Professional endurance athlete Colin O’Brady is no stranger to challenges. After a tragic accident left his body severely burned, he was told he might not walk again normally. Following a year of intensive rehab and recovery, O’Brady not only entered the 2009 Olympic distance Chicago Triathlon, but won the overall amateur division. He later went on to represent the USA internationally as a professional triathlete, competing in 25 countries on six continents over the past six years.
O’Brady is now on a quest to break the world record for the “Explorers Grand Slam,” which requires adventurers to climb the “Seven Summits,” or the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents in addition to skiing to both poles – all in under six months. In retrospect, less than 50 people have ever completed this achievement and only two in under a year. O’Brady hopes to accomplish the feat (started on Christmas Day 2015) in just over five months in order to secure the world record by mid-June.
O’Brady aims to raise $1 million to promote childhood health and to inspire kids to lead active, healthy lives through his charity BEYOND 7/2. All funds raised will go to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and their programs.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to O’Brady about his past, the challenge, his charity, and more.
What was your younger self like?
As a young person, I was always very driven and competitive. However, I would probably not have had the patience required for a project like BEYOND 7/2 in my youth. In 2011, I was introduced to Vipassana meditation. I completed a 10-Day silent meditation retreat in Washington state. That experience changed me and allowed me to be more self-aware and in tune with my mental and emotional state. With that, and growing up in general, I’ve been able to mature and evolve into the person I am today. I’m still competitive and driven, but I am able to channel that into more productive endeavors (like BEYOND 7/2) that still nurture my personal spirit of adventure and challenge, but more importantly create a vehicle for giving back and ensuring others have inspiration and resources for active, healthy lives.
Besides trying to break a World Record and raising awareness for childhood obesity, what else is inspiring you to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam?
Jenna Besaw, my fiancée, business partner and Executive Director of BEYOND 7/2, and overall partner in life is my biggest inspiration. We have dreamed and executed every step of this journey together. Also the kids cheering me on in the many schools around the country give me a major boost. When times get tough out here, I think of Jenna and the kids as a source of inspiration to keep going.
Only 42 people have ever completed this challenge, and only two have achieved the mission in under one year. What, if anything, are you doing differently to prepare? What do you think sets you apart?
Certainly my time spent climbing and exploring outside as a kid has been a foundational part of my preparation on a project like this. Also racing as a professional endurance athlete all over the world the past six years has prepared my body and mind for the rigors of this challenge — not only the physical challenge of high performance in tough conditions, but also the logistic and cultural challenges of moving around the world and living out of a duffel bag for months at a time. This project requires me to successfully complete many expeditions back to back. I need to be able to complete each segment with enough energy to quickly get on a plane and start up the next peak. My background in professional triathlon has certainly helped to prepare me for all of that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And has that advice helped you persevere?
Be patient. Many things have not gone completely to plan over the course of this project. For example, I was recently delayed for over a week waiting for my North Pole expedition to begin. The ice runway cracked just before I was scheduled to fly. It seemed very dire at the time, as it would delay by start on Everest thus affecting my acclimatization, but the advice to be patient helped me to have faith that everything would work out. After 8 days of waiting, I flew to the ice and April 19th completed the North Pole expedition.
You’ve been everywhere, all over the globe. Do you have one place in particular that holds the most memories, and why?
On this project, Antarctica was a very memorable place for me. It was the only continent I had not visited before beginning BEYOND 7/2. It is a remarkable place. Cold and harsh, but so pristine and vast. There are still many parts of the continent that no human has ever set foot. I would love to go back there someday. There are so many adventures to be had on that magical, icy continent.
Describe your inspiration for your charity, BEYOND 7/2.
It was amazing to be a professional triathlete as I had the opportunity to represent the USA in international competition in 25 countries on 6 continents, but I felt very drawn to do something beyond my personal success or failure on the race course. I have been fortunate to have many great influencers and role models in my life that helped me live healthy and realize my full potential by setting goals and dreaming big. Unfortunately, many of today’s youth do not have access to role models in their lives. My hope with BEYOND 7/2 is to inspire the next generation to dream big and realize the power of living active, healthy lives. BEYOND 7/2 aims to raise awareness and funds to support the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and their programs to empower kids to develop lifelong, healthy habits.