From Where I Sit – Challenge Yourself

For nearly nine years, I’ve sat as a Director on my Credit Union board. It’s been both a challenge and a commitment. Most importantly, it’s been a wonderful learning opportunity. Perhaps the best part of the whole experience was exposure to some of North America’s best speakers at the Credit Union provincial conference and annual general meeting. The 2006 speakers were no exception.

Conference delegates are largely male in gender and baby boomer plus in age. Yet, I believe virtually all were alternately mesmerized and horrified by the presentation done by Yvonne Camus. Yvonne was the female member of Canada’s rookie team that competed in the Eco-Challenge in Borneo in 2000. The Eco-Challenge is a 12-day, 24-hour non-stop race created by Mark Burnett of Survivor fame. Unlike the reality show pitting individuals against each other for a large prize, the Eco-Challenge actually rewards those four people who are best able to work as a team to complete the race.

Participants faced temperatures of 42 degrees Centigrade, 90% humidity, rats the size of dogs, ants the size of a thumb, bugs the size of a hand, leeches, hundreds of types of snakes, and 12 hours of total darkness each night on the jungle floor. Mountain biking, rowing, rappelling down 600-foot sheer cliffs, going into a cave with millions of bats, swimming, portaging a 500-pound boat were just some of the physical tests required of them. In 2000, only 30 of the 78 teams from 54 countries completed the race. The ones that didn’t were defeated by the tiny details, like sand in their shoes that led to blisters and swollen feet. The winners knew that feet would swell and they moved into progressively larger shoes as the race wore on. The winners also had access to boxes of supplies. The rookie Canadians had to cut the toes off their shoes, as they suffered dearly due to a lack of information. Yvonne broke her wrist early in the race and yet, with the help of her team, was able to carry on. In fact, these upstart Canucks were the first-ever rookie team to finish the race. Time required for them to complete the race was 9 days and 22 hours.

Yvonne’s message during her speech to Credit Union members was one of teamwork. As a business consultant and speaker, she knows those jungle lessons can translate into lessons for every corporation, every boardroom, and every family. In reality, she didn’t say anything we all haven’t already heard a dozen times. But she said it with passion, enthusiasm, credibility and graphic video footage. None of us will soon forget the pictures of leeches, blisters, open wounds and exhaustion.

Key messages for me include the following. Know that enthusiasm is a renewable resource. Evaluate your environment of success and try to repeat it for moments of brilliance. Surround yourself with those who lift you up, not drag you down. Make course corrections early. Plan to be excellent. Accept that things go wrong. Know that pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, and misery is finite. Brilliant, from where I sit.

Editor’s note: Regrettably, Mark Burnett has cancelled Eco-Challenge to focus on his more lucrative reality shows, but a number of other adventure races are still taking place each year. One such race is our own Canadian Death Race, which this year will feature a team of five Alberta women and one fellow Athabasca University student. These participants are racing to raise money for a local women’s shelter. See information in this week’s Voice, and follow the women’s story over the coming weeks, as the August race approaches.