Colin O'Brady

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Colin O'Brady
Personal information
Birth nameColin Timothy O'Brady
Born (1985-03-16) March 16, 1985 (age 33)
Olympia, Washington, U.S.
ResidencePortland, Oregon, U.S.
Alma materYale University
OccupationPro Endurance Athlete
Years active2009–present
Spouse(s)Jenna Besaw
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata
SportMountaineer, triathletedely
Achievements and titles
Highest world ranking2x world record holder; Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree) and Seven Summits speed records
Updated on April 23, 2016.

Colin Timothy O'Brady (born March 16, 1985) is an American professional endurance athlete, motivational speaker and adventurer.

O'Brady is a three-time world record holder. In 2016 he set the Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree) and Seven Summits speed records.[1][2][3][4][5][6] He became the fastest person to complete the adventurers challenges in 139 days and 131 days respectively. In the summer of 2018, O'Brady set the speed record for the 50 US High Points in 21 days.

O'Brady is a former professional triathlete. He represented the United States on the ITU Triathlon World Cup circuit, racing in 25 countries on six continents from 2009–2015.[7][8]

In December 2018 O’Brady completed a crossing of parts of Antarctica (excluding the ice shelves of Filchner-Ronne and Ross), the first unaided and unsupported solo crossing of the land mass of Antarctica.[9][10] Multiple polar explorers and experts say that his crossing was neither unaided nor a complete geographical crossing. O’Brady followed the South Pole Traverse (a groomed and flagged ice highway) for over 300 miles, eliminating the unaided status,[11] making the expedition indirectly guided and artificially unsupported (see Colin O'Brady#Controversy).[12][13][14][15]

Early life[edit]

Colin Timothy O'Brady was born on March 16, 1985 in Olympia, Washington,[citation needed] but was raised in Portland, Oregon. He attended the Franciscan Montessori Earth School, Mt. Tabor Middle School, and graduated from Lincoln High School in 2002.[16]

O'Brady was a youth soccer star and Oregon State Swimming Champion.[17] He was recruited for both collegiate swimming and soccer in high school. He accepted a recruitment to swim for the Yale Bulldogs swimming and diving team where he competed on the NCAA Division I varsity team in the 100 and 200 meter Breaststroke.[18] He graduated from Yale University in 2006 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics.[17]

In 2007, O'Brady began what was planned as a year-long backpacking trip around the world. In January 2008, on the island of Koh Tao, he suffered a devastating burn injury. O'Brady participated in the local custom of fire jump-roping and was tripped by the burning kerosene-soaked rope. Although he instinctively ran into the ocean to extinguish the flames, he suffered second and third-degree burns to nearly 25% of his body, primarily damaging his legs and feet. 12 hours after the accident, he was transported by truck and boat to a hospital in Koh Samui. After a week and 8 surgeries he was transferred to a larger hospital in Bangkok. Though he was warned he might never walk normally, he took his first step the following month and was determined to make a full recovery.[19][20][21]

Professional triathlon career[edit]

O'Brady moved to Chicago where he took a job as a commodities trader following the accident. He learned how to walk again, and for a year focused on physical rehabilitation. He began to train for triathlon; swimming, cycling, and running.[citation needed]

In May 2009 he won a sprint-distance triathlon in Racine, Wisconsin and in August 2009 he placed 1st overall amateur in the Olympic-distance Chicago Triathlon.[22] He then placed in the age-group nationals in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which earned him a position on Team USA at the 2010 World Triathlon Championships in Budapest, Hungary. In late 2009, encouraged by his mentor, financier Brian Gelber, O'Brady quit his job to pursue a career as a professional athlete. With Gelber as a sponsor, he moved to Australia to train in a more temperate climate. O'Brady has since completed more than 50 triathlons, ranging from sprint distance to Ironman competitions.[20][23]

O'Brady completed Ironman Japan in August 2015, his final triathlon race and placed 6th in the Pro division.[24]

Beyond 7/2[edit]

