Reviewer: Cihan Ekmekçi I'm here today to talk to you about overcoming the biggest
obstacle you'll ever face. Let me take you on a journey. It was the middle of the night,
almost a year ago. I struggled to breathe. Each step taking longer than the last, I fought my way upward at the cruising altitude
of a commercial airliner. "Focus," I thought,
"keep pushing forward." The combination of 130 days
of consecutive climbing, the -60-degree windchill, and the actual physiological
state of my body fighting back at 28,000 feet
on Mount Everest summit ridge was pushing me to my breaking point.
"Get a hold of yourself, Colin." I desperately tried to regain
control of my mind. But doubts, fear, and pain
swirled in my thoughts. "One step at a time," I thought. In an apparent daze, a chair appeared
in the snow in front of me, blurring in and out of my vision. "One step at a time," I thought. These labored steps reminded me
of steps I had taken before – steps that had given me
a new lease on life, steps that would bring me to my knees yet simultaneously
teach me life's greatest lesson.
My mind flashed back. 10 years ago, I had just graduated from college. It was time to let loose,
to see the world. I took my life savings
from three summers painting houses, packed a backpack and a surfboard, and set off into the world
for an adventure with no itinerary. After all, adventure is just bad planning, right? (Laughter) Three months into the journey, I found myself on a beach
in rural Thailand.
It was a beautiful evening. I was watching fire dancers in amazement, and I decided to partake in the fun, jumping a flaming jump rope because, you know,
I was 22 years old and invincible. (Laughter) In an instant, my life changed. The rope wrapped around my legs
and ignited my body completely on fire. Survival mode kicked in
when I needed it most, and with one last breath,
an ounce of courage, I dove into the ocean a few steps away
to extinguish the flames.
Then darkness. Silence. I woke in a one-room nursing station to look down finding my body
completely bandaged. "What have I done?" I thought. I had been severely burned. What must have been
at least 24 hours later, I awoke, leaving a surgery room in a small ICU where there was a cat running
across my chest and around my bed, (Laughter) hammering home the fact
that I was far from home and in a dire set of circumstances. Being in this unsanitary
hospital could kill me, and the pain – the searing pain
was unimaginable, yet the morphine they kept giving me made it feel like there were insects
crawling over my skin.
I couldn't tell which was worse. I just wanted to give up. I was downward-spiraling fast, ready to quit. Thankfully, five days in this ordeal, my mother arrived to be my protector. I know now she was just
as afraid as I was, but she chose to never
show me her fear. Instead, she came into my hospital room every single day with a smile on her face
and an air of positivity, daring me to dream about the future. She kept asking me questions like, "Colin, what do you want to do
when you get out of here? Let's set a goal." My immediate response? "Mom, I'm screwed. The doctors say I may never
walk again normally. What hope do I have? Life as I know it is over." But her positivity
was unrelenting and infectious.
And three days after she arrived,
she was sitting on my bedside, and I announced my goal: "Mom, when I get out of here, I'm going to one day
compete in a triathlon." Not something I'd never done before, and looking down at my legs,
it seemed rather unrealistic. But with a tear in her eyes, she nodded and wrapped me
in her arms as only a mother can. It was many more weeks until I was released
from that Thai hospital.
I still hadn't taken a single step. I was carried on and off the plane and placed in a wheelchair
when I got back here to Portland. The next morning,
I was in my mother's kitchen. My mom said to me, "All right, Colin, now I know you've got
this big triathlon goal, but today your goal
is to take your first step." She then grabbed a chair
from our kitchen table and placed it one step
in front of my wheelchair.
"You need to figure out
how to get out of your wheelchair and step into that chair." It took me three hours that day to work up the courage
and strength to take that first step, but I did it. The next day she'd moved
the chair five steps away, and the next day ten. Each day, I could take a few more steps until finally, after many weeks,
I regained my ability to walk. And then one day jog –
jogging felt like flying, but jogging was a far cry
from running a triathlon. So for the next 18 months,
I ground with my goal in mind, and finally, a year and a half
after my accident, it was time for me
to take a shot at my dream. I showed up in Chicago
to compete in the triathlon. I dove into Lake Michigan
to swim the first mile. I got on my bike, rode 25 miles, put my shoes on and ran 6.2 miles
to the finish, crossing the finish line. I had done it. I had achieved my goal.
