“The Explorers Grand Slam”: Colin O’Brady’s Quest For A World Record

imageColin O’Brady is attempting to do what only 42 people have done before in his quest to finish “The Explorers Grand Slam” in record time. Colin’s goal is to become the fastest athlete in history to complete this challenge, doing so in 5 months, beating the previous record of just under 7 months set by Richard Parks in 2011. Colin is a professional endurance athlete who suffered debilitating burns on both of his legs during his scuba dive open water certification in Thailand back in 2008. From this unfortunate incident, Colin was told he may never be able to walk normally again. Colin moved beyond this limitation and determined he’d train for the triathlon. Colin in the end took the gold for the triathlon in 2009! After this milestone, Colin set his eyes on the Explorers Grand Slam.

The Explorers Grand Slam consists of ascending the highest peaks on the seven continents and navigating both North and South Poles. While 42 people have accomplished The Explorers Grand Slam, only 2 have finished this trek in less than a year. Colin’s charity BEYOND 7/2 has partnered with Alliance for a Healthier Generation to raise 1 million dollars to help prevent childhood obesity and encourage children to live active, healthy and successful lives. Colin’s goal is to beat Richard Parks’ record of 6 month and 11 days with a head-spinning goal of 5 months. Colin and I set some time aside for a quick Q&A on his adventures and goals, focusing on his struggles and successes in accomplishing his goal of completing The Explorers Grand Slam in record time.

Interview After The Break

LA BEAT: What was the greatest challenge you experienced on your journey to the North Pole?

COLIN: I experienced an eight day delay at the beginning of my North Pole expedition due to the melting and cracking of the ice runway where our plane needed to land. This was mentally tough given that I was sitting and waiting at sea level with the knowledge that each passing day was cutting into my acclimation time on Mt. Everest and could affect my ability to summit successfully. Not to mention once I was finally on the ice it was a tough physical endeavor, pulling a 150 lb sled up over huge pressure ridges (walls of ice) in -30 degree temperature. It was a harsh environment!

LA BEAT: So far, what was the most difficult and most challenging occurrence that has taken place on the Explorer’s Grand Slam?

COLIN: The most challenging occurrence so far has been climbing Mt. Elbus in winter. It was a really cold and icy day and my “guide” turned around without telling me in the middle of the night with our climbing rope. Continuing on with no rope in those conditions and still making the summit just before a huge storm rolled was a very intense and challenging moment to overcome.

LA BEAT: How far along are you in your goal to raise $1,000,000 to promote childhood health?

COLIN: Now that I am getting near the end of the record, more and more people are engaged and donating. I don’t know the exact number currently as we have some corporate matching campaigns in the works internally. Also I plan to spend the rest of 2016 retelling my story and raising money for the cause.

LA BEAT: It’s well known that Mt. Everest is the most challenging mountain to climb on Earth. What kind of preparations did you make (mentally and physically) to optimize your success?

COLIN: My years as a professional triathlete have created a great foundation for physical fitness and strength, but the hardest part for me at this point is the mental game. I have been on non-stop expeditions since December with this world record attempt. To keep my head in the game when it gets tough, I rely on my daily meditation practice that gives me the mental fortitude to keep going. And there are thousands of kids around the country who are following along; they are my inspiration for the entire BEYOND 7/2 project and I want to make them proud.

LA BEAT: Do you think Mt. Denali will be anti-climatic after climbing Mt. Everest?

COLIN: Funny enough, I am looking forward to Denali more than any mountain on this project. I have never visited Alaska and I am climbing there with an old childhood friend, both things I am looking forward to. Sure, Everest may in many ways be more challenging given the altitude, but Denali is a very serious challenge and will no doubt be a tough way to finish after Everest zaps a lot of my energy.

LA BEAT: Will you keep climbing mountains after you’ve finished Explorer’s Grand Slam?

COLIN: Absolutely. I have always loved climbing mountains ever since I was a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest. I am not sure in what capacity, but mountaineering will undoubtedly always be a part of my life. My fiancée, Jenna, and I enjoy climbing together and I imagine we will share that with our children one day too.

LA BEAT: How did these moments on the Explorer’s Grand Slam inform and impact your perspective on your next adventure?

COLIN: Just getting started on this challenge was tough. Jenna Besaw, my amazing fiancée and the Executive Director of BEYOND 7/2, dreamed this project up with me in 2014. We had no funding, just an idea in our heads. Fast forward 20 months and we are on the verge of accomplishing what we set out to do, not only with the world record itself but with the charitable goals that we set ourselves. It is an amazing feeling to turn a bold idea into a reality, and doing that side by side the person I love has been incredibly fulfilling.

LA BEAT: What do you want to take away from these experiences on the Explorer’s Grand Slam?

COLIN: This has been a challenging journey. I am always looking to push my own boundaries to see what is possible. No matter what happens on the remaining two mountains, I have already proven to myself my ability to preserve in the face of extreme hardship. I have broken down and cried on several summits during this project in moments of unguarded elation. The mountains have allowed me to be vulnerable. Those moments for me are moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.

LA BEAT: What do you expect to share with others once you’ve completed Explorer’s Grand Slam?

COLIN: This project has always been about sharing with kids the amazing things that can be accomplished when you live an active, healthy life, and the value of dreaming big. I’m not suggesting kids go climbs mountains necessarily, but rather encouraging them to find their own Everest, whatever that is in their lives. Hopefully they will be inspired to set goals and succeed.

Billy Bennight

About Billy Bennight

Billy Bennight is a writer and photographer with expertise and years of experience in these disciplines. His musical youth started as a Punk Rocker and has expanded into exploring many genres of music, with a keen interest in art, fashion, photography, and writing. He shoots celebrity and red-carpet events for ZUMA Press. He is also a member of the Los Angeles Art Association. His images have been published in The Los Angeles Times, People Magazine, Parade, Wall Street Journal, and French Elle, both Vanity Fair and Vanity Fair Italia. He's very engaged in life. You an see more of his work at ZUMA Press at http://zuma.press/srp.html?SRCH=Billy+Bennight&timerange=&viewType=&PDS=&PAGENO=1 You can follow him on his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/billybennightartist and on Instagram and Twitter @billybennight
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