MOUNTAIN ECHOES: Finding motivation in yourself, and from others

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 11:32
  • Pete and Sue Panarese during a Sept. 1, 2015, through-hike of the 14-mile Lost Lake Trail on the Kenai Peninsula on the same day President Obama visited Seward. Photo by Frank E. Baker for the Star

I confess to being a motivation junkie. I get my fixes from spectacles

like the Olympics, Alaska mountain running events, the Alaska Mountaineering Club (MCA), friends, books and movies.

Admittedly, my primary aim is selfish. Motivation is infectious. The supreme determination that vaults some people to extraordinary heights inspires me to pursue my own goals, however modest by comparison.

I often wonder where human motivation and drive come from. Is it nature — a built-in genetic asset? Or is it nurture, something cultivated in our environment over time? I suspect it’s probably a combination of both.

Wherever it comes from, I believe motivation is one of the most powerful forces in the known universe.

It’s certainly the key to unlocking human potential.

Prime mover

Doggedly determined scientists discovered DNA and mapped the human genome, but supreme will and determination kept them focused on their objectives. And while rocket fuel propelled us into space, motivation provided the initial thrust.

Throughout human history, from pyramid construction in Egypt to the fruits of the Renaissance to the Wright Brothers’ first powered airplane flight, human motivation has been the constant prime mover.

People with critical injuries or debilitating diseases sometimes win against overwhelming odds, and doctors often attribute patients’ recovery not simply to medical treatment, but also to their sheer will.

Today, we have the incredible story of Syrian teenager Yusra Mardini, a swimmer in the 2016 Olympics, who fled her war-torn country and escaped to Europe; that included swimming three hours in the Mediterranean Sea and helping pull a boat to safety that held 18 refugees.

We have the jaw-dropping performance of the American gymnastics team, “The Final Five.” And then there is U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, 31, who made a comeback in this his fourth Olympics to win five gold medals and a silver.

Closer to home, Anchorage’s Tom Choate, a longstanding MCA member, successfully summited Denali in 2013 at age 78, just shy of his 79th birthday. It was his fifth Denali summit.

When we see this level of commitment to reach the apex of human achievement, whether it’s in Olympic athletes, mountaineers, ballet dancers, musicians, engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers and others, we can’t help but become energized.

This is the main reason I am a loyal fan of Mount Marathon runners in Seward on the 4th of July, when I climb to the top to watch hundreds of them give the mountain their best shot. I unashamedly become a mountain runner groupie, cheering everyone on.

Slow or fast, they’re all winners in my book.

This goes back some, but standing on Marathon’s wind-blown summit in 1981 and watching Bill Spencer on his way to setting a course record of 43 minutes, 23 seconds that would stand for 32 years, was a game-changer for me.

I think that moment in time, not my legs, has pulled me to the top nearly every year since then to watch the race.

As I said, it really rubs off. My first mentor was my father, who was a part-time gold prospector when we lived in Seward.

As a child I asked him how he was able to get up the rugged Kenai mountains.

He pointed to his legs and said: “40 percent here,” and then pointed to his head: “60 percent here.”

Motivation mentors

Today, with great hiking friends and a membership in the MCA, I am continuously exposed to people testing their limits, and it motivates me to push myself harder.

But young or old, Olympian athlete or weekend outdoor adventurer, we all must face limitations. And it might be harder for older folks such as myself to dig deep for motivation to get off the couch.

But in my experience, such efforts bring great rewards. A short walk soon becomes a longer walk. A walk might become a lengthy hike, or eventually, a strenuous climb.

Even closer to home, here in Eagle River, I’m inspired by my friends Pete Panarese and his wife Sue, who are in their 60s but remain very active in the outdoors.

I’m no spring chicken myself, but still getting out there. Some say I’m obsessed with physical fitness and venturing outdoors. It’s probably true.

But even in this age of sophisticated health care, it’s the best medicine I can find.

And I wouldn’t be doing it without the most important Rx of all: motivation, which I receive in regular doses from others.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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