September 2003Hitting the Wall: Realizing that Vertical Limits Aren't by Jim Collins Chapter 1 and Epilogue from the book UPWARD BOUND: Nine Original Accounts of How Business Leaders Reached Their Summits Edited by Michael Useem, Jerry Useem and Paul AselIn 1999, Nick Sagar reached the end of his rope. He had a dream: to climb The Crew, a route at the upper end of the rock climbing difficulty scale in Rifle State Park, Colorado. In his 20s, Sagar had given his life over to the monomaniacal dedication required to climb 5.14 routes (the highest rating possible), living off a few dollars of sponsorship money with his wife Heather, munching donated energy bars and living out of a truck parked at the crags for months at a time. Then Sagar saw the dream crumble before his eyes. During a rest day while preparing for his next attempt, he got the bad news: his sponsorship from a climbing gear company—money desperately needed to survive while working on the route—failed to come through. Out of money, he had no choice but to abandon his quest for The Crew and head home, seeking work. Sagar knew that he would likely never again be fit enough to ascend the route; never again would he have an entire year to do nothing but live in Rifle Park and train all day every day, like an Olympic decathlete in the year before the games. The loss of sponsorship virtually guaranteed that he would never reach his goal. Sagar removed the gear he’d fixed on the route months earlier. Tears streaming down his face, he packed up his equipment and walked back to camp. He and Heather said goodbye to their friends and drove toward the exit, defeated. But then, a lone figure stepped into the middle of the road, holding something in his hand. “That’s Herman,” said Nick, “What the heck is he doing?” Herman Gollner, a dedicated climber in his mid-fifties, had watched Sagar’s quest with quiet admiration. When he heard about Sagar’s situation, he drove back to his home in Aspen, visited his bank, and made a withdrawal. Now, here stood Herman, with a handful of cash, flagging down Sagar’s truck. “Here, take this,” he said, thrusting the cash at Nick. “You must finish The Crew.” “No . . . I couldn’t possibly . . . no,” Nick stammered. “You must take it,” asserted Herman, in his Austrian accent. “You are so close. You may never have a chance again. I am older now—never again to climb at the top—but you . . . maybe I can help you. Please, take it.”
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