SPEECH TITLES AND/OR TOPICS
Change | Inspiration | Leadership | Motivation | Personal Development | Teamwork
The son of a Welsh army officer, Tom Whittaker worked as a rig diver in the North Atlantic and as a nightclub bouncer in Gibraltar. In 1976 he arrived in the U.S. having worked passage delivering a 65-foot yacht across the Atlantic. Pursuing his vision of becoming a world-class mountaineer, Tom Whittaker quickly established himself, taking on climbs such as a winter ascent of the North Face of the Matterhorn, Mt. McKinley, and the nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.
Then on Thanksgiving Day of 1979, shortly after completing a Master of Arts degree at Idaho State University in Pocatello, a vehicle driven by a drunk driver swerved into his lane, striking Tom's VW bus head on. With two shattered legs and one severed foot, Tom Whittaker refused pain medication in order to talk with the surgeon. His tenacity paid off: the original prognosis to amputate both legs was delayed. Instead, Tom Whittaker emerged from surgery with two severely damaged knees and the amputation of his right foot.
Having led a life of extreme adventure and outdoor pursuits, including a stint as an Outward Bound instructor, Tom Whittaker was faced with the seemingly impossible task of reinventing himself. Painfully and slowly put his life back together, earning another Masters degree and founding the Cooperative Wilderness Handicapped Outdoor Group (C.W. HOG). By harnessing the power of civic responsibility and volunteerism, he put the lessons he learned to work for others. In the process, Tom Whittaker became an American citizen in 1986.
On May 27, 1998, as the leader of his own expedition, Tom Whittaker climbed to the roof of the world by summiting Mt. Everest. He had not only overcome his innate fears and personal catastrophe, but had persisted against a tide of skepticism.
This was Tom Whittaker's third attempt. On his first expedition in 1989, he survived a storm in which five mountaineers perished. At 21,000 feet he abandoned all gear and supplies to get off the storm bound mountain. Though barely escaping with his life, Tom Whittaker's belief that he could climb the mountain was strengthened.
In 1995 he came within 1,500 feet of the summit before being beaten back. On returning to base camp, teammate Greg Child gave Tom a stone saying "I picked this up on the summit and I want you to put it back where I got it from." After overcoming a lung infection, and medical opposition, Tom's perseverance and determination paid off. He returned the stone, he redefined the possible, but more than anything his achievement stands as a beacon to all that aspire to take a dream and turn it into something great. This became one of the most ambitious and arguably successful mountaineering expeditions of all times. It created three "world firsts" and a prime time CBS documentary film, which won the 1998 Telly award for best adventure documentary. A Footprint on Everest was re-tooled for 48 Hours with Dan Rather, under the title Against All Odds.
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