Sibusiso Vilane climbed Everest. The South African joins fewer than 3,000 people who can say the same. And no other Black man can yet make that claim, though African American woman Sophia Danenberg did the deed in May of 2006.
The challenge of being an entrepreneur or a successful business person closely matches the skills needed to tackle the challenges of an extended expedition. The learning from these individuals includes a key understanding of just how much of a challenge is mental as opposed to physical or even financial. Their journey tell us that realizing a dream lies more within our grasp than we readily admit.
At times we attribute a lack of achievement to something other than the amount of effort we’ve applied or some aspect beyond our control. That’s usually not the reality. Sibusiso tells us dream big, take risks, and pull those dreams into the real world.
JP: What do you enjoy most about being outside?
SV: The openness, the air, the serenity and the unpolluted freshness that is there. I personally feel uplifted if every time I lift my eyes and all that I see is vastness and the unique creation of the universe, the scenery, the sky and all that is there to enjoy while being outside.
JP: Several hundred years ago Black people lived close to nature. That bond has been broken, and it seems as if in the rush to Westernize being outside or close to nature is frowned on or even ridiculed. Have you found that to be so?
SV: We Africans have always been living very close to nature and you can see that from the way we built houses in the olden days where my ancestors never looked at what was there before they could build a house, all they wanted was a piece of land, whether in a forest or mountain without any roads that did not matter. But all that has been taken away by the modernization and that has taken away that connection that we had with the natural world.
JP: What is special about being the first Black man to do much of what you do?
SV: The fact that it comes from a poor ordinary African who had no opportunities, was underprivileged and with no formal education. I had no home while growing up, was never empowered but have been able to excel and do these things which are a testimony to all Africans and people everywhere that no matter how poor, they can still live a life of personal fulfillment and joy if they commit to their dreams.
JP: In climbing, there are the world’s seven tallest peaks; some call them the Seven Sisters. How many of these have you climbed?
SV: The seven summits you mean? Well since I was never a keen climber or mountaineer from a very young age the seven summits had not appealed to me, not even after my successful climb to the top of Mount Everest. But since last year I decided to climb them solely to promote the sport among Black Africans and to build a reputation that would go as a CV for sponsorship for my big mountain climbing project in the future. My dream is to climb as many 8000m peaks as possible, maybe all 14 of them and join the likes of Ed Viesturs and Reinhold Messner. So I have now climbed six of the seven summits all self-sponsored and will be living for the last of them which is Mount McKinley in Alaska this coming May. Mount Everest will always stay as my ultimate when I speak of the seven summits, but each one of them has uniqueness in it that makes each experience very special.
JP: How much of these challenges are mental and how much of it is sheer physical strength and stamina?
SV: That is an individual take, so my take is that 60 percent of the climbing expeditions are mental and then 40 percent physical. But when I prepare I do a 50/50 approach on both. That is to say I maintain the same level of preparation on both as I value them equally. A lot of stamina is needed when the going gets tough particularly on summit day where every step you take is of utmost importance as it surely brings you closer to your goal.
JP: You have a wife and children. How do you feel, and how do they feel about you risking your life to climb mountains?
SV: Yes, I have a big family who do not even understand clearly the implications and consequences that comes with the risks I am taking but I feel very grateful that I have their full support at my hand. Actually I get the huge motivation to take these risks from the realization that if I didn’t do any expedition for more than few months it would really be almost impossible for me to provide for my family. In short what I am doing now is work for me. My family misses me when I am away, my departure always create a huge vacuum that cannot be filled by anyone until I return. They understand that success is about taking some risks in life. But having their full support is all that matters to me.
JP: I think a lot of men, married men and women actually, feel like they simply can not get away from their responsibilities to live out their outdoor dreams or fantasies and they remain simply dreams. What would you say to those people?
SV: I will be brief on this one because that is how I think everybody can do what they have always wanted to do of cause by embracing their families and responsibilities. You must do what you love.
JP: Do you ever talk about race while on an expedition?
SV: No we do not talk about race in expeditions. I have always found it challenging to mix well with people where the majority is white, and in all the expeditions that I have done I have always been the only black person among the hundreds of white people. That does create a lot of uncertainty in me when it calls for decision making, it sometimes make me feel that decisions will be in favor of the majority, and it has happened once and that almost cost me the expedition, but naturally I adapt very well to any cultural group.
JP: What do you think ever increasing modernization is doing to the planet?
SV: Modernization is destroying the beauty of the planet, creates permanent damage to the natural environment and the very sad part is that mankind cannot reverse the act and the universe is yet to suffer from that act and more disasters are yet to strike as the universe tries bring a balance to counter all that modernization has done to the planet.
JP: You also are a motivational speaker. Do you feel that the lessons you learn in climbing are relevant to business?
SV: Expedition life is similar in many ways to what everybody’s life and business is about really. To succeed in anything you must first want to succeed and then take all the steps that are needed to get to the top of your mountain or business, in short I encourage having big dreams and then committing to making them happen by associating with people that share ones dream.
JP: What is your next expedition?
SV: Next is an attempt on Mount McKinley this coming May, after which I may become the first Black person in the world to have climbed the seven summits. That would be fantastic as I never thought I would be on the count down to the last one anyway. But committing to making it happen even without any sponsorship has made it work well for me.
JP: What will you do once you’ve climbed the world’s seven largest mountains?
SV: Since I have decided this is my life then as soon as I am done with the seven summits I am planning for two polar journeys, that is south pole at the end of this year and then the North pole in 2009, I have teamed up with another south African and we want to mount South Africa’s first unsupported walk to the poles.
On top of those I will be running marathons for charity as I really want to do something that is charity oriented. I have formed a running club called the "Born to Win Athletics Club" based in a rural community in Africa and will focus on underprivileged young aspiring athletes.
John N. Pasmore • New York, NY • Very.fm