This week’s podcast features professional athlete, explorer and 2X record-holder Colin O’Brady in: Overcoming Massive Odds to Change the World.
While we typically feature doctors and experts from within our industry on the podcast, Colin’s background, story and mission run in perfect parallel with our kNew vision for American healthcare.
Tune in today for one of the most inspirational comeback stories you’ll ever hear, including:
- How Colin overcame severe burns to over 25% of his body and the prognosis of “never walking again”, and went on to become a record-shattering professional athlete, explorer and philanthropist
- What he credits as being key in his recovery of body and mindset (hint: integrative medicine played a role)
- The inside-story on what compelled and motivated him to complete (and win) some of the world’s most grueling athletic competitions, including the “Explorer’s Grand Slam” mountaineering challenge
- How his core desire to help eradicate childhood obesity drove him to push himself beyond perceived physical barriers, and inspired him to found his non-profit: Beyond72
- Plus, learn how you can join Colin in his commitment to inspire America’s health and fitness in his Forest-Gump-style state-by-state mountain-climbing tour this summer
Those of us who have answered the call to evolve the future of healthcare know what it feels like to be up against all-odds.
But, if stories like Colin’s teach us anything, it’s that our cause is nowhere near impossible and we can all do more to change the world.
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Announcer: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine Podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help transform your practice and the health of your community. Now here’s your host, James Maskell.
James Maskell: Hello and welcome to the podcast. This week we interview professional athlete Colin O’Brady. He’s a friend of mine that is doing incredible, incredible things in the world. This was just a truly inspirational and practical podcast. We talked about Colin’s history of where he grew up. We talked about the single, sort of, life changing moment that happened on a beach in Thailand about 10 years ago. We talked about his insane journey since then, to become a professional athlete, to win a number of big prestigious events, to set some world records. And at the end of the podcast we actually spoke an opportunity for everyone who’s listening to this podcast, who’s in America, to join with Colin and actually participate in his next world record attempt that’s happening this summer in June and July. So, make sure to listen right to the end. There’s actually some connection to our specific industry in integrative medicine. I think you’ll find this probably the most inspiring podcast that we’ve ever had on the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Enjoy!
So a warm welcome to the podcast, Colin O’Brady. Welcome, Colin!
Colin O’Brady: Thanks for having me, James. It’s great to be here.
James Maskell: So recently, on the last functional forum, I kind of outed myself as a guy who was born in an intentional community. And the reason I bring that up is ’cause you’re one of the only other people I’ve ever met who can make that same claim to fame. So, why don’t we just start right at the beginning. Where you grew up and what set you on this epic journey?
Colin O’Brady: Yeah, similar to you, I think a little bit different. But, I was indeed born on a hippie commune called The Alex Berkman Collective, so the A.B.C. for short, up in Olympia Washington. My parents were students at Evergreen State College. At the time, pretty young parents. I was their second … third child to my dad, second to my mom, but yeah. I was born at home with a midwife on a futon, but what made it different was there was also 30 other people from the commune and general community around that were there, celebrating and basically hanging out at the birth. My mom played a Bob Marley, “Redemption Song” on repeat and everyone hung out on the organic farm and watched me be born, I guess. A little bit of an untraditional way to come into the world, but you’ll see through this story, kinda set the tone for somewhat of an untraditional life, but a life that was also grounded in health, wellness, and organic food, and all that kinda stuff. I don’t remember it of course, but a unique setting to be born into nonetheless.
James Maskell: Absolutely. I know you don’t remember it, but you’ve got lots of people to remember it for you and tell you about it for the rest of your life, I’m sure, like me, right?
Colin O’Brady: Exactly. Exactly. Indeed.
James Maskell: You know, we had the opportunity to meet last year and one of the things that made me realize this was a very exceptional human was … Let’s fast forward about 20 years later and now you’re traveling around the world and you find yourself in Thailand. Why don’t we get into that part of the story for our listeners ’cause this a really life defining moment.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah. I had just recently graduated from college. Although the commune was in Olympia, I actually grew up in Portland, Oregon for the most part. I was an athlete all growing up, swam and played soccer. And then I swam at Yale University and graduated from college with an economics degree in 2006. I thought, “Oh, I’ll probably, I guess, work in Wall Street or finance of some kind,” but those hippy routes also were calling me with like, “that sounds too serious for this time in my life.” I want to at least go see a little bit of the world. I’d always dreamed of traveling the world and didn’t have the means or resources to do that as a kind, and so, I had saved up money painting houses in the summers every summer with the idea that when I’d graduated from college to go take a surfboard and a backpack and go bum around the world. I did that upon graduation. Traveled through Fiji, hitchhiked through New Zealand for a couple months, surfed through Australia, and finally ended up in Southeast Asia. And Thailand was a really incredible journey, again, wasn’t glamorous. It was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and hitchhiking and staying in youth hostels, and that kind of thing. But it was an amazing way the see the world and be young out in the world.
