Dave Rodney has his audience right where he wants them – suspended on a skinny ladder that spans a 400-ft.-deep crevasse.
The group is making an imaginary trek to Mount Everest. And the crevasse, wider than the room they are sitting in, is the first breath-taking obstacle en route to the 29,035-ft. summit.
|Dave Rodney uses Everest as a metaphor to teach how to overcome obstacles.|
The ladder will tilt slightly and bend in the middle as you step out, he tells the group.
Then, pausing for effect, he asks:
“Anybody here afraid of heights?”
A dozen hands lift in the air.
Rodney, the only Canadian to twice reach Everest’s summit, has made the connection he wants.
Dressed in his climbing gear, the Calgarian describes his first ladder crossing and how his heart raced wildly. But he had prepared himself, taken courses and practised the crossing countless times in the safety of his own home. He focused on what he could control, moving one foot forward at a time.
It’s the same in business, says Rodney, when there are obstacles to reaching goals, but with preparation and desire they can be overcome.
The session is just one of about 100 keynote speeches and workshops that Rodney gives annually across North America. He also donates time at another 100 charity and school events.
A full-time professional speaker since 1995, he uses Everest as a metaphor to help inspire people in their professional and personal lives.
With the use of slides, videos and high-adventure stories he links his “Everest education” to each group’s individual requirements.
For example, as he speaks about the crevasse, a large photographic image fixes on a pair of boots perched on the ladder, a deep black hole beneath.
“I’ve found that visuals have a powerful impact,” says Rodney. “It might be a picture, or a moment in a video . . . they reach people in different ways.”
He sees himself as a kind of messenger with an ability to empower other people.
During an interview in his sunny southwest Calgary home (fittingly, with an upstairs view of the Rocky Mountains) the 37-year-old describes a rich life that he feels qualifies him to inspire others.
He has worked as a teacher and as an assistant principal, operates his own business and holds three university degrees.
Although his Everest accomplishments are extraordinary, he believes the average person can relate to him because of his myriad experiences.
Rodney has been to Everest three times. In 1997, he was a communications co-ordinator, videographer and rescuer. He was probably fit enough to attempt the summit that spring, but it was his time to play a back-up role, he explains.
In 1999, he summited as a team member. And in 2001 he was a team leader, taking Calgarian Deryl Kelly to the top. Kelly, then 25, became the youngest Canadian to accomplish the feat.
His speeches and workshops are not about Dave Rodney, he says. They are about helping people reach their own personal Everests.
The idea is to recognize the group’s goal and figure the best route to get there.
Groups may be seeking help with change and risk management, decision making, leadership and teamwork, dealing with failure or a dozen other issues.
The Everest metaphor, because the consequences of failure or success are extreme, attracts keen interest.
“Right or wrong, Everest receives a lot of spotlight,” says Rodney.
“I shunned that spotlight for a long time. But I’ve come to see it takes so much vision, it’s not just about goal setting. It’s overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles that human beings are not supposed to be capable of doing.”
Rodney talks about turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones, a philosophy he believes is a key component of life.
He admits he’s had his share of hurdles.
His back has been broken in four places and often “acts up.”
His left knee has been reconstructed four times; twice he suffered retinal hemorrhaging while climbing; he lost 35 pounds on the 1999 summit; and battled irritant bronchitis (he couldn’t stop coughing) on the 2001 summit.
“None of that stuff was going to stop me reaching my ultimate goal,” he says. He tells people that if they have the mission, or calling, the planning, the resources and the teamwork, they can fulfil their goals.
Rodney’s own calling was improbable because he grew up on the flatlands of Yorkton, Sask. But a painting of a Swiss mountain setting that hung on his grandfather’s wall intrigued him.
He imagined what it would be like sit on the mountain. Then, he wondered what it would be like to look down on that peak from the highest mountain imaginable. “It was something that called out to me,” he says.
Spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially, Everest has been the biggest challenge of Rodney’s life.
As the only Canadian to summit twice, he doesn’t expect that he’ll climb it again.
There’s nothing to prove.
Besides, he has other challenges.
Last fall, he married Jennifer and the couple has moved into a new home. They’ve just added MacGyver, a 14-week-old pup to the family, and Rodney is writing a book and contributing to, or being featured in, six documentaries.
This month Rodney was on a speaking tour that took him to Las Vegas, St. Louis, Saskatoon and places in between.
He’s strongly considering a future in provincial politics.
In a sense, he’s found a new Everest – a challenge to which many in his audiences can relate.
Like crossing a crevasse, Rodney says he, too, is looking for a little balance.