[AI] Climber's adventures lead to new career
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Thu Sep 20 17:25:46 EDT 2007
Vail Daily News, Colorado USA
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Climber's adventures lead to new career
By Scott N. Miller
Eric Alexander has been a lift operator and ski patroller; he's now a corporate speaker Kira Horvath/Daily file photo
EAGLE-VAIL - Eric Alexander could have turned down an invitation to climb Mount Everest with a blind man. But he went, and his life changed.
Since Alexander helped his friend Eric Weihenmayer reach the summit of the world's tallest mountain in 2001, Alexander has found a new career as a corporate speaker. It's a long way from his first days in the Vail Valley as a lift operator.
Like so many others, Alexander came to the valley to play, and a lift operator's job got him a ski pass. But it also led to a job on the Vail Ski Patrol, and, eventually, a season in France in an exchange program. While on the ski patrol, he started working as a guide in the local program for blind skiers.
Alexander also avidly pursued outdoor adventures, including climbing. Through a roommate, he met Weihenmayer, a fellow climber who had been blind since the age of 13. The two started ice climbing together, then tackled some of the state's 14,000-foot peaks.
In 2000, Weihenmayer asked Alexander to go on much more challenging trip: Everest.
"It was one of those things the world told us couldn't be done," Alexander said. "People said we'd get killed, that it was a ridiculous thing to do."
But a team of climbers was put together, and went to Nepal on a practice and scouting trip in 2000. The climb to the summit was planned for 2001.
Alexander nearly didn't make it on the second trip.
A 150-foot fall
Climbing with Weihenmayer on Mount Amadablam in Nepal, Alexander fell from a 150-foot cliff. Although he wasn't critically injured, he had to be taken off the mountain by helicopter. After that fall, he developed fluid in his lungs, and a later virus led to pneumonia. That's not a good way to prepare to climb Everest.
After a lot of prayer and not much training, he decided to make the trip.
"I hoped I'd make the summit, but in reality I thought I might make the base camp, or maybe the first camp," he said.
But Alexander and Weihenmayer made it to the top. Weihenmayer remains the only blind climber to make it to the summit and back.
"What looked to be a weakness was actually a great strength," Alexander said. "We had a common focus and a common goal."
The success of that trip turned out to be a turning point for both Alexander and his friends.
'Smoking during the meeting' After the Everest trip Weihenmayer started telling groups about his adventures, and the skills and personal qualities it takes to be successful. Alexander had begun talking about his trips before going to Everest. His first audiences were church groups and the Vail Adventure Speaker Series.
With a stack of notes and a slide projector in tow, Alexander started getting more invitations to speak from other churches and schools. In 2001, after the Everest trip, Alexander received his first invitation to speak for a fee. The client was an insurance company in Evergreen.
"I'd taken one speech class in college," he said. "That was my only qualification."
But one speech led to another, and not long after returning from Everest, speaking was his main job.
"I never thought I'd be doing this for a living," he said. "It just worked out."
But speaking and climbing with others share an important quality, Alexander said.
"It's great to touch someone's heart," he said. Even the hearts of people a speaker may not share much with.
One of his more difficult speeches was to corporate meeting of cigarette maker Philip Morris.
"They were smoking during the meeting," Alexander said. "I'm not in favor of selling more cigarettes, but I talked about personal integrity and staying true to whatever you're doing."
Staying true to himself is something Alexander's good at, friend Dave Baker said.
"His attention to detail and his care for people make his speaking just as natural a fit as you can imagine," Baker said.
Traveling the world
Alexander's work has taken him to from coast to coast and as far away as the Czech Republic. But his speeches are always fueled by his outdoor adventures.
"I do this because I feel it's important to talk to people about values," he said. "It's not just stories, it's fundamentals about life."
Many of those fundamentals - teamwork, integrity, trust - are as important in an office as on a mountain, he said. And being in the outdoors with others feeds Alexander's spirit. While he's happy to talk about his last job, his eyes sparkle when talking about his latest outdoor trip.
Last summer Alexander was on an expedition with Weihenmayer that took several blind high schoolers on a 30-day trek to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Climbing and trekking with people with physical handicaps comes naturally for Alexander, Baker said.
"You could have a guy speaking who's done a lot, but if he doesn't have the character, he's not going to be effective. Eric's success as speaking is really blending his climbing with his character."
Alexander is still sort of surprised his life has taken the course it has, but he believes there's a higher purpose to everything he's been through so far.
"You just need to be open to what comes your way," he said. "I met this guy Eric who's blind, who wanted me to climb Everest with him. How easy would it have been to say no to that?"
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