And unfortunately on the fateful night of January 14, 2008, so almost exactly ten years ago, I was in Thailand and ended up having the great idea to jump a flaming jump rope. Sounds ridiculous, and it is, you’ll see I got very injured, but somewhat a common activity over there in Thailand with people, fire dancing and that kind of thing. So, I didn’t just come up it one my own, but anyways, the rope unfortunately wrapped around my leg. There was excess kerosine on the rope that sprayed my body up to my neck and actually lit my body completely on fire. Fortunately, the ocean was a few steps away, so I was able to jump in the ocean to extinguish the flames, which saved my life, but not before about 25% of my body was severely, severely burned, particularly my legs and feet.
And I was on an island that had no hospital, so instead of an ambulance ride I had a moped ride down a dirt path to a one room nursing station, and then that set off a long chain of events where it was pretty tragic and horrible set of circumstance, with doctors telling me I would probably never walk again normally, being in this one room nursing station where I underwent eight surgeries where there was a cat running around my bed and across my chest as I came out of the ICU. Not a proper medical facility. And a very, very scary tragic time for me.
James Maskell: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about what happened then because I think that you owe a lot of the next steps to your mother.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah, absolutely. Fortunately there is a hero of this story, which is being burnt, being in the middle of nowhere, being in a language barrier, cultural barrier, tiny little sort-of hospital, pretty much all around the worst set of circumstances, in particularly with burns. One of the reasons that people get in real trouble with burns is not only the physical trauma, but the infection that can come, particularly when you’re in an unsanitary hospital like that, can be enough to certainly set you back significantly, or even kill you. Fortunately my mother, same woman who birthed me on a futon in the common, 22 years earlier than that, came to my rescue.
She flew over to Thailand about day four out of this whole ordeal. She arrived at my bedside and when she found me I was pretty much in the worst state possible, obviously, had undergone a ton of physical trauma and several surgeries at that point, but also emotionally was just flipping. I was like, “My life’s over. I don’t want to live anymore.” The doctor telling me I’ll never walk again. Just really in the most down place that I can possibly imagine. I know now that she was just as afraid as I was. Crying in the hallways, pleading with the doctors for good news, but every single day she came into my hospital room with a smile on her face and air of positivity, even just saying, “You know what, Colin? We’re gonna get out of here somewhere. You’re gonna live a full life after this. Let’s start dreaming. Let’s set a goal for the future.”
My initial response was, “You’re crazy. What are you talking about? Look at my leg, my life’s over.” She finally kinda kept at me and said that, “Okay, Mom, I’ve got a goal.” I kinda closed my eyes. I’d been an athlete for my entire life, somewhere in college, nationally ranked athlete. So I said, “I wanna be an athlete again. So, my dream is one day to complete a triathlon,” which is not something I’d ever done. Previously I’d swam, but I’d never tried to run competitively, but I just had my idea of someone who can be fully recovered. And instead of her telling me, “You know, maybe you should set your goals on something a little smaller,” she was like, “Alright, great. That’s your goal, You’re gonna do this.”
And so, even in that hospital room being told I’d never walk again, I even asked the doctor, I said, “Hey, I’m training for a triathlon now. Will you bring me in some weights?” And I started lifting weights with my arm, he thought it was absolutely crazy, the doctor did. But my mom believed in me, and it went on like that for several months till I was even released from the Thai hospital, still haven not taken a single step. I was carried on and off the plane, placed in a wheelchair when I got back to Portland, Oregon. And then I got backed out of a really pivotal moment getting back to Portland, my mom said to me, “Alright. I know you’ve got your big triathlon goal, but today your goal is to take your very first step,” and she took a chair from our kitchen table and placed it one step in front of my wheelchair. And that was that day that I actually took one first step. Getting up out of my wheelchair, one step, and sitting in the chair in front of me. And it seems like a small moment, but for me it was like, “Wow, okay. I can at least take one step.”
So the next day she moved the chair three steps away. The next day five steps away. Each day I had to take a few more steps. And in the interests of time I won’t say that the whole next year and a half, but basically for the next year and a half I kind of did this. Each day I got a tiny bit stronger very, very incrementally, until I finally, a year after the accident, was moving around enough that I said, “okay. I need to get my life back on track.” I moved to Chicago. Did end up taking a job in finance trading commodities up there and decided to honor my goal of racing a triathlon, or at least trying to race a triathlon. And so, I signed up for the Chicago Triathlon for the summer of 2009, which was the start date of that race was exactly 18 months after my burn accident.
