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Lessons Learned from Hiking for Heroes on Pico De Orizaba

The months of hardcore training to prepare for this climb has reminded me of one fact…life is about the journey man! And, goals are destinations throughout the roadmapping of life.

Sometimes the path throws a curve ball at you that wasn’t expected, as was the case this year on Pico De Orizaba. The climbing team was thrown a curve in the form of altitude sickness. I knew from the first three steps I took on the climb that I was in trouble. Little did I know, the entire team was about to experience the same fate on Orizaba.

As I locked into the line on the way up I began to experience extreme headache, nausea and loss of balance. After about 400 feet up in the freezing temperature, snow and 40% incline it started to become clear to me that I was too sick to continue and it was not safe. I thought about my kids in that moment and the risk began to outweigh the satisfaction of the summit. It’s a hard thing for an athlete to accept, but it’s the right decision in that situation. It sucks not to summit, but the real goal of raising the money for Sacred Mountain Retreat Center and the wounded veterans and first responders will be met, so that is what matters the most.

As it currently stands, our sponsors have contributed $20,000. Many thanks go out to Daniel & Henry, Faux Pas Prints, Business Finance Depot, and Diet Trax for their generous contributions, as well as each of the personal donations through the gofundme that is still ongoing. Thus far, $26,874 has been raised before the corporate match. Please consider donating before the year end to this worthy cause enabling us to go beyond our goal of $55,473 to benefit Sacred Mountain. Click here to make a contribution.

Even though we did not make the summit, we came back in one piece and with another valuable lesson in life and a story to tell. The lesson we learned, as I reflect back, was this. You should always make sure that you are 100% prepared for anything that can stand in your way making decisions based on all available, current, relevant and accurate data. Don’t miss anything that should be obvious, such as the up to the moment calculation of altitude, acclimatization and fluctuations of oxygen pressure in the atmosphere. We incorrectly assumed that since the climb was shorter than previous ones we have done less acclimatization would be necessary. As you go up oxygen pressure decreases, and it can decrease at a faster rate than might be expected. The lower the oxygen pressure, the harder it is for your body to function. “Oxygenation of tissues is one of the essential processes in the human body. Without proper oxygenation of tissues, metabolic processes cannot function efficiently, and cellular functions falter.” (1)

The bottom line is this. In life, planning is everything!

Dwight D. Eisenhower said it best…“Plans are nothing; planning is everything." 

That said, you should always be planning until you know that you have the right plan with no stone unturned, and then you have to take the action. A great plan that is never deployed is nothing more than a pipe dream! There is nothing gained and there is no lesson to be learned without the actual venture being made.

We did deploy the climb and we learned the hard way that our plan was flawed. The importance of proper planning in business, and in life cannot be understated!

The Orizaba saga makes me think of a quote from the lyrics of a country music song. “Failure isn’t failure if a lesson from it’s learned” That of course is the wisdom from Garth Brooks, in his song “How You Ever Gonna Know”.

Out of the failure to summit, though, an idea came to me the next night at the hotel in Mexico City. As I tossed and turned in a cold sweat coming down from the altitude sickness, while I pondered a path forward, it became clear to me that we can do even more for our veterans, and deliver better fitness results for our customers simultaneously as we raise funds each year for Sacred Mountain. We can go way beyond what we have accomplished with the Hiking for Heroes initiative. Moving forward we should look for a way to involve the entire franchise, not just one team climbing. Our convention theme for 2024 will be “TEAMWORK”. Next year’s fundraiser needs to be a team effort with all stakeholders of the brand participating including customers, franchisees, studio staff, corporate staff and vendors alike to support the heroes who have sacrificed so much.

Next year we will devote the month of December to a new fundraising program that we will call Workouts for Heroes. While the details will need to be ironed out with careful planning, conceptually it will look something like this. In an effort to encourage our customers to power through the holiday season each year and keep them from losing any fitness gains as the new year approaches, they can join the company in an all out effort through Workouts for Heroes. With their own calories burned at the studio, they can help their home HOTWORX location burn off as many collective calories as possible while raising money to benefit our veterans in need. We will create a formula based on the combination of studio calories burned and dollars raised by each HOTWORX location and we will rank all locations based on their Workouts for Heroes results. Ultimately we will determine the studio with the MOST FITNESS and the BIGGEST HEART each holiday season!

Adversity is merely opportunity. Think it through!

As we move into a new year, never forget this. There is always a silver lining even up in the darkest of clouds 👊🔥

Here’s to 2024. Happy New Year everybody!!!

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Stephen P. Smith, MA
CEO and Creator of HOTWORX, Author, Former National Collegiate Bodybuilding Champion and Arena Football Player, Certified Professional Trainer


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