Following his retirement from triathlon, O'Brady and his then-fiancée Jenna Besaw created Beyond 7/2, a not-for-profit world record journey to inspire kids and communities to live active, healthy lives.[8] O'Brady aimed to conquer the Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree), an adventurer's challenge to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents and complete expeditions to both the North and South Poles in world record time. O'Brady and Besaw financed the Grand Slam attempt through sponsorships from Gelber Group, Nike, Columbia Sportswear, and Mountain Hardwear, among others.[8] The project raised funds and awareness to benefit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a non-profit organization that aims to combat childhood obesity.[25] O'Brady proposed to fiancée, Jenna Besaw, on the summit of Cayambe, Ecuador's third tallest mountain, on October 27, 2014.[citation needed]

O'Brady left Portland on December 25, 2015, flying to Chile and then Union Glacier in Antarctica. In January 2016, O'Brady began the Explorers Grand Slam.[citation needed] O'Brady was joined on parts of his Beyond 7/2 journey by various climbing partners and expedition teammates including polar explorer Eric Larsen and fellow mountaineer, Maria (Masha) Gordon.[citation needed]

Explorers Grand Slam[edit]

O'Brady became the fastest person (male) to complete the Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree) when he reached the summit of Denali in Alaska on May 27, 2016 and set a new speed record of 139 days.[26] He bested the previous male record of 197 days set by Richard Parks in 2011. O'Brady is the 36th person to complete the Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree) and the current record holder. O'Brady completed 10 expeditions in total to fulfill both the Bass and Messner lists.[citation needed]

Seven Summits[edit]

O'Brady completed both the Bass and Messner lists for the Seven Summits speed record.[27] climbing Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya, Vinson (the "Messner version").

Three Poles Challenge[edit]

O'Brady is the fastest[1][3] to complete the Three Poles Challenge, an adventurer’s challenge to reach the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. He began the challenge in Antarctica on January 10, 2016, reached the North Pole on April 19, and summited Mount Everest on May 19, 2016.[28]

The 50 High Points Challenge[edit]

In the summer of 2018, aided by a small support team, O'Brady shattered the speed record for the 50 US High Points Challenge when he climbed the highest point in each of the 50 states of the United States in just 21 days, 9 hours, and 48 minutes. While reaching each high point, he invited local residents of all ages and backgrounds to come out to join him in setting a new world record, this piece of the project was coined "The Forrest Gump Effect".[29][30][31][32]

Antarctic expedition[edit]

On December 26, 2018 at 9:47AM (GMT-3), Colin O’Brady completed a solo crossing of parts of Antarctica. O'Brady and his team claimed online and through the media that this was the first solo unsupported, unaided, crossing of Antarctica from coast to coast.[33][34] On Instagram, O’Brady stated "I accomplished my goal: to become the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided." The news of O'Brady's expedition and world record was reported internationally as told by O'Brady and his team[35] but the world record claim is disputed by multiple sources and experts.[36]

The route of the expedition[edit]

O'Brady departed Punta Arenas, Chile on an outbound flight to Antarctica on the 31st of October 2018 and arrived to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica to stage his expedition.

On November 3, 2018 O’Brady was flown over the vast Ronne Ice Shelf that leads to the sea, to his starting point “The Messner Start”. He followed the McMurdo-South Pole Highway from the South Pole, arriving at the Ross Ice Shelf at the foot of Leverett Glacier on the 26th of December after traveling the last 77.5 miles in 32 hours without sleep.[37] O'Brady's crossing ended approximately 800 km (500 miles) from the sea. O’Brady traveled in total 1,499 km (932 miles) from start to finish.


The route of the first solo crossing of Antarctica, made by Børge Ousland in 1996-97, and that of Colin O'Brady in 2018.

O'Brady's claim of being "the first person in history to traverse the continent of Antarctica coast to coast solo, unsupported and unaided"[38] is disputed by polar explorers and experts, including Eric Phillips, Damien Gildea, David Roberts, Mike Horn, Aleksander Gamme, Roam Media, Explorer's Web, and Børge Ousland for two main reasons: that O'Brady was aided by traveling on the McMurdo-South Pole Highway,[12] and that the expedition was not a proper "coast to coast crossing".[12][13][14][35][39][15]

The McMurdo-South Pole Highway, or the South Pole Traverse, was constructed by leveling snow and filling in crevasses, flags mark its route so no navigation is needed.[13] Polar veteran Eric Philips commented to Explorer's web: "It is a highway that more than doubles someone’s speed and negates the need for navigation. An expedition cannot be classed as unassisted if someone is skiing on a road".[40]