I started the race and I dove into Lake Michigan, I swam a mile. I got on my bike, I rode 25 miles with my run shoes miles. I ran 6.2 miles crossing the finish line and it was just this amazing moment to go to from this hospital room, being told I would never walk again, to actually through all this hard work over the last year and a half of racing this race. But the craziest thing was I hadn’t actually just finished this race, which of course, had been my goal, but I actually had won the entire Chicago Triathlon, placing first out of more than 4,000 other participants on the day, which was a complete surprise to me, and set my life off over the next ten years, on a completely different path than I had expected.
James Maskell: That’s so amazing. And for people who are listening to this who are thinking, “This is literally an unbelievable story,” I have some news for you that this is by no means the end of the story. Now we’re still in 2009 and you’ve won, basically the first triathlon that you’ve ever entered. How does that shape your mind on what’s possible from here on out? Remember that 18 months later, now you’ve won a triathlon. Where are you thinking you can take it from there?
Colin O’Brady: You know, it was an incredible moment there, where there was definitely redefined for me what is possible in life. For me, the first thing I thought about when crossing that line was just the gratitude I had for my mother and filling me with positivity, when the easiest thing in the world for her to come in and be afraid with me, to go down that traumatic rabbit hole with me. Listening to the doctors diagnosis this, “Oh, Colin, you’re never gonna walk again. Let’s adjust our lives accordingly.” But instead, by her in this fighting doors moment, of saying, “You know, you have an opportunity here to shift your mindset towards the positive. And when that happens, who knows what’s possible.”
Fast forward 18 months, having won this triathlon, that it was a blueprint not only for my entire life, but for everyone around me, it made me a core believer that as human, we all have these reservoirs of untapped potential inside of us and can achieve incredible things, particularly when we take that option to shift our mindset towards the positive. For me it was the burn accident, but I don’t know about you James, but I can’t think of any adult person that hasn’t faced any some sort of setback, or some sort of trauma, or hardship throughout their life. Unfortunate, that’s the way it goes, it’s not always sickness or an injury, but it can be emotional; trauma, really anything. Ups and downs of setting goals, trying to start a businesses and failing at first, all the things, we face setbacks. And so, for me, opened up this possibility in my mind of like, “Wow! If this was possible, I wonder what else is possible.”
For me, I always had dreamed of being a professional athlete as a kid and I kinda thought, you know, I had made it a pretty high level of sports through college, but didn’t think that that was an open door for me. But I said, “Wow! I just won my first triathlon ever. I wonder if I could take this professionally?” So actually, a guy who I knew in finance heard about this story and became my first sponsor, and I walked in and actually quit my financial job the next day after the Chicago Triathlon and embarked on the journey to become a professional triathlete. Which is nowhere near as glamorous or lucrative as the NBA or NFL or something like that, but it gave me the opportunity to travel the world, ultimately as a professional athlete. You know, race for the U.S. National Team in 25 countries, six different continents, and really, lived the next chapter of life of wanting to push my body as hard as possible and see how far I could take that.
James Maskell: Yeah, cassoulet. I just want to jump in to share something here because we actually have some very interesting parallel paths. I studied economics. I was banker for a short period of time before I came and worked in this field. And you know, one of the things that resonated with me that definitely resinates with me that you said, is just that everyone has this sort of moment where something goes wrong and then they have an opportunity as where they go from here. Actually, the reason why I decided to come into integrative medicine is I see that there’s one experience that everyone has, which is, at some point in your life you get sick, right? Everyone gets sick. It could be an acute illness, it could be a chronic issue, or otherwise, and at that exact moment when you get sick, you do have an opportunity to take action from a new, a new story about yourself, right? The story that you took about yourself, that story where you said, “I’m gonna be a professional athlete,” you know, that moment where you take action from a new story is really sort of a moment of consciousness creation where it’s like, “Okay, now I’m ready to do something totally wild and different.”
What I saw, and part of the reason why I moved 13 years ago to get involved in this space, I just thought, “If we’re gonna solve some of the biggest problems of our time, that is a key moment in everyone’s life. And health care is a moment where we can all access that energy. And really the holistic provider, if you come into contact with a holistic provider at that moment, typically it doesn’t matter what degree what that person has, what license that person has, if they’re doing integrative functional holistic medicine, it’s gonna be an empowering moment because they’re probably gonna give you a story that actually, you’re more capable that you think, the drugs aren’t the only way to heal this outside influence and ultimately, you have a lot more ability to heal than you thought. And that’s part of the whole reason why I decided to come in and really get involved in this space because I realized that here was sort of an engine for something big in facilitating something serious. I’m so glad you said what you did be the people who listen to this podcast are typically those practitioners themselves or people who had enough of an experience with integrative medicine to realize that this is the way that it should be delivered. And so, I really resinate with that part of your story.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah, 100%. And I think some of the subtext for my recovery, people often ask me, “Well, you have this miraculous recovery. How did you do that?” And I think there’s a huge part that I believe has to do with mindset and my mother kind of giving me a purpose saying, “Let’s set a goal and let’s make that your purpose,” kind of a reason for recovery. But also, underlying that is, when my mom flew across the world to meet me in Thailand, she also showed up with a bag full of natural supplements. Everything from tumeric to things for my adrenal function, and things like that, whole food supplements, and also very quickly I was consulting with burn doctors and traditional medicine routes, but it was like, “Okay let’s make sure we got a chiropractor working on this. Let’s make sure we’ve gotten the right practitioners around this.”
