Thoughts on the death of Sir Edmund Hillary


In my little world, there is just nothing better than going to my local biker bar, Fat Boyz, on a quiet Sunday morning, after a nice two hour walk, grabbing the weekend edition of Financial Times and having a quiet breakfast. Most of my fellow breakfasters are either a) slowly recovering from a night of revelry, or b) preparing for a afternoon football game.

This past week, upon my return from Orlando for the WDW Marathon and RN annual meetings, I was catching up on my missed FT dailies and I came upon the obituary for

Sir Edmund Hillary, a man with a special tie to our sport.

Sir Edmund Hillary with the Nepalize Sherpa Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953, at 11:30 am. They had conquered the unconquerable.

The announcement of this pushing the limits of human endurance came one day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth!

Upon his return from the summit, Hillary was quotable in his response to George Lowe, a fellow Kiwi--"Well, we've knocked the bastard off!"

Mt. Everest had been one of those challenges that had people questioning the limits of human endurance-seven failed expeditions from 1920 to 1952 had tried to reach Mt. Everest's summitt before Hillary and Norgay.

Sir Edmund wrote a book, The Ascent of Everest, which was quite popular in its day. A man of many talents, Hillary immersed himself, for the last two decades, in working with the WWF, founding the Himalaya Trust, which helped in the development of modern infrastructure to Nepal.

Hillary was a modest man, telling an interviewer one time, " I am basically a very mediocre person."

What does climbing Mt. Everest have to do with track and field? Consider, little grasshopper one young man immersed in medical studies in 1953, Roger Bannister.
Bannister, saw Hillary's challenging of human limits by climing Mt. Everest as parallel to his goal of breaking the four minute mile.

One of my most prized possessions is. Arnie's Black Book. Published in 1957, Arnies is a book of anecdotes on the sport, there is a column from 1939, written by one Brutus Hamilton, one of the great American athletics coaches. On this sheet, Mr. Hamilton, a keen observer of the sport if there ever was one, suggested that man could not break 10.1, 45 seconds and for the mile, 4:01. Man just would never break a four minute mile.

I have always been fascinated as to why some people give up on the smallest challenges, while others will never give up on something that seems fraught with negatives from the very beginning. Hillary possessed this gift of faith in oneself, and so did Bannister.

Many thought that. Since Bannister's fine performance in 1954, there have been a bit over 1,400 performances where the four minute mile has been broken. Since 1953, there has been 1,200 successful reaches of the summit of Mt. Everest.

In finishing this column, I will allow the Duke of Edinburgh, who wrote this for the forward of The Ascent of Everest: " In the human terms of physical effort and endurance alone it will live in history as shining example to all mankind."

That could have been said about the first man to reach Mt. Everest summit or the first man to break four minutes for the mile.

For more on the man who conquered Mt. Everest, please click on

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