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Remembering "Sir Ed"

02/04/08 5:55PM By Brian Porto
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(HOST) Commentator Brian Porto is an attorney, a free lance writer and a lifelong sports fan, who admired the late Sir Edmund Hillary for more than his conquest of Everest.

(PORTO) Athletes are most inspiring when they demonstrate courage, that is, bravery and determination in the face of daunting physical and psychological challenges. Judged by this standard, no athlete was more inspiring than Sir Edmund Hillary, the mountaineer and adventurer who died in January at age 88. His death reminded me not only of the close connection between courage and sport, but also that the athletes most deserving of praise are those who continue to earn our respect long after their athletic exploits have ended.

Edmund Hillary earned the world's respect on May 29, 1953, when he and Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa guide, became the first people to scale the 29,035-foot summit of Nepal's Mt. Everest, the tallest peak on earth. Hillary succeeded where others before him had failed, enduring a howling gale and a temperature of 30 degrees below zero the night before the final ascent and equally formidable challenges during that ascent. Halfway to the summit, Hillary later wrote in his memoirs, he encountered soft snow and - quote - "[s]uddenly, with a dull breaking noise, an area of crust all around me about six feet in diameter broke off." He slid backward 20-30 feet before regaining a hold. Hillary later recalled, "I could look down 10,000 feet between my legs."

Farther up the mountain, Hillary and Norgay had to negotiate a sheer face of rock and ice 40 feet high. Finding a vertical crack, they managed to climb it by bracing their feet against one side and their backs against the other. After that ordeal, they climbed the last few yards to the summit with relative ease.

Reflecting on his extraordinary achievement, Hillary said, "I am a lucky man. I have had a dream and it has come true, and that is not a thing that happens often to men." Hillary knew better than most people, though, that dreams don't just "come true"; we have to make them come true, and he had the courage and perseverance to make dreams come true throughout his life. As a result of those qualities, he became the first person to reach both poles and the summit of Everest.

But Edmund Hillary's life was as memorable for its service to others as for its athletic feats. His foundation raised millions of dollars for and built schools, clinics, hospitals, airfields, footbridges, and water pipelines for Sherpa villages in Nepal. Hillary also served for many years as the president of New Zealand's Peace Corps. Put simply, Edmund Hillary drank deeply from the well of life while always remembering to replenish it. That example is surely as important to his legacy as the scaling of Everest.
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