Even I went and saw a chronic healer for breathwork and energywork, you know, it was like all of this sort of different layers, and because my life have been patterned that way previously, a quote unquote, “untraditional approach” of bringing in various different experts into this field of recovery was huge for me. Not only form the mindset standpoint, but actually from the practitioners themselves bringing their various expertise and so, I certainly am a big believer that that led to my road to recovery, rather than this just sort of more really specific traditional medical, “This burn accident happened. You can take these pills, but you’ll never walk again. Sorry.” And that was my initial diagnosis, and so having that, like you said, holistic approach to recovery was huge. Goals from the emotional and spiritual side of it as well to the physical.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Yeah, you can see the inherent different between the two styles of medicine there. It’s like disempowering-
Colin O’Brady: Yeah.
James Maskell: Where the doctor has the only solutions versus, you know, totally empowering where you can be this hero of your own journey and you can have all these guides to get you to where you need to be, but ultimately it’s gonna be on you. Super, supper interesting. So, let’s go onto the next phase because I know you’ve been doing triathlons for a bit and now you set your sight on some world records.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah. I race triathlon from 2009 to 2015, but kind of late in 2014, right around the same that I was getting engaged, Jenna, my fiancee, is an important of this next … important part of my life for a long time. We actually met in Fiji right before I was burnt in Thailand, so we’ve gone through a lot of stages of life together, but particularly the next phase. We were getting engaged, dreaming about the future, wanted to figure out the reality we wanted to create for ourselves together, and one of the things we realized is: a. I still was very passionate about continuing to push myself as an athlete, you know professional triathlon actually, the peak is age is a little bit older than most sports, so it’s mid 30s. You still see guys winning world championships. I was 29 at the time, and then so there was certainly a pathway for me to keep down that path, but there was something telling me like, “You know what? I’ve done this. I’ve raced as a professional athlete. I’ve been all over the world doing this. It’s been an incredible chapter of my life.” But there also was this feeling I wanted to something more. Something greater than not my own personal success or failure on the racecourse, but I still did want to push myself as an athlete.
We dreamed up this idea of seeing if I could set a world record for one of the most prestigious mountaineering record, which is something called the Explorers Grand Slam, which is to climb the seven summits of the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. You’ve got Mount Everest, of course, Denali in North America, Aconcagua, tallest mountains around the world, Kilimanjaro, as well as complete expeditions to the North and South Pole in world record time to continually, without stopping, fewer than 50 people in history at the time, had ever completed the Explorers Grand Slam, and the prole that had completed it, had generally done so … trained for one big expedition, Summit Everest, or Summit Kilimanjaro, Summit Denali, and then come down and wait a year and trained for the next one, so completing over 5, or 10, or 15 years. And I was gonna see if I could complete it all consecutively. So not going home at all in between, just going back to back to back, mountains, mountains, mountains. So, that was the goal, but the larger purpose, or even the larger goal, was to use the leverage of a large story, a world record breaking global project, to leverage a large media campaign and ultimately found a non-profit that was focused on inspiring kids around health and wellness.
We founded a non-profit called Beyond 72. The 7 and 2 are significant of the seven poles and the two poles. But, this idea of us wanting to do something beyond that, and our idea was to partner with some other large charities that were already working in the schools. We ultimately partnered with an organization called the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is working in 20 million kids worldwide, 29 thousand schools, and to use this story and bring this story into classrooms to inspire them on this idea of living active and healthy lives, moving their bodies, the importance of health and wellness in schools both from the emotional, goal setting, aspirational standpoint, as well as some of the more specific nutrition and health elements around that, and building some curriculums and stories within the schools, both in person as well as through media and social media. That was really our larger vision, and for me, it was my way of wanting to give back in a meaningful way.
Using my story for good inspiration and health, raise money towards something that I really value. And that goes well beyond my work as an athlete, but just going back to realizing, “Wow!” It’s a funny or fun story you hear of me being born on an organic farm, hippy commune in the 1980s. But really, when I look back on that, my parents’ life in health and wellness set me up for the life that I have now, set me up for being as strong and able-bodied, and healthy, and mentally tough to allow me to accomplish some of these things.
