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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Endurance Athlete Describes Journey to Record-Breaking Antarctica Trek

From struggling to take his first step after an accident in 2008 to completing the first unassisted, unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica, Colin O’Brady described the unexpected events that changed the trajectory of his life Monday.

O’Brady’s transcontinental trek spanned 932 miles and took nearly two months to complete. O’Brady decided to finish the last 77 miles of his journey in a final 32-hour push to which he credits his success.

“I’m sure of this: Achievement is not for the select few, it’s simply for those who never quit,” O’Brady said.

On Nov. 3, 2018, both O’Brady and British Captain Louis Rudd set out to accomplish the record. Rudd was a close friend of Henry Worsley, an Englishman and special forces veteran who died in 2016 after attempting the same trip, according to The New Yorker.

COLIN O’BRADY | Colin O’Brady completed the first unassisted, unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica in December 2018.

For the first week of the two-month race, Rudd was in the lead. However, on Nov. 9, O’Brady overtook Rudd and remained just a day or two ahead for several weeks, ultimately finishing the race Dec. 26, 2018.

The April 8 event, titled “The Impossible First: Crossing Antarctica Solo,” was hosted by the Lecture Fund and held in the Leavey Program Room.

O’Brady was raised in Portland, Oregon. Following graduation from Yale University in 2006, O’Brady set off for the South Pacific with a backpack and surfboard using money he had saved painting houses. A 2008 accident he faced while traveling in Thailand, which caused much of his body to be significantly burned, altered the course of his life, according to O’Brady.

“The rope wrapped around my legs and lit my body completely on fire to my neck,” O’Brady said. “Survival mode kicked in when I needed it the most and I jumped into the ocean which saved my life but not before most of my body had been significantly burned.”

Doctors at the hospital to which he was taken told O’Brady he might never walk again, but his mother encouraged him to set the goal of doing a triathlon. He began training with weights in his bed, and his mother encouraged him to work slowly, according to O’Brady.

“The first morning when I got home in Portland I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen and she said to me ‘Okay Colin, I know you have this big triathlon goal but today your goal is to take your very first step,’” O’Brady said. “She then grabbed a chair from our kitchen table and placed it one step in front of my wheelchair and she said ‘You need to figure out somehow how to get out of your wheelchair and take your first step into that chair in front of you.’”

Eighteen months after taking that first step, which O’Brady said took three hours, O’Brady not only completed his first triathlon in Chicago, but placed first overall.

“I finally found the courage and took that first step, all the while thinking about this recovery,” O’Brady said.

After spending six years as a professional triathlete, O’Brady decided to set the world record for the Explorers Grand Slam. The challenge entails reaching the North Pole, the South Pole and all of the seven summits, the highest peak on each continent. Beyond the physical limitations, completing the Explorers Grand Slam, according to O’Brady, requires approximately half a million dollars because of logistical expenses.

Fundraising did not come easily, and O’Brady was rejected by hundreds of potential sponsors, but after an unplanned run-in with Nike CEO Mike Parker at a Los Angeles spin class, he got the sponsorship he needed to set off on his trip, O’Brady said.

“What I’ve realized is that most people actually have a lot of good ideas, but it’s hard to take that next step, to actually turn an idea into action,” O’Brady said.

O’Brady finished his challenge May 27, 2016, and set two world records in the process. He set the speed record of the seven summits by completing it in 132 days. He also set the speed record of the Explorers Grand Slam by completing it in 139 days.

The next step after the Explorers Grand Slam was searching for something new to accomplish, O’Brady said.

“It was in this moment that I had a sort of mindset shift and I started seeing myself less as an athlete and more as an artist. My canvas just happens to be endurance sports,” O’Brady said. “We were painting it with impact work and diving into human performance. I wanted to do more than that, but a true artist creates something unique, something that’s never been done before in the world.”

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