World-Record Mountaineer and Distinguished Speaker Colin O'Brady Addresses Upper School

Upper School students had the opportunity to hear from world-record mountaineer Colin O’Brady (view video) on Nov. 14, 2016, as part of the school’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

After a tragic accident at age 22, one-quarter of Colin’s body was covered in severe burns and he was told he may never walk again. Rather than give up, Colin was encouraged by his mother to “dream big.” While still in the hospital, he decided he wanted to complete a triathlon. Having been an athlete in high school and college, including as a swimmer at Yale University, Colin signed up for the Chicago 2009 triathlon. Just 18 months after his accident, the Portland native finished the race in 1st Place, beating out 4,256 competitors. He then went on to become a professional athlete, racing for the United States in 25 countries.

Nine years later, Colin set another goal—to conquer the Explorers Grand Slam. Setting out in January 2016, he set a world-shattering record in just 139 days. In less then five months, he summited the tallest peak on each of the seven continents and completed expeditions to the both the North and South Pole. Less than 50 people have ever completed this achievement, and only four in under a year. He also broke the speed record for climbing the Seven Summits of the world in just 132 days.

Today, Colin’s work inspires active, healthy kids of all ages. Through a partnership with Alliance for a Healthier Generation, his organization, BEYOND 7/2, aims to raise $1 million to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and to empower children to develop lifelong, healthy habits.

He spoke to Ranney Upper school students about how they can set their own “Everests” to climb. “If you dream it, you can do it,” he said. He also affirmed the importance of having role models, explaining how his own parents’ example of health and nutrition led him to not only pursue a healthy lifestyle but also to challenge himself. When on trek to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, for example, Colin faced multiple setbacks, including unpredictable and dangerous weather. But he says he was able to tap into his inner strength to move forward one step at a time. He shared a story of summiting Mt. Denali by convincing himself to climb just 15 minutes at a time—those sets of 15 minutes led to 11 hours to reach the peak.

He keeps a small rock from Mt. Everest with him as a daily reminder that even the largest feats can be broken down into small pieces. “It’s easy to doubt yourself,” Colin told the students, “but if you keep chipping away, you can achieve your goal… If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.”

Colin’s presentation was made possible thanks to a generous, multi-year commitment made by a Ranney School family. The Distinguished Speaker Series is aimed at providing Upper School students with an opportunity to think forward and to grasp hold of traditional as well as new subjects through unique, personal, and international perspectives. Previous speakers have included New Yorker Cartoonist  Matt Diffee and Teen Motivational Speaker Josh Shipp.

View our Distinguished Speaker Series playlist on YouTube.
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