My dad as an organic farmer in Hawaii, has been for the last 20 years. My mother and father have founded a chain of natural foods grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest called New Seasons Market. So, I grew up in an environment when natural food stores were just co-ops, and my parents were really on the front end of tipping that from now, we live, at least, in a world where there are a lot more healthy food options. Be that from fast, casual restaurants, to natural food and organic food not being this fringe thing and becoming more of the mainstream. I mean, we have a far ways to go to make that completely ubiquitous, but certainly, from where my parents started with this in the ’80s to now, and so, I really have a mission in my own way on the canvas of being an athlete to really, continue that on and use what I do as a professional athlete while setting this world record to even shed more light on that and have more impact in terms of health and wellness around the country.
James Maskell: Absolutely, yeah. The two words, I think you’re looking for, Colin, is transgenerational epigenetics, right? Your-
Colin O’Brady: There you go, exactly.
James Maskell: It’s life where you could either have trans generational Epigenetics where your father was a coal miner, and you have residual toxicity, or you can have it the other way around, where you know, your parents. And I totally agree with that because ultimately that we’re making and that we’re helping our patients to make every day are not just affecting themselves, and there’s more and more research showing the links between parents and their children’s health in so many ways. Whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s use of pharmaceuticals, whether it’s use of other kinds of drugs, you’re either setting yourself up for either success or failure based on that. So, yeah, it’s super interesting. So, yeah. Tell us a little bit about that process and how it went. I know that was a serious effort.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah, very serious undertaking, for sure. It’s one thing to have this great aspirational idea, so Jen and I sat down and we’re like, “Great! It’s late 2014 and by early 2016 Colin’s gonna be ready to go set all these world records, and climb the tallest mountains, and all this sort of stuff,” and then we kinda looked at each other in our apartment and we’re like, “So, that’s a really good idea. We don’t have any money, and funding, we know nothing about founding a non-profit. We know nothing about media campaigns. We don’t have any background in marketing or PR,” so we’re kinda like, “Huh. Okay, so, how do we do this?”
And I’m a big believer in this concept of gross mindset, this idea that all of us as humans … we have the moment we’re at right not, but you could either have a fixed mindset thing like, “well, I don’t know these things and I’ll never know how to do them,” or, “I’m smart,” or, “I’m good at this,” or, “I’m bad at this.” But the idea of a gross mindset is that we have the ability to actually transform where you’re at, at any given moment, into anything else in the future. And so it’s the same idea as lying in a hospital bed and being told you’ll never walk again and saying, “You know, one day I’m gonna race a triathlon.” We can see it’s ridiculous in the moment, but if you believe you grow and evolve and go through the journey and the process to get there … And so, that’s the strategy that Jenna and I adapted, which it is to make … It’s crazy because openly I was successful at the world records and I … ultimately we had 500 million earned media impressions and 50 million impressions on social, and when I first person to Snapchat from the summit of Everest, which got viewed by 22 million people on a single day.
So, we started out with none of that and literally and like a Google search bar going, “What’s the difference between marketing and PR?” Or it’s like, “So, you want to start a nonprofit?”, like how do you that? What does 510(c)(3) mean? I mean I’m being honest when I say we started this from a very, very rudimentary place. This idea of this thirst for knowledge, creativity, and figuring it out. So, really, 2015 for us was that process. You know, we needed to raise a half a million dollars, and that was just to cover the hard cost of all of this. I mean, the expedition logistics of getting a Russian claim to drop you on the sea ice near the North Pole and trekking across the attic landscape to reach the North Pole and then have someone pick you up. I mean, the logistics just involved in this are crazy. It’s a challenging undertaking just in that regard. Not to mention all the other ambitions we had. But we really both just dove into this head first with this idea of figuring it out. And it was far for me to even talk about setbacks. There was countless setbacks on the road of just being able to start this project, let alone execute on this project. So, that was 2015.
Fortunately, by the skin of our teeth, we did do all the things. Set up a nonprofit, raise the money we needed to pull the project off and start our work, impacting in the communities. And then 2016, I embarked on this journey that started in Antarctica, trekking across the last degree of latitude and to reach the South Pole. Average temperature -40 degrees, dragging a 150 pound sled behind me, to reach the South Pole. And then the summit of Mount Vincent, the tallest mountain in Antarctica. And then it just went on from there, to there, finally the last two were climbing Mount Everest and climbing Denali, and it was one of my favorite stories from all this. Ultimately the project after the 139 days and then I did set the world record for the Explorers Grand Slam.
When I was out there climbing Mount Everest a number of things had gone wrong. I had been caught in a really bad storm up high and had to suspend down from the mountain, and most people know that Everest is quite dangerous and people die out there, regularly. So or course, I didn’t want that to be my fare, but I also wanted to push myself as much as possible, so, eventually, after having to try a couple of times, I did make it to the summit of Mount Everest. When I came back down … So, Mount Everest has base camp and four progressive camps higher, so Camp One, Camp Two, Camp Three, Camp Four. And you go to the summit from Camp Four and usually just return to Camp Four to sleep a night and slowly make your way back down over a series of take backs from Base Camp.
