It was a beautiful day. The air was cool and crisp, blue skies with bright white clouds, fresh pristine snow covering the mountains, and the smell of fresh coffee filled the air. It is what every professional mountain climber dreams of. Touching the highest peak in the world with your hand, Mount Everest.
The excitement that morning was bubbling over among the climbers that morning and Dr. Beck Weathers must have felt it too. After all, few people have stood where Dr. Beck stood that day, May 10, 1996. He had dreamed of this day many times and it was about to come true. At the end of the day he would take a home a trophy, a picture of him touching the Top of the World.
During those last minutes people were making one final check, Do I have everything I need? There were the “so longs, not good-byes,” to family and friends. When they returned that day, the camp would be filled with stories of the climb told around a warm fire, with good food and drinks.
Finally, Dr. Beck took his first step, a step that was to be his greatest challenge in life, Mt. Everest. You see, the 49-year old doctor was an accomplished mountain climber, having scaled six of the seven tallest mountains in the world. The day had arrived to add number seven to his list of achievements.
As the group ascended the mountain, the air became thinner and Dr. Beck knew he was in trouble as his vision began to fail. A previous eye surgery, coupled with the high altitude, had caused the lenses in his eyes to flatten out, leaving him blind. The good doctor makes a decision to stop climbing and wait for the climbers as they returned, headed back to base camp.
But as a freak blizzard quickly descended on Mt. Everest and the climbers, things changed dramatically. The temperatures dropped, minus 20, minus 30, minus 40. The high winds and blowing snow made waiting difficult. Dr. Beck grew tired and soon fell into a hypothermic coma, meaning he would soon die.
As the climbers returned, they found Dr. Beck’s body lying in the snow. Believing he was dead, they left him there. The following day after the weather had changed, a rescue crew was sent to search for the bodies of the climbers who had not returned to camp that night. Surely no one could have survived that storm, and Dr.Weathers body was found once again. The rescuers believing he was dead, left him behind again.
I need to leave the doctor in the snow for now, as did his rescuers, and tell you about a second young man.
This time it is July 23, 2018. People had traveled from all over the United States to view the Professional Bull Riding championships in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In the arena that night was a lot cowboy hats and boots, plenty of food and alcohol, and pretty girls galore. You could feel the excitement as the first rider mounted the bull for his first ride.
A 23-year old cowboy named Chase Outlaw, his real name, was about to do again what he does each of his career. Chase Outlaw is a professional bull rider. Up to that night, Chase appeared to be a mediocre bull rider, placing number 87 in the world rankings at that moment. But there was always hope the next ride would move him up in the rankings. Only the top 35 riders by rank are invited to the World Championship of Professional Bull Riders in November, in Las Vegas .
Within seconds of the gate opening to release the bull from the stall, Chase Outlaw’s face slammed into War Cloud’s horns located at the base of the skull. The impact threw him off War Cloud, leaving him somewhat confused, but conscious. He was escorted out of the ring to see Dr. Wyatt, the PBR event doctor on duty. After examining Chase, he determined he needed to be taken immediately to the emergency room for surgery at a nearby hospital.
Unfortunately, I need to leave Chase at that hospital emergency room for now.
And as Paul Harvey used to say,
“Now, The Rest of the Story.”
Having been left for dead three times total, Dr. Beck suddenly opened his eyes. He could see again. Up to 1996 no one had ever survived a hypothermic coma. Yet, here he was. He struggled to get up on his feet. The storm’s high wind and sub-freezing temperatures had done extensive damage to his face and body. Once up, he walked back into base camp to the astonishment of all those who believed he was dead. From base camp, he was immediately flown to a hospital to undergo life saving measures.
Dr. Beck would have numerous surgeries over time due to the damage caused by the storm. His right arm was removed at the elbow due to freezing solid during the blizzard. He lost four fingers on his left hand and his nose due to frostbite. By the way, eight climbers died during that storm-filled night.
What would the good doctor do now that his body had been dramatically altered?
Dr. Beck took a personal inventory of his life as he recovered. He had an epiphany. “I regret the time taken away from my family, from my wife, and two children (Maxwell, Citation #1)” A near death experience can have a profound effect on your life and cause you to re evaluate many things.
Dr. Beck set new priorities, beginning with his wife and children. He wrote a book, Left For Dead, My Journey Home From Everest and has become a successful inspirational and motivational speaker.
Dr. Wyatt met Chase at the hospital, where after an extensive examination, Chase was told he had 30 broken bones in his face, 15 on each side, with ongoing bleeding due to the facial damage. His need for surgery was immediate. Chase underwent 12 hours of emergency surgery that included “68 screws, 11 titanium plates and four pieces of mesh in Outlaw’s face (Klinkenberg, Citation #2).”
In a minor miracle, the doctor who saw him at the arena and followed him to the hospital to perform the surgery, was a “reconstructive” surgeon. He began in that emergency room to put Chases face back together. Later, Dr. Wyatt would perform another seven hours of surgery before they were finally done with his face. Did Chase think about his face being disfigured, his career being over, or what would he do for a living,
Not a chance. Seventy five-days after that second surgery, in October 2018, he was back on a bull for another PBR event. Over the next several weeks and months, not only was he riding again, his bull riding had improved, and he was moving up the PBR rankings. One year after the accident, Chase returned to Cheyenne, Wyoming and won the PBR championship bull riding event, at the same place where the accident had occurred.
Chase never had thoughts of quitting as a professional rider. “He has deep religious faith and believes it has played a part in his comeback. What it boils down to is everybody’s prayers and your faith in God. I have been touched by his healing hand (Klinkenberg, Citation #3).”
Two very different men whose life choices led them in very different directions, but coming to the similar fate of life tragedies and the choices they would make going forward. Victor or victim. The next chapter of their lives would be decided by the choices they would make going forward.
Every one of us has our own personal tragedies, setbacks, difficulties and obstacles that will test our character and try our resolve. Will we overcome, or will what life throws at us slow us down or even stop us. It is at this crossroad where important choices are made. One man found hope in what really matters to him, his family. He has turned his experience into inspiring others as a professional speaker and writer.
The second found purpose through a renewed relationship with God, believing that God was not done with him as a person. In a little more than a year, Chase went from mediocre to one of the best riders in the world.
When that moment comes for you, maybe it already has, what will you choose to do? Get up and move on with new inspiration and hope of achieving new success, or allow these types of experiences to define you, holding you back.
My sister and her husband, big fans of professional bull riding, turned me on to Chase’s story. Chase ended as the number three bull rider in the World Championship finals in November, 2019.
If you would like help making a difficult decision or overcoming a life obstacle, purchase my book “Take Control of Your Life” now or contact me today to schedule a free introductory personal life coaching assessment.
As an expert in emotional intelligence, I also deliver keynotes, small group presentations and seminars for companies and organizations striving for effective communication, leadership and team performance.
Gratitude to: 1. Failing Forward, John Maxwell. Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1990 (Beck Weathers appears in Chapter 8, pgs. 137-140, “Making Failure Your Best Friend”)
2 and 3. Chase Outlaw broke almost every bone in his face. Doctors put it back together. Now, he’s a top bull-rider again. Marty Klinkenberg, The Globe and Mail, Published July 5, 2019 and Updated July 7, 2019
Gratitude also to: Base Camp Magazine, The 1996 Everest Disaster – The Whole Story, C.J. Leger, Published Dec. 31st, 2016