Learn how goal-setting is helping him climb the world’s highest peaks.
At 59, former NFL player Mark Pattison is poised to become the oldest person to surmount the Seven Summits—the highest mountain peaks on each continent—not to mention the only NFL player to accomplish this ambitious goal. Mark has now climbed six of them. He’s scaled Kilimanjaro and Denali twice. He’d planned to tackle Mount Everest in March of 2020 but had to postpone the climb until mid-May of 2021 due to COVID.
Preparing for Everest
“I think where people meet success is where preparation meets opportunity,” says Mark. He’s scaled 45-degree ice walls stretching 1,100 feet up, had two avalanches on either side of him surging down the mountain, and fallen into a crevasse. But the biggest issue he’s encountered is fellow climbers who don’t fully show up to the challenge.
Too often, they just hit the Stairmaster and think they’re ready for a major climb.
“I train like an animal,” he says. He devotes himself to three or four hours a day of training, seven days a week.
Whatever you’re doing, it starts with caring for your body: limiting alcohol intake, eating the right foods, and, of course, training, he emphasizes.
Setting a goal that propels you forward
Everyone gets stuck at some point, but goal setting can help us get back into action, says Mark. Taking up mountain climbing helped him emerge from a place of feeling stuck and channel his energy in a positive direction. Setting the lofty goal of climbing the Seven Summits gave him the drive he needed, focusing his energy on taking the steps to make it happen.
“I wanted to do something athletic, and I wanted to do something that’s amazing and grand, something that’s way out there,” he says. “I’ve gotta have something that’s gonna keep propelling me all the way to the top.”
At the very top lies competitive greatness, and getting there is about loving the process and following your passion, he asserts. Just make sure you choose a goal that’s genuinely achievable and worthwhile. His greatest strength is never giving up when he’s facing challenges, but that’s also his greatest weakness, he notes.
Tools for goal-setting
In 2017, while stuck in the tent during a snowstorm on Denali, Mark came up with an acronym for getting unstuck called SUMMITS: Seed, Unleash, Move, Measure, Improve, Traverse, Summit.
He takes inspiration from UCLA head coach John Wooden’s pyramid of success: 25 individual and team goals that ultimately bring you to the pinnacle of success, he explains.
When the pandemic postponed his Everest climb, he had to reset to maintain momentum. “I decided to really double down at that time,” he says. He thought, If I’m going to keep doing this, I need to have an even higher and grander goal to keep my motivation and inspiration going. So, he decided to not only climb Mount Everest but to ascend the world’s fourth-highest mountain, Lhotse, directly after descending Everest. He would be the oldest person to accomplish that feat.
He also aims to climb the highest mountain in every U.S. state.
In 2019, he was climbing Vinson Massif in Antarctica with a man who wanted to climb the Seven Summits but didn’t train at the level he needed to. Mark tracked his journey on Everest with the help of the Garmond app and knew he was in trouble when he struggled for 18 hours to reach the top. He got there, raised his hand, and died at the summit. “It’s a tragic story of when you don’t go all-in. With Mount Everest, there are real consequences of not training the right way,” says Mark.
There are real consequences in other realms like business, too, he notes. It could be losing your job or letting people who depend on you down.
Being fully invested in your goal can take you anywhere you want to go, Mark says. “You can win that account, you can win that mountain, you can make an NFL team, you can sell that company—whatever you’re trying to do, you gotta be in it cause there’s gonna be tough times.” He knows he’ll be tired and low on energy during the mountain climbs at times, but having a truly inspiring goal will keep him going.
For Mark, going all-in meant moving to a place where he could acclimate to living at a high elevation. He left the Seattle area for Sun Valley, Idaho, where he now lives.
Infusing work with meaning
Connecting his work to a broader mission has also propelled Mark forward. He has merged his mountain climbing with a cause that’s near and dear to his heart. His daughter has epilepsy, and he started a campaign in Sun Valley called Amelia’s Everest that raised over $29,000, representing the height of Mount Everest, to help find cures for the condition. In 2020, he partnered with an organization called Higher Ground, which helps people with cognitive issues to experience outdoor activities, to raise $27,940, representing the height of Lhotse.
The Garmond app will allow people to track Mark’s journey up Everest when it comes time to make the climb. Visit MarkPattisonNFL.com to tune in to his journey in mid-May! He also has a podcast called Finding Your Summit, which explores stories of people doing extraordinary things.