And I get back down and I call on my satellite phone to Jenna to tell her like, “Hey I summited Everest. We’ve only got one more mountain to go. I’m ahead of schedule for the world record.” And she said, “Great! How you feeling?” And I said, “Oh, I’m exhausted. I just summited Everest. I’ve been out here for 120 some days, 30 days, or something at this point, including all the consecutive expeditions before this.” She goes, “Great! Well, I know you just took your boots off and you’re probably in your tent, but I actually need you to out your boots back on right now.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like, “Yeah, it just so happens that if you can up to the summit of Denali in the next week, but you can set not one, but two world records. So, you need to put your boots back on right now, head all the way back down to base camp. I’ve arranged for a helicopter to take you to Kathmandu. There’s not enough time for you to sleep overnight in a hotel, or take a shower, but the evening flight will take you to Dubai, to Seattle, to Anchorage. And then instead of having three weeks to climb Denali, what it normally takes, you’ll have about three days. Are you ready? Go!”
James Maskell: That’s crazy dude.
Colin O’Brady: It was a pretty crazy moment, but with Jenna behind me, really being a core team member in this, This was really me climbing the mountains, but I tell everyone it was a team effort though … We couldn’t have been successful, certainly without her hard work, passion, and dedication. It equally was mine. We did actually [inaudible 00:27:58] that. I got over to Denali and ended up climbing Denali in three days and the last day and Denali was through a massive storm, which I probably shouldn’t have been climbing through, but I had just 24 to get under the other record. But the other record was just the seven summits by themselves, so the fastest person to climb the seven summits, which in a lot of ways was even a more prestigious world record. But I didn’t think that I was gonna have shot at that given the fact that I was also having gone to the Poles during that time. So it was kinda a surprise to me to get of that burst and realize I had a shot. When I made that summit, the final summit of Denali, finishing the nine expeditions I had set two world records that day, which was an incredibly proud moment for me.
But similar to your question what did I think about when I won the Chicago Triathlon it was the same thing for me, which was, yes it was a proud moment for me, it was a proud moment for Jenna and I to have dreamed this huge audacious goal that so many people told us was impossible. And to actually accomplished it, that was an incredible moment, and incredible feeling, but even more so, it was the impact that we were having. Hundreds of thousands of kids were tuning in to this project.
We did this thing that Jenna created when I was in Everest that still lives on now, but it originated when I was Everest, she started asking school kids, she started saying like, “Well, what’s your Everest?” You know, Colin’s coming on Everest, but of course, we weren’t trying to inspire people to go climb Everest. We were more inspiring people to be healthy and well and think about their futures in a way that’s meaningful. And so we had all this kids tuning in via social media, and in their classrooms, and we started getting letters and blogs, and Snapchats, and video messages, all over with country with kids saying, “Colin’s climbing Everest, but my Mount Everest is being the first person in my family to graduate from college”, or, “My Mount Everest is to join the Olympics. To be the next Simone Biles, so I’m gonna train really hard in gymnastics,” or, “My Mount Everest is be on the first manned pace flight to Mars,” or, “My Mount Everest is to make sure the snow leopards get off the endangered species list.” It’s go on and on.
We had thousands of these and it as amazing that we were to use what I was doing as this metaphor for kids to think about that. And then the thing that we were able to connect all of those dispirit ideas with, was you want to go to Mars? You wanna graduate from college, the first person in your family? You wanna be a great athlete?
Well, let me tell you, there is one specific thing that I believe that can lead to success, no matter what your Mount Everest, no matter what your goal is. And that is, health and wellness. That is taking care of your body. That is eating the right foods, the right nutrition, moving your body. And that’s not saying you need to go out in the work and climb the tallest mountain. You know, we’re talking to kids in urban shool districts. But it’s like, can you walk to school? Can you ride your bike from school? Can you eat fruits and vegetables rather than sugar cereals and Gatorade, or sugary sport drinks, or whatever that is? And really go entering the conversation and being able to link that in child’s minds as well as things people that support them, adults, teachers, administrators, parents, of the importance of healthy lifestyle that leads to success across the board. And it was amazing for us to build, like I said, our idea was to leverage this project and we were able to leverage that into a platform that gave us a really significant voice to have these conversations in health and wellness in schools.
James Maskell: That’s amazing. Yeah. Such an incredible story, and you know, obviously ridiculous to break that record and go to those other places to. I mean, it’s just a mind blowing story. I know we’ve only got a few minutes here to I really wanna talk about what’s going on this summer, because most of you know at New Health we’re gonna be doing a tour this summer to really kick off our new vision for American medicine and really taking health and wellness and putting it at the front of medicine rather than this thing you do at the end once you get sick, but really taking that forward inside the medical system. And that’s big thing for us, but it’s not the only tour that’s happening this summer. Share a little bit about what you’ve got going on this summer ’cause there’s an opportunity for anyone who’s listening, if you live in America, to come out and actually participate in what kind of sounds like a Forrest Gump style affair. Can you unpack that for us, Colin?
