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Phoenix Forward magazine

MBA grad conquers Mount Everest, inspires others

Brian Dickinson

Brian Dickinson is proof that it’s possible to reach great heights in many areas of life.

An avid mountain climber, endurance athlete and outdoor survival expert, Dickinson, who earned his MBA degree from University of Phoenix in 2003, is on a mission to climb the highest peak on each of the world’s seven continents.

So far, he’s made good on six peaks, blending those feats with the responsibilities of his job as a systems engineer for tech employer Cisco Systems, his family and church life, media appearances and being involved in numerous charities.

Dickinson has been on his seven-peaks mission for about five years. By early 2011, he already had taken on three peaks — Denali (also known as Mount McKinley, in North America), Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Mount Elbrus (Europe), successfully summiting the latter two.

He subsequently has ascended Aconcagua in South America, where he reached the summit solo, as well as Vinson Massif in Antarctica and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, which he climbed with his family this past February. He also made an unsuccessful second attempt to summit Denali but abandoned the climb because of injuries to his feet.

Perhaps Dickinson’s most impressive — and dramatic — accomplishment was his solo summit of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, in Asia’s Himalayas, “the biggest challenge I’ve faced,” he says. “I soloed the summit when my Sherpa became ill” and had to return to the base camp.

“I [summited the] 29,035 feet and on the way back down, went completely snow-blind” in a blizzard, he explains. What should have taken him three hours to get down to high camp on the mountain took seven.

The blinding blizzard wasn’t Dickinson’s only challenge.

Perhaps Dickinson’s most impressive — and dramatic — accomplishment was his solo summit of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.

“I took a big fall at one point, but my fixed [rope] saved me,” he says. “Then I ran out of [supplemental] oxygen at 27,500 feet. I never gave up focus or faith, which eventually [got] me down to high camp.” He notes that his vision didn’t fully return for almost a month.

He recounts these harrowing events in his book, "Blind Descent,” and explains how he survived the ordeal by drawing on his religious faith and his training as a U.S. Navy air rescue swimmer.

He’s also taken his story on the road as a motivational speaker at companies, schools and churches. His account has appeared in Guideposts magazine and other faith-oriented publications, and his television appearances include “The 700 Club” and the Weather Channel’s “Freaks of Nature.”

But his mountain adventures are not all that motivate Dickinson. Charitable causes also are important, he says, explaining that he and his wife and two kids visit orphanages and children’s hospitals around the world, where they spend time with the children and give out toys.

In addition, last year, he launched 7SAR — 7 Summits Adventure Race — in the Pacific Northwest, an annual race for charity that blends his passion for high-mountain adventure sports with fundraising.

“It’s a 7-mile obstacle course … where each mile is transformed into a different continent,” he explains. “It emulates my seven summits experience so that others can explore the world in a day.”

So far, 7SAR has raised more than $5,000 for organizations such as Disabled American Veterans, One Day’s Wages and Children’s Cancer Research Fund, according to Dickinson.

And now with only Denali’s summit eluding him — his “nemesis,” Dickinson jokes — he may try it for the third time next year. “I’ll need to complete Denali at some point,” he acknowledges. “But I’m not in any hurry. The mountain will always be there.”

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