The Latin term is "nemo resideo." It defines a long-standing value in the United States military. It is also a phrase that represents a decades old maxim in mountaineering. "Leave no one behind," whether on the field of battle or on the side of a mountain. It is a concept that is Biblical in its mandate. "Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one's life for a friend." (John15:13) It is an idea that defies logic and, at times, wisdom. It transcends the rational world by upholding our highest regard for a single human life and acknowledges the breadth of the sacrifice required to save that life. Retrieving a comrade from behind enemy lines can cost many more lives. Retrieving a stranded climber in the high altitude mountains can put entire expeditions at risk and the lives of their members. It is a value that also represents the complexity of a inherent system of risk versus reward, and Ben Ratliff understands the system. He also knows that sometimes, the one we must not leave behind, the one we must save is ourselves.
Ben had very limited mountaineering experience when he agreed to join Natasha Burch on a journey through Nepal, climbing 6,000 feet higher than he had ever been in reaching the summit of Island Peak, and taking his hard-earned athletic endurance to the "hem of Mt. Everest," Everest Base Camp for the world's highest marathon, the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon. The marathon is promoted as the "ultimate trail marathon," beginning at 17,600 feet at EBC and ending at just over 11,000 feet at Namche. Rocky, rugged and held in a place about as different from the plains of Nebraska as one could find. One 14,000 climb in Colorado and two weeks of acclimatizing in the mountains of Nepal required Ben to rely on his incredible base of fitness, earned through extensive and intensive Ironman Triathlon training. Altitude is an indiscriminate host, so even with his high volume training schedule, it was training at low altitudes. Ben took a risk. He took a risk that he could adapt to the altitude to complete a 26.2 mile foot race near the roof of the world. With nearly no on-course support, Ben had to rely on himself and his own resources. The reward would be an accomplishment that legends are made of.
The Everest Marathon sports a small field, the antithesis of the modern mega-marathon. Without the tens of thousands of participants that keep a runner company as in many western marathons, and thousands more lining the race route, the Everest Marathon requires its participants to run in solitude, an expanse of time to think and to wonder about the journey. Like a good Marine, however, Ben was not alone. Not really. With him, in that same spirit of "leave no one behind," he took to men of the Platte River Recovery House, so that by his example, they could learn to save themselves and together, to make sure not one of them is left behind on the road to recovery and a wonderful life.
Ben first had to save himself. War provides more than one kind of loss, and sometimes the wounds of war aren't visible from the outside. War can wound on the inside, and our soldiers can turn to anything that might ease the pain of the injuries that can't be seen. Ben turned to alcohol. Sobriety and recovery came to him out on the roads, and with hard work and treatment. Ben could have moved on from there, but his sense of duty to others moved him to help other men return from their battle with addiction. He is bringing them "home", home to themselves and to who they really are. Ben's message from the mountains for the men at PRRH was "it is a world of possibilities." When one lacks hope, it can be impossible to see to the heights of our potential. No great mountain has ever been summited without hope. It is the hope of standing on top of a mountain conquered that drives climbers through the thin air, the extreme cold, the wind, the ice, the snow and the fear. Fear cannot ever be conquered without hope. Ben's accomplishments in Nepal give us hope that we too can set an ambitious and daring goal and achieve it. Those accomplishments also give hope to the men in recovery that they too can reach their ultimate summit, their highest potential. Ben is helping them find a home in the world of possibilities.
Evoking the grace of God, Ben also reminded his men to "dream without fear and love without limits." We all need this message and the journey of Ben and Natasha has taught us the possibility of both. After several days of healing and exploring in Kathmandu, Natasha and Ben will return this evening to loved ones, to children, to family and to work. They will share an experience that belongs to them, but we thank them for sharing with us their experience of making dreams come true. We do not need to climb mountains to know this feeling. We may never know the kind of extraordinary athletic feat they know, we may never face the kind of challenge and fear they did, but each of us can learn from them that our potential exceeds our vision, and we all can climb higher to get a better view of who we are and what we are capable of. The mountain you climb might be a sedentary lifestyle. Your journey may be to find what people have always known, that good health is the requisite for living, and we are largely responsible for our road to a healthy life. Natasha and Ben have reminded all of us that the view from the top of our potential is beautifully grand, indeed.
The Lighthouse Fitness Project is an outreach of the Platte River Fitness Series designed to showcase our mission of "building strong bodies and bold spirits," through the stories of people who are making the journey to a healthy lifestyle. We could not think of two finer people to launch the 2017 addition. We are immensely grateful to Natasha and Ben for sharing their story. Think of them when the road seems too long, the work too difficult. They are just like you and I, and they remind us that we too can run (or walk, or bike, or swim, or train, or just move) on the "peak of heaven." Our next Lighthouse Fitness Project story will be the Leading Ladies.