And there was one more surprise
in store for me that day. I hadn't just finished the race, I had won. (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you. Placing first out of more than 4,000
other participants. The first thing I thought about
were those months in the hospital, imagining what would have happened had my mom not forced me
to look towards the future and set a measurable goal. Through this tragedy,
I'd learned an invaluable lesson. I had learned that life
will test us with setbacks, but these situations aren't permanent. We have full control of our choices
to keep moving forward, one step at a time. I had learned that we all
have reservoirs of untapped potential and can achieve great things. The biggest thing standing in our way? Our own minds. For the next six years, I competed as a professional
triathlete in 25 countries, and then, in the fall of 2014, I found myself at the summit
of Ecuador's third tallest mountain with a diamond ring in my pocket, asking my longtime girlfriend
Jenna to marry me.
(Applause) (Cheers) I don't know if it was the lack of oxygen
to her brain due to the altitude, but she said yes. (Laughter) Awed and inspired
by the mountains around us and wanting to set a goal
larger than ourselves, we set a goal together. I would attempt to set a world record
for the Explorers Grand Slam with the larger purpose
of inspiring kids everywhere to dream big, to set goals,
to live active healthy lives. We coined our project Beyond 7/2. Now, the Explorers Grand Slam
includes climbing the Seven Summits, which is the tallest mountain
on each of the seven continents, as well as completing expeditions
to both the North and South Poles.
Fewer than 50 people in history
had ever completed the Grand Slam, and I would aim to be the fastest. It took over a year of hard work for both Jenna and I
to put our dream into reality, but finally, it was time for me
to leave on the adventure. Jenna ever steady at the helm
of the expedition logistics and running our nonprofit, I set off for the mountains. First destination: Antarctica. A tiny little plane landed me
onto the frozen continent. The landscape was desolate and surreal. It felt like standing inside the belly
of a ping pong ball; white in all directions. (Laughter) And the cold – the cold was something
I'd never experienced before, average temperature -40 degrees.
It was so cold that I took
a cup of boiling water and threw it into the air, and it immediately turned into ice. After battling these extreme conditions, for the next week,
I arrived at the South Pole. And from there,
the journey continued onwards. Next, I climbed Mount Vinson,
then Aconcagua, then Kilimanjaro, and finally, after a hundred days, I had completed
seven of the nine expeditions to complete the Explorers Grand Slam, and I arrived at Mount Everest base camp. After three weeks on Mount Everest, I had slowly clawed my way up
to the highest camp before the summit, Camp 4. The muscles in my legs
felt like ice: cold and hard. My head was pounding, my eyes were bulging,
my face was swollen. In any normal circumstance,
this would warrant a trip to the doctors, but there were no doctors around, and besides, I knew exactly
what was happening. I had read all the literature
on Mount Everest, but nothing can truly prepare you
for what is known as the death zone, above 26,000 feet, an altitude where the human body
cannot survive for long.
As darkness fell and the wind kicked up, I was exhausted
and claustrophobic in my tent. I was scheduled to leave
for the summit at midnight, and I was terrified. Doing the only thing I could think of
to try to calm my mind down, I reached for my satellite phone
and I called Jenna. And in an incredible moment of bravery, Jenna set aside her own justifiable fears and told me exactly what I needed to hear. She said, "Colin, people are going
to summit Mount Everest tonight, and there's no reason
you can't be one of them. Go inside your body and listen. Face your fears. I know you can do it." And with her words in tow,
I set off for the summit, bringing us back full circle
to where I began this talk. In the darkness, my headlamp only illuminated
the few steps in front of me. "Focus, one step at a time." I began counting my steps: one, two – Ten steps. Could have fooled me, it felt like 10 miles.