Colin O’Brady: Yeah, absolutely, absolute. When James and I were hanging out it was fun to realize we both have a vision for our own tours of America this year. And hopefully those two things can overlap. So, I’m setting out this summer in June and July to set another mountaineering world record, so to see if I can climb the tallest mountain on each of the fifty states, faster than anyone’s ever done that consecutively. The record currently is 41 days and I’m actually aiming to do it in perhaps 25 days, so two states per day.
But the real reason I’m excited about this project, is of course as you can tell from my last story, I’m inspired to go push my body in crazy environments like Mount Everest, the North Pole, the South Pole, but what I realized from all that … I do a lot of speaking in schools, nonprofit, but I also do speaking cooperator and inspiring leaders and CEOs and whatnot, because I think that question, what’s you Everest?, really relevant across the board. And it’s ceratin ley relevant for me, right? Even though I’ve climbed Mount Everest I have many other big mountains and goals to climb. So my goal with this project, as I go across the country, so basically I’ll climb Denali again in Alaska, I’ll go to Hawaii, and then I’ll go to Florida and I’ll work my way from east to west. And I’ll be in vehicle that entire time. So, I’ll basically be either climbing a mountain, or I’ll be being transported between the mountains. But the idea is, when you mentioned Forrest Gump, my bigger idea with this project is to invite anyone out there, in any one of these states, to come join me on these mountains.
When you realize the tallest mountain is a 300 foot hill on the side of the road, accessible to really anyone, no matter your fitness. Or, as you go up the eastern seaboard these aren’t huge technical mountains with snow and ice axes and crampons. Some of these are a 2 mile day hike, a 3 mile day hike, a ten mile hike, a short little jaunt, here and there. As you get out west, some of the mountains become bigger, but these are actually mountains that are really accessible for people. Mountains that are in National Parks, on public land. So the idea really is, to get as many people out to participate and touch this project, and start talking about it, and showing the value of getting outside, moving your body, like I said, active and healthy lives. And we kinda tell this story. My hope is, that my story of setting this world record, as I crisscross America, ultimately 12,000 miles on the road as we crisscross from each and every state, it becomes … sure it’s about a world record that catalyzes people to come out, but what it’s really about is getting people in the United States to do something collaboratively and together.
It’s a time when our country is very divided, but I’ll be going through every state, so red states, blue states, urban communities, rural communities, inviting everyone from everywhere to come out and participate in this project with me and share in on the success of this journey and a world record. And hopeful, as we do that, we will collect amazing stories from people all across the board of hardships people have overcome, or things that they’re going through, or improving the conversation around health, wellness, inspiration, and really having boots on the ground to interact with as many people as possible.
So, an open invitation to any person that is out there listening to this to come and participate. My website, colinobrady.com and there’s a newsletter you can sign up and allows you to stay in touch with the dates that’s happening, when I’ll be in your state. That all is gonna be released soon, so please sign up, put your name down, come out. We’ll also be a social media, I’m very active on there, so Instagram at Colin O’Brady, that’s just colinobrady. On there we’ll be telling the story in real time, so it’s like, “We’re leaving Kansas and it’s pm on a Tuesday,” and that, “We’re driving to Nebraska next. We’ll be at the trailhead in Nebraska at am tomorrow morning.” And you’ll come to and meet us and it will be this really dynamic, live story, we really wanna get as many people out participating as possible. And as we come out in numbers to support a project like this, again, it gives us all an active voice and all things that I think everyone listening are highly valuable, which is functional medicine, health, integrating practitioners.
And one last thing I do want to mention ’cause I think it’s pertinent to a lot of people listening it that one of the great sponsors of this project that I just solidified a partnership with recently is Standard Process, which I imagine a lot of people on this podcast are aware of. What an incredible company. Wow! I’m so fortunate to have alignment with a company that really values the same things that I do, which is around whole food nutrition and health, and the purity of that. They are hugely supportive of this project and they’re going to be turning out a lot of their, hopefully, 70,000 practitioners that they do business with across the country. So, this really I going to be a movement around health and wellness, and the people supporting it are really in line with that and so it’s just gonna be an incredible crescendo in celebration of all things as I crisscross the country. So please, colinobrady.com. Come check it out! Come hang out with me this summer. Come climb a mountain. Come meet me at a trailhead and let the Forrest Gump affect come full circle to life.
