On not giving up

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 Permalink

Back in the days I cared about sport I’d stay up half the night watching the French Open, US Open and Wimbledon tennis tournaments. Every time a player was two sets down and in the midst of a third set tie-break, commentators would note that ‘coming back to win from 2 sets down’ was rare in this sort of tournament…

I used to wonder if that player – who was so close to losing – ever felt like giving up. After all, they’d probably been playing for a couple of hours. Actually WINNING now would take another couple of hours and almost faultless games. Surely it’d be easier to just ‘inadvertently’ lose the third set tie-break. I’m sure that’s what I’d do. Draw a line under that attempt and start from scratch next time.

I pondered on this again last Friday (at a fundraising lunch) listening to Michael Groom’s very inspirational story.

Now because I’m *somewhat* self-absorbed and live in my own little bubble, I’d never heard of Michael Groom before last week but I left that room in awe of his ‘will’. Of his determination.

238_GROOM Michael2

Queenslander Michael was introduced to rock climbing at a young age by his father. He spoke of standing at the base of Queensland’s Mt Barney in awe of its majesty… all 1300m of it. His father told him of Everest, a another mountain, eight times as high. Although impossible to imagine as a child, it led to a lifetime fascination with (and passion for) mountain climbing.

Michael was one of 22 climbers selected to climb Mt Everest as part of Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations in 1988. It was to be a dream come true. Had fate not intervened.

Training for the Everest climb Michael attempted several climbs of Mt Kanchenjunga (3rd highest mountain of the world). It took several attempts. At one point he was 20m from the summit, but turned around. He trusted his gut instinct he said – something he learned at a young age. He knew the dangers he faced.

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Michael was the first Australian to climb Kangchenjunga in 1987. He and his climbing partner were on the ‘downhill stretch’ when they became trapped by bad weather. Michael thought he wouldn’t make it off the mountain alive. He spoke about -30C temperatures, suffering blindness and being completely exposed to mother nature. After literally crawling back to base camp both men were hospitalised with frostbite and when back in Oz Michael lost the tops of both feet.

Understandably he fell into a heap. He was dropped from the Everest climb and everything he’d worked for was gone. He couldn’t walk, let alone climb. For a while Michael gave up. He became addicted to painkillers and wallowed. But he soon rediscovered his incredible drive and determination and within three years was again climbing the world’s highest mountains.

His lesson he said was that he (we) take so many things for granted; we always assume there will be a ‘tomorrow’.

not giving up

It wasn’t all smooth sailing climbing. On one of Michael’s first climbs after his return, he was swept nearly 1km down a mountain in an avalanche. Out of breath and buried under metres and metres of snow he knew he had one chance to decide which way was ‘up’ and dig himself out.

Obviously he succeeded, and unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before he finally faced Everest.

It was 1993 and deciding he wanted to face everything Everest threw at him Michael attempted the climb from the final camp to the summit without oxygen. (Which I gather is uncommon and extremely difficult.)

He could only make it 10 steps at a time before stopping. He was alone and his climbing partners behind him when he said he decided to give up. He couldn’t go any further. Setting off on the descent he stopped and thought about what he was doing. He knew he’d live with regret. So he turned around. He retraced his laboured steps. And made it to the summit.


I was reminded of the ‘journey vs destination’ debate during Michael’s presentation. He talked of a sense of anticlimax when reaching a summit. After all, he said, he was only halfway there and yet had to face the descent.

Atop Everest Michael said he gave himself 20 minutes to enjoy his success before starting the homeward journey. Sadly he was the only one of his team to reach the summit on that climb and lost a team member (and friend).

Michael showed us pictures. What seemed to be a little climb of a few hundred metres was actually a three-day climb up a 70 degree incline. What appeared to be a tiny crevice was in fact a large chasm that needed several aluminium ladders ‘tied’ together to cross it (I shit you not – the visual of ladders tied together scared the bejesus out of me!).

I tend to be a quitter. If something is too hard or if I think I’ll fail (or not succeed or lose), I’ll give up. Thankfully however, my choices are rarely life and death decisions.

As a slacker it was therefore confronting to hear of Michael’s sacrifice and determination. But – fortunately – it was also unbelievably inspiring.

Do you get inspired by the stories of others? Do they sometimes make you feel guilty for being an under-achiever?

By the way:

  • This post isn’t sponsored.
  • All pics are from Michael’s website.
  • Interestingly – though it wasn’t mentioned at the lunch (unless I missed it) – Michael has a book out called Sheer Will, which seems ridiculously apt!
  • I apologise if I didn’t get the story 100% correct. I wasn’t prepared to be so inspired so scribbled notes on a pamphlet until I ran out of space!
  • Char
    June 17, 2014

    To be totally honest I don’t get why anyone would do something so dangerous. I don’t actually see it as inspiring but as foolhardy because the risks are so great and for what gain? I do however get inspired by people who are tested by things out of their control – like weather disasters and wars – and who rise to the occasion when others give in.