I felt my body giving up. I was hopeful that the daylight
might give me some strength after a long night of climbing, but the sunrise only illuminated the two-mile drop-offs
on either side of me. (Laughter) I was again being tested
by the biggest obstacle of all: my mind. But this time I wasn't alone. Jenna's words filled my head.
My mom's words filled my head. Remembering those labored steps
after my accident filled my head. Strengthened by those thoughts, my mindset shifted
and my body forgot its weakness. I felt the surge of energy, each step taking me closer to the summit, and after a few
more hours of hard work, I gazed out on the most magnificent view from the top of the world. We got any Timbers fans out there? (Cheers) (Applause) Of course, I had to bring a little
hometown love with me up there with the timber scarf
on the summit of Everest.
After safely descending
back down to Camp 4 and crawling into my tent, I reached for my phone again
to call Jenna. "How are you feeling?" she said. "Whoop, exhausted! But I did it. No frostbite, no injuries. I'm good." She then said something
I will never forget. She said, "Colin, I need you to put your boots back on." "What?" It had literally just taken me
more than an hour to take my boots off
and crawl back into my tent. She explained. She said she'd been doing
some calculations, and it just so happened
that if I get to the summit of Denali, my last mountain, in the next week, I could set not one but two World Records.
(Laughter) She said, "I need you
to put your boots back on now. Climb back down to base camp. There's a helicopter that's going
to take you to Kathmandu. There's not enough time
for a hotel room or taking a shower, but an evening flight will take you
from Dubai to Seattle to Anchorage, and you have about three days
to climb Denali." (Laughter) In that moment, (Laughter) I could only laugh then, right? In that moment, I was forced to wipe the slate clean, and somehow, just a hundred hours after standing
on the summit of Mount Everest, we executed Jenna's plan, and I arrived at the base of Denali, my final mountain. The next three days were quite honestly
the hardest of the entire project. I was battling extreme fatigue,
and to make matters worse, Alaska dumped a huge windstorm on me, 50-mile-per-hour winds,
-60-degree wind chills, making me battle and earn each step. But with one last step
on the evening of May 27, 2016, I arrived at the summit of Denali, setting two new world records
for the Explorers Grand Slam and Seven Summits.
(Applause) (Cheers) Thank you. Jenna and I together had accomplished
our seemingly impossible goal, and even better, millions of kids
were able to share in on the journey and the accomplishment with us, via social media sharing with us their own goals and their
own dreams for the future. I carry this rock with me every day. It's a small rock from the summit
of Mount Everest. This rock stands for the moment
I chose to keep pushing forward. This rock stands
for my untapped potential. As I set new goals
and ultimately encounter obstacles, this rock reminds me that even Mount Everest
can be broken down of its smallest parts, a bunch of small rocks
stacked on top of each other, many steps leading to the summit.
Maybe right now, you're struggling
in your own day-to-day life, feeling overwhelmed,
like it's just too much. Or maybe you have a great idea
for a business you want to start or an innovation at your current job, but people keep telling you
it's not possible. Or maybe you've been badly
injured in an accident, and you're not sure
that you can recover from it. You see, tragedy and other great obstacles
befall all of us. And in these moments,
our minds are flooded with doubt. We ask ourselves questions like,
"Should I give up?" "Is this even possible?" or, "Why me?" leading us to a negative mindset,
but we don't have to stay there.
The only question that we have
when facing great obstacles is, "How will you respond?" You have a choice. And when you shift your mindset
towards the positive, you will quickly realize that there is a reservoir
of untapped potential waiting to be released by you. Look, I'm just a regular guy
from Portland, but I can confidently tell you this: Achievement is not for the select few. Achievement is simply
for those who never quit. It is for those who set goals. It is for those who put the most steps
in front of the others. Achievement is for those who can overcome
the greatest obstacle of all: their mind. So set a goal, take the first steps. The chair is right in front of you.
And when your steps get you there,
push the chair further. When you feel like giving up, put your boots back on, let go of fear. Remember this story and remember this rock and watch as your rocks stack up
to the summit of your Mount Everest. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheers).