Senior Editor
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How does the saying go? We’re only as good as our worst? With all the carnage in the world today, it can sometimes feel like we, us, humanity, aren’t in a great place. But that’s not true. The truth is that there’s always good. And there’s so much good in the world of outdoor sports. This is the type of stuff I love writing about. People who, whether they know it or not, make the Earth an improved place to be and make us all want to be better. Last year around this time, days from the New Year, I was lucky enough to sit in this spot and pick the most impactful athletes of 2016. This time, it was a no-brainer to go with the most inspirational stories of 2017. Simply because the world can sometimes seem so damn contentious. Don’t believe the hyperbole. Excuse the lazy prose, but we’re all in this thing together. So take a second to raise a glass and celebrate these inspirational humans with me during the season of reflection, and know that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

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Andrew Harris Becomes First Person With Down Syndrome to Scale the Grand Teton

Whenever anyone leaves convention on the shelf, I’m in. When Andrew Harris (also known lovingly as Bob, above) became the first person with Down Syndrome to climb Wyoming’s burliest peak, he took a giant leap for persons with disabilities. “It’s amazing for any person let alone someone with DS,” Michelle Ray, the director of the National Inclusive Health and Sports Programs with the National Down Syndrome Society told us. “I believe what Bob did just shows that people with DS are capable of doing anything anyone else is capable of doing.” It could have been any peak, really, Mt. Rainier, Denali, Everest. It was simply the fact that ‘Bob,” didn’t give a damn, he just wanted to pull the climb off for himself and his family. And in the process, he definitely inspired.

 

Priest Kayaks Flooded Houston Streets to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

With the biblical rains that flooded the Texas streets this year, I kinda feel like this goodie was brushed under the rug. I’m not religious. But there’s some truth in all religions. And Father David Bergeron, a Catholic priest brought his truth to the people of Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey, paddling his kayak through the watery streets giving mass and offering assistance to anyone and everyone he encountered. “Doing little things with great love,” he said, “that makes [all] the difference in the world.” Hard not to find truth in that.

 

Alex Honnold Free Solos El Capitan

Athletes doing athletic things outside don’t often inspire on their own. But the world was enthralled by Alex Honnold’s gear-less ascent of El Capitan this summer. Yes, the “free” and “solo” part of it all was probably what garnered most of the world’s attention. But what got me was his understated approach. He didn’t really announce to the world he was going to do it, didn’t crowdfund it, he simply scaled a rock face he’d been studying for years: a world-famous climber acting like a complete dirtbag. Which is entirely endearing. “Climbing in a lot of ways is kind of contrived,” Honnold says in the brilliant cartoon, above. “The really inspiring objectives in climbing are the ones that feel the least contrived. Certain obstacles just cry out to be overcome.”

Zander Venezia Photo: Asher Noland

Even in Death, Zander Venezia Inspired

Early this fall, I found myself reporting a story that caught the surfing world entirely off guard: 16-year-old Zander Venezia, a beautiful son of Barbados and a gifted rider of waves was killed surfing at “Box by Box,” a rocky setup just north of Soup Bowls on the Caribbean island’s eastern coast during a hurricane swell. It was an entirely random accident. But I was struck by how the island mourned its lost son with such authenticity, and the incredible influence he had there at such a young age. He helped out annually at a surf camp for disabled kids and was always the last to leave, was appreciative of surf officials at competitions, and even though he was a budding star, draped himself in humility. “Zander was starting to make a name for himself and was really driven but he wasn’t a bad sport,” says Hurley’s Asher Nolan. “He had fun and was never pissed off. You see some kids so competitive, and you kind of have to be that way to be a superstar, but Zander was way more cruisy.” Put simply, Zander made the people around him better. The island continues to honor his legacy with the #LiveLikeZander movement.

 

Martina and Tania Halik     Photo: Coast Mountain Epic

Mother/Daughter Team Skis 1,400 Miles from Squamish B.C. to Skagway, AK

Now this is a story that really didn’t get enough attention. This insane ski traverse runs along the coast mountains from Squamish (near Whistler) to Skagway and the mother/daughter team of Tania and Martina Halik became only the second group to finish it. The route took the duo six months to complete, unassisted, and was essentially like doing 50 marathons in a row on skis. And Martina, who escaped Russian-ruled Czechoslovakia before Tania was born, is 61. They crossed rushing rivers that forced hypothermia and endured days alone in the wilderness. One Canadian pub called the adventure “the most ambitious ski traverse ever.” But these women made it look easy.


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