James Maskell: Absolutely, yeah. Let’s take that Forrest Gump affect. And what I’d love to do, Colin, is later this summer, once the whole thing is done and over, and you’ve broken that world record, love to have you back on the podcast ’cause I know there is some next steps after that about human performance that you’re gonna be getting into. But yeah, really appreciate companies in our industry, Standard Process in this case, supporting such an interesting and exciting project. I hope that as many people as possible can join. We’ve been comparing dates over that last couple of times that Colin and I have hung out and we feel like there might be some potential in California to come and do that. That will be around … Is that the last stop?
Colin O’Brady: That’s gonna be toward the end for me. It’s not the last stop. I’m gonna actually finish in Oregon, so an hour away from where I grew up in Oregon is Mount Hood, so I’m kinda figuring it out so I can finish there. But California will be, I think, second or third last stop. So, it will be towards the end and I think kinda towards the being of [inaudible 00:38:03], so kind of in the second week in July, or something like. It looks like our dates might overlap to both be able to be on the mountain at the same time, which would be amazing for our tours to intersect out there. So, I’m really looking forward to that.
James Maskell: Yeah. We’re planning on that. I think I’m speaking at the Nutrition Business Journal Summit. It’s the 17th of July in Los Angeles and I know that we’re around that week. So, yeah, we’re planning on getting involved and coming to work with Colin. If you’re listening to this, go to colinobrady.com. Get on the email list. That’s the best way to work out where he’s gonna be when. Ultimately, I think this is super exciting. It’s one thing to get to the trailhead, it’s probably another thing to keep up on the way up.
Colin O’Brady: (laughs) Yeah, it’s true, but I think we’re gonna work it out so that people can participate in various ways. Whether it be being at the trailhead and starting the hike together, or me slowing down a little bit so that everyone can participate, or maybe like, “Hey! Let’s all be on the summit at the same time. It’s a five mile hike so maybe start a mile or two ahead and we’ll be on the summit and take an amazing epic picture” So, there’s going to be a lot of different way that we’re gonna get people involved. As much as this is about breaking a world record, my priority is actually to make it so that I’m interacting with as many people as possible. So, it’s certainly no my intention to get out there and zoom past everyone. You know, really, its about talking to people and sharing stories and hearing where everyone’s coming from and really collecting dreams and stories and inspiration, and really have the strength of this movement be the people.
One thing that I realized during my last world record project that was incredibly powerful, which is for me, I thought I was setting out to inspire others and particularly school kids. And at those what’s your Everest started coming in, when I was and Everest I was actually facing some pretty dire circumstances. I was really tired, like I said, I was caught out in a storm, there was moments that I felt like I got close, I should maybe give up, it’s just too hard, and I was afraid. And as I started receiving messages from other people encouraging me to keep going, but also realizing the inspiration that I was providing the, that was the inspiration that gave me that extra gear to tap into to finish. For me it’s harnessing that collective power that we all have of actually, we are stronger together. We are stronger when we support and come out for each other. So that’s why, to me, this Forrest Gump effect is so powerful. In the end, I think that my story is just one of thousands that we can tell out there, and each person has a story that’s valuable and relevant and can inspire others, and so this is really a collective effort of all of us, and that’s really what the DNA of this project is.
James Maskell: Absolutely, yeah. We said it a number of times on this, that community is the guru of the future. If you’ve been watching last … the April Functional Forum, you know that community is a big part of our plans with building these health cooperatives. And we’re super excited to be aligned on this project. We’re very excited to bring this to you, and if you’ve heard this and you like it, and you think that you know other people in other states that would be interested, people who love hiking, people who love mountaineering, people who just love inspiring projects, people who have kids, forward this podcast to them. Send it to them so they can hear what Colin is up to, and again, go to colinobrady.com you can put in your emails to stay up to date with the project, and join the project. Whether you’re in a small hill in Florida, or a big mountain in Colorado, there’s opportunity for everyone to get involved.
This has been one of the most interesting, and inspiriting, and accessible podcasts we’ve ever done here. If you’re a big fan of the podcast and you’re listening every week, you that its a range of topics to do with the evolution of medicine. How medicine is going to adapt to its new environment. And it’s new environment, it’s lifestyle disease, and this is a really exciting innovation. Colin, I’m really excited for the tour and seems like this could be the start of a great presidential campaign going to every state, getting the people fired up.
Colin O’Brady: (laughs)
James Maskell: I’ll vote for you in 2020, that’s for sure.
Colin O’Brady: Yeah well I just turned 33 on Friday, and so I think by 2020 I’ll be 35, that’s the official minimum age to run for president. That’s not immediately in the cards, but please come out and join us. And thank you so much for having me, James. This has been an absolute pleasure.
James Maskell: Yeah absolute. Check out colinobrady.com. Thanks so much for listening. This has been the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. We’ve been speaking with professional athlete Colin O’Brady. Please get out there, spread the word, spread the message. Thanks so much for being part of the podcast, and everyone thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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