Running on the "Peak of Heaven"
While waiting for a member of his 1996 Everest expedition team to cross the aluminum ladders used to navigate the crevasses cut deep into the glacial ice, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son the Tenzing Norgay, who, along with Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to summit Mount Everest, studied the layers of snow on this giant mountain. In his book, "Touching My Father's Soul," Jamling describes what he saw, "...I studied the seasonal layers of snowfall on the far side of the crevasse, the annual strata that accumulate like rings on a tree. Counting down fourty-three layers, my eyes followed along the layer's serpentine length. That level was deposited the season of my father's successful climb. He walked atop that layer."
Natasha Jarvis Burch knows what it's like to follow in a father's footsteps. Chris Jarvis was a local running pioneer, talented, elegant and generous in sharing the many benefits of "the running life." He was also an incredible endurance animal. He was blessed with a beautifully efficient running style that made him appear to float above the road. Chris appreciated the simplicity of running. For decades, he was the rare runner who set out without the distraction of music. A road, a pair of shoes and his own thoughts were all he needed. It was actually Natasha who first got him to plug in some ear buds with music she selected for him. Chris would have felt a kinship with the Sherpa people of Nepal. Jamling Tenzing Norgay lived in the United States for ten years and everything he owned fit into two suitcases. Life simplified. Chris also shared the incredible ability of the mountain Sherpas to endure discomfort, adversity and hardship. Multiple 50-mile ultramarathons honed his ability to deal with difficulties.
All the while Chris was running, Natasha was watching. As he was running, she was learning. She was learning that we cannot find our true self in warm and cozy conditions. We absolutely must invite into our lives things that are hard. We have to be tested to know who we are and where our potential lies. It wasn't until his death in 2010 that she began to understand what drove her dad mile after mile, as she first laced up cycling shoes, then running shoes, and finally hiking boots. Most of us prefer brief encounters with challenge. Natasha, however, had been watching her dad. Half-marathons and marathons followed. Most people never climb one fourteen thousand foot peak. Natasha climbed her first one in the middle of winter, navigating frozen waterfalls and deep snows. She followed her maiden voyage in the rarified air of 14,000 foot peaks by climbing a dozen more. She took rock climbing lessons, and she set her sights on the ultimate challenge, a three week journey to the cradle of the world's greatest mountains, the Himalayas.
There can be no doubt, she took her dad with her to Nepal, just as Jamling took his father's spirit on his journey to Mount Everest. Chris was with her during every adversity she faced. Over 7,000 miles of travel, a strange culture, strange food, lack of nearly all modern amenities, thousands of feet of climbing, intense sun, intense cold, danger, and continual reminders of the fragile nature of life kept his spirit close. She brought him to the top of Island Peak, her first big goal, 20,305 feet of snow and glacial ice. She brought him to Dingboche, at over 14,000 feet, to the starting line of the world's highest half-marathon, the Hillary-Tenzing Everest Half-Marathon. She brought his utter refusal to quit.
It can be hard to be the child of a "local legend." Chris Jarvis, through hard work and talent, cast a large shadow. It can feel like you are always trying to live up to that incredible reputation, and it can seem impossible to follow in those footsteps. Natasha's journey to Nepal has been filled with remarkable adversity and awe-inspiring accomplishments. She has proven herself worthy of her dad's legacy. From the time she started her trek from Kathmandu, she has honored him. As she sat atop Island Peak with her partner Ben and their Sherpa guide, she honored him. As she battled through the unexpected difficulties the mountains gave her, she recognized their gifts because these are the things her dad taught her. What she did most of all, however, was move from her dad's long shadow, into the brilliance of her own sunlight, her own achievements and her own challenges. Natasha, in air so thin, cemented her own legacy with each of the labored footsteps that took her up into the highest mountains and back down again. She formed and forged her very own legacy for her children. It is wonderful to imagine the graceful footprints of Chris Jarvis and the imprint of his running shoes in the snow of Island Peak, and Natasha's hiking boots, not trying to fit inside those footprints, but next to them, side-by-side as equals ,marking a path she has created that is all her own. She too, is an incredible endurance animal, one that is separate and equal.
Natasha and Ben are now in Kathmandu, and we will soon share stories of their trip to Nepal's most holy sites. We will also share a perspective on the accomplishments of the second of our athletes, Ben Ratliff. Prior to arriving in Kathmandu, Natasha and Ben trekked back to the mountain village of Phakding, still celebrating their race. The next day, they trekked back to Lukla, the home of the airstrip that flies trekkers and mountaineers in and out of the shadow of Mount Everest for their return flight to Kathmandu. Nepal has one of the highest plane crash rates in the world, so they were relieved to complete their return flight on the small, local airplane. We will continue to follow the remainder of their journey, and we will look back at what this journey has taught them and what they are teaching the rest of our fitness family.