We met up in a hotel to talk about his amazing achievements in such a short period of time and this year’s goal.
This 19 year old is going to climb Everest in a few weeks and I wanted to know why. Read my conversation with him, then check his web-site to fill in the gaps, because I could have continued that conversation with him a lot longer than our time allowed. If business is 10% innovation and 90% perspiration, then we learn from Alex.
How did your family react?
To be honest, I can’t really remember. There was never really a day where I sat at the dinner table and out of the blue made the announcement. I think I just got started instinctively and kept it to myself. I knew that one day, I would climb Mount Everest, and I do recall my mum telling me it would be too dangerous. She probably thought nothing of it- just a schoolboy pipe dream as I was beginning to discover the world- like wanting to be an Astronaut in my earlier years…
It wasn’t until November 2012 that I actually committed and set the date for 2014. Some family members dismissed it as ‘an expensive holiday’. If climbing and suffering for 2 arduous months, without a shower, in an inhospitable environment was a ‘holiday’ then I’d be suing my travel agent!
I’ve been brought up to work hard for the things I want in life. Mum in particular, understands what it means to me and has been extremely supportive in allowing me to pursue this. She understands the wider benefits, rather than pressing me into University or work. Before he died suddenly, my granddad was incredibly proud of me. His spirit, along with my dogs Harley and Hooch, continue to drive me on.
How do you cope with, and overcome obstacles?
I’d say they’re the same thing. You overcome obstacles by carrying on going. Through expeditions and experiences, I have become more and more resilient to coping with the obstacles that life throws at me. Being at high altitude and at the end of physical or mental exhaustion, strips you down bare to who you really are as a person. When I was younger, the bullying, speech issues and Epilepsy were crippling and I didn’t have the resources to do much except struggle on. After all, that’s often the only answer to many of our struggles, we may have to change or adapt something, but in the end, you just keep going.
I found exercise and music helped me cope massively, but there were times such as my first depression where it didn’t and I spiralled downhill into a very dark place. It did toughen the ‘eggshell’ though, for next time. But with depression it can leave a weak link. My second bout was beaten by having a new goal, a new direction- that was Everest 2014. I’d been badly injured for about a year and couldn’t train so it was a huge risk but I was massively inspired by Bear Grylls’ story of how he broke his back just 18 months before he climbed Everest.
Having that new lease of life brought me back stronger than before with all guns blazing. Then, I’d done what a lot of people told me was impossible and got to Everest through corporate sponsorship last spring, to finally try and make my dream a reality.
The expedition unfortunately was abandoned following a huge avalanche which tragically killed 16 Climbing Sherpas. So I took it as an opportunity to return to Everest stronger than ever before and fundraise for the avalanche victims. I launched my EPIC7 project, a series of 7 ultra endurance challenges, with a twist designed to push my mental and physical limits and build momentum for Everest 2015 including a couple of record breakers.
What have you learnt from these experiences?
A lot more than I did at school that’s for sure! I think everything comes down to mindset. The more you go through, the less significant obstacles seem, and more it becomes a test of how much you want something- a piece in a jigsaw perhaps.
You have to learn to accept adversity as part of you- naturally and I make fun of my stammer in my speaking presentations. I believe you have truly overcome something when you have either found a solution or learnt something from it.
We have 3 choices; to get on with it, change it, or moan about it. Many of us get stuck on the last one for a long time until we can learn to accept obstacles as opportunities in disguise.
What advice would you give somebody who is struggling at the moment?
It’s amazing how simply going on a walk can untangle your mind! My advice won’t apply to everyone struggling, as problems are unique to the individual, but the bottom line is never give up.
Our minds will play all sorts of tricks with us but rather than thinking how life is mistreating us, we have to think “Why is this happening now and what may it lead to?” Speaking to people, especially those who’ve experienced something similar, can be difficult but it often gives you the external perspective that you hadn’t seen.
My friend Chris suggested the book, The Chimp Paradox, where you imagine a chimp on your shoulder- and ask yourself “What is he doing right now?” When you’re feeling hopeless and beating yourself up, you imagine the chimp whacking you in the back of the head. It wants you to fail. Simply doing this can help you take control of a problem or mindset that’s been caused by a simple trigger. Remember, you’re in control, not the chimp!