By excluding the ice shelves O'Brady significantly shortened the route compared to predecessors from both pioneering exploration (Amundsen, Scott, etc) and modern solo travelers (Ousland, Gjeldnes, Horn, etc.)[41][42][43] His starting point is called the "The Messner Start" (after Reinhold Messner), but Messner himself said that this starting point made an incomplete crossing of the Antarctic.[38] Børge Ousland, the first to ever do a solo crossing of Antarctica, travelled twice the distance of O'Brady.[44] Ousland has on several occasions commented that the only way to rightfully claim a crossing is to include the ice shelves: "These huge ice shelves are 600 to 800 meters thick, and they've been there for more than 100,000 years, long before countries like Denmark and the Netherlands existed".[45]

O'Brady's average daily distance from the Messner start to the South Pole was approximately 14.7 miles per day. From the South Pole to Leverett Glacier his speed was approximately 20.7 miles per day based on the GPS tracking data from his personal website.[46] The 41% increase in speed was due to following the South Pole Traverse for over 300 miles, making the trek substantially easier. This flagged route generally eliminates the need for compass navigation in whiteout conditions. The groomed path also eliminates sastrugi, making travel easier compared to the paths of other noted explorers. By following a marked and groomed path for such a substantial distance, the expedition becomes aided and partially guided, contrary to O'Brady's claims.[47]

For comparison, Ousland skied 1,768 miles fully across Antarctica in 1996-1997.[48] It would have taken O'Brady 120 days at his unassisted speed to complete a full Antarctic crossing.

According to O'Brady's website, he brought 60 days worth of food but only had 58 days worth of supplies according to his Instagram feed.[46][49] At his average speed of 14.7 miles per day without the assistance of the South Pole Traverse, he would have required a minimum of 64 days to reach the edge of Leverett Glacier baring any weather or physical delays to complete the 933 mile trek. He would have needed to ration his food, decrease his calorie intake, travel slower, and extend his expedition beyond his available supplies.[50] O'Brady posted on his Instagram feed that he and Rudd only had 2 days of food remaining between them on day 57 of O'Brady's expedition[49] meaning O'Brady effectively only had 58 days of food. Should O'Brady have been unable to follow the South Pole Traverse, he would have been short a week of food. He would have needed to be resupplied like Japanese explorer Masatatsu Abe.[50] Using the assistance of the South Pole Traverse artificially gave O'Brady the ability to claim an unsupported expedition.[51]

Additionally, while early explorers coped with the solitude of Antarctica and had to navigate by compass and the sun during the day, O'Brady had outside contact and used GPS devices.[14] He chronicled his journey on Instagram in the form of a modern day blog[52] and his expedition was publicly trackable using accurate Garmin GPS tracking device.[53] His location was mapped[54] and shared live, transparently for the world to see and follow along.[55] He also spoke to his wife Jenna Besaw, regularly by satellite phone.[14] Along with O'Brady's mother, Besaw assisted during his crossing to calculate how to use his food rations during the crossing and how to optimize his nutrition intake.[56]

World records[edit]

Explorers Grand Slam (Last Degree)[edit]

Mountain Elevation Continent Country Date Summited
South Pole Antarctica January 10, 2016[citation needed]
Mount Vinson 16,050 ft

(4,892 m)

Antarctica January 17, 2016[citation needed]
Aconcagua 22,838 ft

(6,961 m)

South America Argentina January 31, 2016[citation needed]
Mount Kilimanjaro 19,341 ft

(5,895 m)

Africa Tanzania February 9, 2016[citation needed]
Mount Kosciuszko

(Bass List)

7,310 ft

(2,228 m)

Australia Australia February 17, 2016[citation needed]
Carstensz Pyramid

Puncak Jaya

(Messner List)

16,024 ft

(4,884 m)

Oceania Indonesia March 4, 2016[citation needed]
Mount Elbrus 18,510 ft

(5,642 m)

Europe Russia March 10, 2016[citation needed]
North Pole 0 ft April 19, 2016[citation needed]
Mount Everest 29,029 ft

(8,848 m)

Asia Nepal May 19, 2016[citation needed]
Denali 20,322 ft

(6,194 m)

North America United States May 27, 2016[citation needed]


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External links[edit]