Kevin Tatsugawa is an assistant professor at Westfield State University in Massachusetts and also a Brooks-Range Mountaineering product ambassador. A few months ago, he took off to Nepal for a trip that made him think about what the word “inspirational” really means.
This blog is about a trek to Nepal. Ang Tshering Lama (a Nepali guide and my friend) and I co-led eight of my students from Westfield State University on a 14-day trek to the Langtang area this past winter.
I am a university professor and springtime is also graduation time. I realize that the term “inspiration” is often used to describe awe-inspiring feats in the outdoor adventure world. But, sometimes I think that the overuse of this word leads to the perception that some sublime feats are mundane and cliché, rather than noteworthy and uplifting. How many truly inspirational feats can one person accomplish or experience in a lifetime?
In my humble opinion, most people lead productive, constructive lives in a tough, unforgiving world. My students embodied this every day in the Himalayas – as tough and unforgiving an environment as one will experience. But, sometimes people can rise above their circumstances to reach levels they never thought possible – inspiring themselves and others along the way. Events and achievements unfolded in just such a manner in Nepal.
On our trip, no world records were set. No firsts ascents were achieved. No “last great lines” fell to our prowess as climbers. However, something deeper and more personal happened. Personal altitude records were set, since most of them had never been above 10,000 feet, and doubts and fears were overcome daily.
Did they suffer more than a world-class alpinist putting up a first ascent on an 8,000-meter peak? No. Did they face howling winds, horizontal snow, and freezing temperatures? Aside from one blustery day, no. Still many of them struggled with the high altitude, exhaustion, illness, minor injuries, and uncertainties.
They all managed to overcome these personal hardships with positive attitudes and few complaints. And at the end of each day, they managed to leave a positive impression on me and filled me with hope that they could meet the next day’s challenges in the mountains.
Thus, in a few days when I watch the same students that I led in Nepal accept their diplomas, I will be filled with hope, not inspiration, with each step that they take across that stage. Hope for their future and the future. Hope that they will fulfill the potential that I saw in all of them as they toiled up that mountain.
I find my students inspirational when I reflect upon all of the challenges they overcame to make it to that graduation stage – much the same as when I climbed the mountains in Nepal with them a few months ago. And like school, although each step they took up the mountain was probably not inspirational, the trip was exciting and breathtaking.
Play safe out there!