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Mountain climbing helps a CTO reach new career heights

Embracing an outside passion can enhance your work and save your life.

By Armando Escalante
May 11, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - You've achieved success in IT and worked your way up in the organization. People are recognizing your work, and you are preparing to continue a great career. There's only one problem, one that you may not even recognize. It has quietly taken a back seat for many years and could sneak up on you and completely halt your success. It's your health.

Three years ago, like many IT professionals, I lived a sedentary lifestyle, putting my emphasis on work and family and none of it on my health. A good friend who was significantly overweight was my wake-up call. He was stopped in his tracks by a serious illness, and it took him several months to recover. I looked at him, realized I was heading down a similar road and resolved to make a change for the better.

I started by dramatically improving my eating habits, losing 60 pounds in 2006. At the suggestion of my eldest (health nut) daughter, I went to the Web site and started a free account. I used my cell phone and PDA to access the site and log everything I ate and drank each day. I had to be very honest with myself and quickly realized I was consuming more than 5,000 calories in a day, several days of the week! I initially reduced my intake to 2,500 calories each day.

Not only did I have to eat less, but I had to be more selective in my diet, avoiding sugars, refined flour and candy. I also reduced my red meat and alcohol consumption and surprisingly became a fan of oatmeal. It was fun watching my weight go down using the online tool, and over time my waist size dropped from 42 inches to 36.

Following the weight loss, I realized I needed to add exercise in order to build muscle and increase my energy. Having never enjoyed or participated in any sports or outdoor activities in my life, I was not excited about this new habit. But I started with Bikram yoga and cardio kickboxing and found I had more energy than ever. Then I took it to another level and fell in love with the extreme sport of mountaineering.

Wait a minute: From couch potato to mountain-climber? How did that happen?

Well, I have to admit, it started on my couch. I was mesmerized one Saturday afternoon watching Everest: Beyond the Limit on the Discovery Channel, mistakenly thinking, "That doesn't look so hard."

I signed up for a climbing program, and my wife and I climbed Pikes Peak in Colorado (14,000 feet) together. My next challenge was Pequeño Alpamayo and Sajama in Bolivia (nearly 19,000 feet). And I am proud to have just returned from climbing Mount Aconcagua (22,830 feet), one of the Seven Summits on the border of Argentina and Chile.

It requires tremendous energy and strength to put one foot in front of the other until you reach the summit. And that's only half the battle, since you must eventually come back down! But I really consider mountain climbing more mental than muscle -- about 60/40.

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