by being fortunate enough to unearth my purpose early on, I can avoid having to make a similar change, but better late than never.
In order to succeed you need a stubborn belief in an idea to make it a reality, even when the vast majority try to trip you off the scent. You’re not being arrogant, you’re being focused. As long as you don’t lose belief in your own ability, nothing else matters. Dreams do come true, and cyber bullies hate it.