Many of us dream big, but how many of us actually follow our dreams?
Often it takes just one single experience to change our outlook on life; that one tragic event, that one moment of euphoria, and you know nothing will ever be the same again. We talk to entrepreneur, philanthropist and adventurer Jeff Smith about that moment in his life, and how it inspired him to leave the world a better place than he found it.
“I’m London born and bred; my early years were spent playing professional ice hockey, initially for Streatham Redskins and later the Cardiff Devils. As a professional sportsman you have an inner strength, a desire to win, and a grit that can be hard to define. Whilst at the Cardiff Devils one of my teammates was Gary Cloonan, or ‘Moose’ as we knew him. He was a great friend and I can say with complete honesty that he was one of the kindest guys I’ve ever known. Our careers took us to different corners of the UK over the years, but we always stayed in touch.
I know we are all mortals, but I never expected to lose him so soon to cancer. His death made me very aware of mortality in a way that it never had before, causing me to vow that I would get the most out of every minute of my time on this planet. I have a new kind of hunger for success. This is not about winning games and championships, this about honouring my good friend and changing lives. My desire to create a legacy in Moose’s name led to the formation of Bigmoose, a non-profit organisation with a very clear intention: ‘Do fun stuff that inspires people to live better, healthier, kinder lives.’
Since its inception, Bigmoose have carried out many worthwhile projects, such as the Super Tri – a triathlon for disabled children, Pritchard’s 100k Challenge, and various initiatives to help the homeless. Bigmoose has also inspired me to push myself through some tough challenges, such as the Marathon Des Sables, a gruelling six-day, 251km ultramarathon.
Over the past 7 years I have successfully climbed the mountains of Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Denali, Mount Blanc and Manaslu. But there was one more mountain that I needed to conquer. Yes, I was 50, but I see age as a number and certainly not a barrier, so in April 2014, filled with excitement, my ingrained stubbornness and a healthy dose of fear, I set off to climb Mount Everest. I was devastated when my group was forced to abandon the climb after being caught up in the well-publicised deadly avalanche tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas.
There were many emotions whirling around after that trip: relief that we were safe, frustration that I got so close, and a nagging sense of defeat, that I had let Moose down in some way. Therefore it was no surprise when I announced that I was heading back to Everest this year – Everest at 53. There is an added determination this time, a new fire has been lit. It might be the sportsman in me, but I hope this climb will also inspire others to reach for bigger dreams and goals.
During my Everest at 53 journey I have visited numerous schools across the country and spoken to over 1,000 children, focusing on the idea of achieving your potential, never giving up, and following your dreams. One of the most rewarding moments was when one head teacher told me it was the ‘best presentation ever!’ It was so special to hear the children’s dreams, from becoming a vet, a singer, a painter and a footballer. I hope I have been able to encourage them to believe in themselves and never give up on those dreams.
The support that we have had for Bigmoose, and also my personal challenges, has been incredible; I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for being allowed to fulfil my lifelong ambitions whilst also giving back to those in need. In particular, pa black has been brilliant, especially in supporting Everest at 53.
As a company I feel pa black share the same values as myself, with clear aims to support their communities and help others in need. Most recently pa black and Peter Alan have helped with the Bigmoose ‘Grab Your Coat’ project, collecting donations of warm clothing and bedding for the homeless, and helping to distribute it across our local areas.”
What is next after Everest?
“I want to write a book. My daughter and I are running a marathon. We’re also planning a Bigmoose coffee shop in Cardiff, in a bid to help employ and train the local homeless.”
We get the sense that Jeff has many more challenges to conquer.
For more information on Bigmoose and how you can support Everest at 53, go to http://www.bigmoose.co/ or https://www.gofundme.com/jeffs-journey-to-inspire/donate
Follow Jeff on his journery up Everest on Twitter - https://twitter.com/everestat53