On January 11 a great New Zealander passed away. Sir Edmund Hillary died at the age of 88 having never recovered from a fall he took in Nepal 8 months ago.
Ed lived up the road from me. (Only in New Zealand heroes/icons live “up the road”.)
I got to know him 10 years ago when we were writing our first book on Peak Performance. We talked to Ed for hours and got lots of private footage of him talking about his experiences, his attitude, his beliefs. We use these to this day as the core of our Peak Performance Inspirational Leadership Program. Ed wrote the foreword to the book.
He then helped us enormously when Toyota took a Rav 4 to Everest and we shot commercials and a documentary around that. Ed was the voice.
I asked him what were his first thoughts on summiting Everest. He told me, “Well, firstly I was buggered but then as I caught my breath and saw that other great mountain right next to me. I could see right there that there was a new way to the Summit. No one had ever climbed it that way but from Everest I could see my next challenge right there.”
That’s what Peak Performance is all about. Getting to the top and then finding the next challenge. On challenges, Ed told me that a challenge wasn’t a challenge if you actually thought you could achieve it. What was the point fooling yourself with challenges that were in reach. The only fun was to constantly go after something that seemed unattainable. A true 'Nothing is Impossible' spirit.
Ed conquered Everest in 1953 and was immediately knighted. I asked him what the impact of a knighthood was to “a pretty average New Zealander”. He said, “I use to walk around Papakura in my tattered overalls and the seat out of my pants. But that’s gone forever now. I’ll have to buy a new pair of overalls”.
Once over a bottle of wine and an early dinner, I asked Ed about all the debate about whether Mallory had indeed conquered Everest many years before. (There was great excitement when his old Kodak Brownie was finally discovered and everyone was looking for proof. As it turned out, the film was spoiled and there was no proof one way or the other.) Ed, in his typically laid back way, said to me “I’ve never thought it was getting to the top that counted. It’s getting back down that matters”.
A couple of years ago I was very honored to accompany Princess Anne on Air New Zealand Hercules on a special trip to Antarctica for three days to visit Shackleton’s huts and track his great adventure. I talked to Ed about this as, of course, he was also another Antarctica hero. He told me he was determined to make one last visit. He did in January 2007. Mission accomplished.
Ed was the greatest of New Zealanders.
Heaven will be a better place today.