Hitting the Wall: Realizing that Vertical Limits Aren't
by Jim Collins
Chapter 1 and Epilogue from the book UPWARD BOUND: Nine Original Accounts of
Business Leaders Reached Their Summits
Edited by Michael Useem, Jerry Useem and Paul Asel
In 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.”