Ueli Steck: life, death and doing what matters
We’re taking a diversion off the path of nutrition and training today to explore the power of adventure in life and the risks it comes with since reading with shock and sadness about the death of legendary climber Ueli Steck in an accident on Everest.
Like so many we’d been blown away by Ueli’s achievements. Fastest ascent of the Eiger (2:47:33), first solo ascent of Annapurna, Everest summit without supplemental oxygen, and so many more including a mind-boggling 82 peaks in 62 days summiting every peak over 4,000 metres in the Alps. He was a sublime climber and an incredible athlete.
Ueli Steck, doing what he did best
A few years ago, we had the great fortune to have lunch with him and the lasting impression he left from even this short encounter was of humility, passion for life and his sport, coupled with a great physical and mental power perfectly harnessed beneath the surface. There was no ego to be seen - if you didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t know who he was. His attitude was inverse to the enormity of his achievements, a very refreshing change in these days of instant fame and so much hype often covering so very little substance.
Ueli seemed to be one of those rare and beautiful exceptions to the rule, someone who had poured his heart and soul into the painstaking process of unending hard work and dedication to the high mountain sport he loved, and which provided his inspiration.
While death is the inevitable partner of life, sudden and early departures like Ueli’s always feel more powerful. Which made us think, if he’d known at that lunch way back that on April 30, 2017 he’d die on Everest aged just 40, would Ueli Steck have changed anything?
Change the result of the accident that ended his life? Absolutely.
But change everything he did that lead him to that point? We’d like to think not.
Because changing that would have changed him. It would have involved not seeking new frontiers, not chasing new challenges others called ‘impossible’, not breaking new ground and not pioneering his sport into a new era. In short, it would have involved living without the very thing he lived for.
And what’s the point in that?
For us, the takeaway from Ueli’s bright burning and too-short-lived star is that working, fighting and growing every day to be the best at that which inspires you is everything. ‘Living with passion’ is something that’s now such a cliche as to have been hashtagged, t-shirt printed and overused to exhaustion a long time ago, but maybe it’s become such a cliche precisely because it’s so true.
A comfortable life is all very well, but can never lead to satisfaction. As Brazilian author Paolo Coelho puts it so aptly as a caution regarding this path, “one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now”.
Writing on his own blog in 2013, Steck echoed this himself saying, “to walk through life in a comfortable way is still not my goal… I would like to implement my dreams and visions into reality”.
So screw comfort. Seek adventure, push yourself hard and fast in that which inspires you and look for the massive and real life gains that can only come from the incremental compounding of many thousands of hours of hard work on the route to expertise, mastery, growth and, ultimately, building your life into something that truly matters for you.
In memory of Ueli Steck, 4 October 1976 - 30 April 2017
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