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      I think Michael pretty much did that. Kept going when others quit.

      I can’t understand the passion for climbing, though I’m the same re car racing, parachuting, yacht racing (and even endurance running and triathlons!). But, I guess it’s interesting that some feel so passionate about it they keep going back for more!

  • Vanessa
    June 17, 2014

    I’m struggling with that right now, though on a much smaller scale!! Right now I feel like giving up on something. But that will only make it worse, not better.

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      Yes, I liked that Michael seemed to know his own ‘heart’ or ‘will’ well. He followed his intuition – walked away when he sensed danger but… turned around and kept going when he felt he should.

      I sometimes justify ‘giving up’ with some logical excuse, but really, it’s just that – an excuse. NOT a legitimate reason.

      On the other hand sometimes I question my decisions endlessly and the motivation behind them: Am I making this choice for the right reasons? Is it smart or is it a cop out?


  • Lee-Anne
    June 17, 2014

    People like Michael impress me hugely and I wonder where and how they acquire such relentless energy and drive to excel. He’s defs not average!

    But as a big coward myself, with a terrible fear of heights, I’m not inspired to follow suit, although on an intellectual and metaphoric level, I understand the importance of not quitting. (Whether I act on it, is another thing entirely) 🙂

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      I wouldn’t be following suit either. Apparently each expedition costs each climber about $90k (I think!).

  • @Kanga_Rue
    June 17, 2014

    I *love* rock climbing & have missed it loads since study & then Pickle took priority. But I’ve never got the cold factor. Climbing on a rock face in sunshine would definitely be my preference.

    Contrary to popular belief, rope climbing is a good challenge for those with a fear of heights. I loathe the sensation of falling, but on a rope you only drop inches. Free climbing indoors meant falls were onto padding & I increased my tolerance greatly.

    Conquering Everest is difficult conceptually for me. A friend’s brother who was an extremely confident & experienced climber was camped at the stop before the final climb & was killed by an avalanche. He was in his late 20s or early 30s I believe. I personally don’t see the appeal, but understand the desire to test personal limits. I can think of more fun ways (for me) though.

    Cheers, Rue x

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      I suspect it’s one of those things that’s in your blood or not. To get so close and then ‘not succeed’ but find the motivation to go back must take incredible will!

  • Chantel
    June 17, 2014

    Everest has always been romanticised for me – got to trek to base camp a few years ago, which was amazing, but I had no desire to be one who went further with it – I think you have to have a pretty big fire in your belly and understand that your life could end. I personally would not want to do that, but am in awe of those that do.

    Hello from #teamIBOT

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      In my scribbled notes (on a small pamphlet) I also have a note that it took 26 days to just get to the bottom of one of the mountains Micheal discussed (then another 6 weeks after that for the climb). Bloody unbelievable!

  • Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me
    June 17, 2014

    Wow what an adventure! To me this is the ultimate, going back for a second time, he must be a very driven person, thanks for sharing his story, I’ve never heard of it.

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      His presentation ended with his Everest achievement, but I noted on his website Michael didn’t stop after that!

  • Jo Tracey
    June 17, 2014

    Oh I admire drive like that… I don’t get ho they do it- ‘cos I don’t understand it…but then again, I also do get it. And yes, there’s a perverse sort of sense to that.

    • Debbish
      June 17, 2014

      Yes, to keep trying UNTIL you succeed is sometimes more complex (and life-threatening) than others!

  • Kathy
    June 18, 2014

    I heard Michael speak several years ago and he was inspirational for sure. I think adversity does make us stronger, so we do things that we wouldn’t think, in the calm light of day, that we would do. So you might think yourself a quitter but you may need to be really tested first.

    • Debbish
      June 18, 2014

      Oh, I like to think that might be the case Kathy! Thanks for that perspective!


  • EssentiallyJess
    June 18, 2014

    Wow that’s amazing. I like the idea of climbing little mountains, but the idea of that kind of air and pressure is just too much.
    What an amazing person though to just keep going. So inspirational.

  • Lisa@RandomActsOfZen
    June 19, 2014

    This is why I love hearing about how people have over come stuff, it just inspires me to get out and have a go! Thanks for this Deb.

  • Bec @ The Plumbette
    June 19, 2014

    I haven’t heard this story either, but I love it and I do get inspired by it. I love the no quit attitude, and even if he did die, he was doing something that he wanted to do. I’m not a mountain climber or an adventure seeker but I am impressed by people who are.

    • Debbish
      June 20, 2014

      I think Michael’s story translates well into any situation. Knowing your limits and respecting danger, but still pushing yourself. A great lesson for me!

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