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When it came time for author and renowned explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes to pick teams to travel along with him on his globe-trotting adventures, he zeroed in on a key quality during the selection process: motivation.
Fiennes, who spoke to a crowd of about 675 on Jan. 22 at Cal Poly Pomona’s Bronco Student Center, said he chose his team based on what motivated them to want to become explorers rather than their qualifications.
“How you are motivated is the sum total of everything that happened to you when you were little and how you reacted to it,” he said.
With self-deprecating humor, Fiennes recounted his childhood in South Africa and Great Britain, his struggles in school, and his early penchant for stegophily, which is the sport of climbing buildings or other manmade structures.
“I was born with an edifice complex,” he said.
He shared stories about his military experiences, specifically the time he served in a special unit that helped train and fight with the Sultan of Oman’s forces in the 1960s.
“It was probably out there that I began to get a taste of travel in very rare parts of the world,” he said.
Fiennes married his late wife of 38 years, Jenny, in 1968, and the couple went on an expedition to search for the lost city of Ubar in Oman, which his team later found in 1992. The couple sailed down the Nile River in another adventure.
In the 1970s, Fiennes and his team began to seek sponsorships for their record-seeking excursions. His late wife came up with the idea to do the first journey around the earth vertically, 52,000 miles past both the North and South poles.
“She suggested it at breakfast. She sent me to the library to discover the best route,” he said. “I went home and I told my wife it was a stupid idea. She became quite unpleasant, so I therefore went back to the library.”
The team did a complete crossing of Antarctica, and Fiennes returned there in the 1990s to do another crossing, the second time without a supply plane, he said.
The second trip was so intense that Fiennes said he went from about 217 pounds at the start to 126 when the excursion ended.
“Even Weight Watchers would not recommend it,” he said.
The tips of the fingers on his left hand were amputated because of frostbite.
Fiennes, who has completed 22 major expeditions to remotes part of the world, has received several awards, including the Sultan of Oman’s Bravery Medal in 1970, the Explorers Club of New York Medal in 1983, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Livingstone Gold Medal in 1983, and the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal in 1984. Both he and his late wife received the Polar Medal in 1987.
He uses his explorations to raise money for charities, which earned him the Order of the British Empire distinction for “human endeavor and charitable services” in 1993. Fiennes, who also has written 22 books, has raised about £16 million for charities in the United Kingdom.
He suffered a massive heart attack in 2003, which required a double-bypass operation. Less than four months later, he ran seven marathons in as many days and on as many continents.
In 2005, he raised £2 million for the British Heart Foundation’s new research MRI scanner by making an ascent to within 300 meters of the Mount Everest summit ridge. His 2007 climb up the North Face of Eiger raised £1.8 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Delivering Choice Programme.
His climb to the summit of Everest in 2009 generated nearly £3 million for the Marie Curie Cancer Center.
Fiennes said being a record-breaking explorer takes grit and a willingness to learn.
“You need luck. You have to be very determined,” he said. “You need to say this expedition is what I am going to do. I am going to read why various other people failed, if you are going for a record, and learn from their failure. If you try once and fail, then learn from your own failure.”