Chapter 4

The Triumph of Teamwork

Excerpted from One Step Beyond:
Rediscovering the Adventure Attitude


Profile of Sharon Wood — first North American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Discover that not all great achievers start out that way...

...I hated school because I couldn't conform. I couldn't do what they wanted me to do," she says bluntly. "I just didn't have the same mind as the other kids, it seemed. I was supposed to do all my writing inside the margins, and I never could figure out the rules, so I always got slapped around. I thought you could write anywhere on the paper as long as you got your message across. I didn't do it right, so I would get rapped and slapped...

...Sharon discovered that she was different, but not in the way she had wanted. Skinny, flat-chested and something of an "ugly duckling," her friends teased her about boys and bras. She responded by becoming something of a loner. She played lead flute in the band and did a lot of drawing.

"My father would say the most important thing is to be an individual and know you're an individual before you are anybody else. I think he really encouraged me to think for myself and he realized that I was a free thinker, or a different thinker."

"My mom gave me a lot of positive reinforcement for doing anything, whether I was cutting pictures out of magazines or scribbling something on the walls."

"At school, that creativity was seriously quelled because I was forced to do or draw what I was told. I wasn't allowed to work with a medium I was good at working with. I had to do it their way. So I always felt very confined"...

And find how she was transformed into a "super-achiever" capable of reaching the highest point on earth — an astonishing feat that only five women and a handful of men had done before her...

...In 1977, with no high-altitude experience whatsoever, Sharon was part of the first all-women team to climb Canada's highest mountain, 6,050 m Mount Logan, in the Yukon. From there, she moved on to the highest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley (6,194 m), in Alaska, then to the Andes and the Himalayas. It was here that she began to lay the real groundwork for Everest.

On Mt. Makalu, in Nepal, she was stopped 915 m from the top. "It was definitely a most valuable lesson, although it was a failure. I'm convinced that it won my success on Everest because I learned the value in failing. It made me decide that the next time, I wanted it so badly that I'd be willing to step further out of my comfort zone. It made me want the top."

She got it. Together with a partner, she climbed the sheer 3,050-m south face of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina, a short while later. At 6,960 m, it's the highest mountain in all the Americas.

"I'd never been out so long or felt so committed to a wall like that one. There was no one else around. If we got in trouble, that was it. And I had never been subjected for such a long time to hazards like the icefalls that were above us all the time. That I could survive that kind of pressure and still perform was something fantastic."

Then, the final test - a 1,830 m unclimbed face on Mt. Huascaran Sur, the highest mountain in Peru. It was here that her shoulder was broken by a rockfall just days from the summit.

"I was torn off my feet and had a searing pain in my shoulder. I thought, 'Well, this isn't as hard as it could get on Everest."'

It was now 1985, a year before Everest. She sensed this would be the final training ground.

Unaware that her shoulder was broken, Sharon persevered all the way to the summit. It took six more days. At times, she could not lift her arm more than a few centimetres, so she used her other arm instead. It wasn't until she finally returned to Canada two weeks later than she learned her scapula was broken.

"Finally, I had the perfect example of my potential. It was then that I realized that I could do way, way more than I thought I could...


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