I don’t know if anyone saw the single involuntary tear I shed while lying prostrate at the bottom of Everest. I doubt it. Everyone’s eyes were firmly planted on Lieutenant Dan who was inching his way up our human ladder to reach the top of our final great challenge. For that I was thankful. This was his moment, and I spent most of it hiding my face in the dirty shadows below me.
My single tear as he climbed was not really a happy one. If I could call that moment anything, it would be tortuous. The vicious gripping soles of Kurt’s shoes were pressing hard into my shoulders from above. My own toes were wedged into a tiny dirt crevasse behind me, and I was digging-in with all of my might to keep from letting everyone in the ladder, and the incredible man climbing it, slip backwards. The weight of four other people were literally resting on my shoulders, and the pain was excruciating.
Hurry, hurry, hurry, was all I could think. I can’t hold this much longer.
Lieutenant Dan’s hands made contact with the hands of his waiting teammates above. And right then, a tsunami of powerful thought rushed over me.
When his first hand was grasped by Rick, I thought about Dan and how he had risked his own safety to prove something to himself at King of the Swingers. David grabbed hold of his other hand. I thought about Dan making his way across the Funky Monkey with no way to swing his lower body to gain momentum. They began hoisting him toward the top. I thought about our moment crawling with Dan through “Cry Baby,” a “tear gas” tent that we all had to get through a few hours earlier. With one giant pull, Lieutenant Dan’s upper body flopped over the top lip of Everest. It was in that moment that I thought back to three week’s prior when he told me he had no idea if he could do this at all. It was thinking about that which caused my tear ducts to open completely. I shed many tears in that instant.
I don’t know that I could ever adequately describe what it was like to be at the bottom of that human ladder, feeling debilitating pain, straining my neck to watch Dan cross the summit of the precipice above, knowing what it took for him, and for all of us, to reach this moment. He had done it. He was up top. And he was all in one piece.
As he disappeared over the edge, the load on my shoulders lightened, both physically and mentally. One by one members of the ladder slid down Everest and with each person who left the ladder, my shoulders found more blood to circulate through them. I stood up and so proudly looked up at Dan.
What a man.
Yes, that was a man who I want as a stepdad to my kid, any day.
“COME ON! LET’S GO HELP DAN DOWN!” I don’t remember who said it, but I remember the flurry of activity as teammates slipped into our usual routine. His hand-bike was quickly wheeled to the other side. Teammates began climbing up the backside to help Dan down. But something else was already happening up top.
“Do you want to go down, or do you want to stay up here and help?” Rick asked Dan. Rick didn’t even get all the words out when Dan declared that he was staying.
This would be Dan’s moment to finally use those massive arms of his to help the entire team that had just spent so much time and effort helping him.
And, did he ever help our team.
Rick stood above, holding Dan’s legs, helping to maneuver and point Dan in the right direction, as well as give him balance.
One at a time, teammate after teammate made a running start at Everest.
One at a time, teammate after teammate flew into the waiting hands of Dan, and others, above.
And one a time, Dan helped every single member of our team who would attempt Everest that day get up and over.
Many tears were shred on Everest. The powerful symbolism of that obstacle is the true reason it is placed where it is at every Tough Mudder.
My only regret was telling my teammates the proper way to do it without letting them each fail a time or two first. It was almost too easy for most of them, because they knew before they ever attempted what had to be done to reach the arms of the people above. Rest assured that at the next two events we have this year, I will not be so eager to make it as easy as possible. By failing three times before ever succeeding when I first did Everest, I learned some incredible life lessons that I would never trade for anything.
And don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t terribly easy for everyone. A few people did need to try once or twice before they made it.
And then there was Colleen.