Former burn patient conquers quest, sets world record
Lying in a hospital bed in remote Thailand with burn injuries on his leg so severe that doctors told him he may never walk, set up Colin O’Brady for a lifetime of adventure.
A mere 18 months later, after receiving treatment at the Legacy Oregon Burn Center, he completed and won the Chicago Triathlon, the country’s largest and his first. That performance prompted him to become a professional triathlete, competing on the world’s circuit.
Then he came up with another idea: to summit the tallest peak on each of the seven continents and ski to the North and South poles. Which he also did, in world-record time, all the while raising money to combat obesity in children.
Colin credits the burn injury with helping inspire. "Although that was a horrible thing to experience, overcoming that setback, going on to become a professional triathlete and now this, I can sort of draw on such a horrible experience that gives me the mental strength to keep going."
A few years ago, Colin learned about what is known as the Explorers Grand Slam: climbing to the tallest peak on each of the seven continents and skiing to the last degree to the North and South Poles. He set his mind on the goal, making it an “inspirational campaign” to promote active and healthy lifestyles. He set up an organization, Beyond 7/2 that has reached thousands of children with Colin's message to lead active, healthy lives and purse their biggest dreams.
Fewer than 50 people have ever completed Explorers Grand Slam. Colin started in January 2016 and became the fastest person to complete the challenge –– conquering the seven climbs and two poles in 139 days. He finished by climbing Mount Denali in June 2016.
From Portland to around the world
Raised in Portland, Colin was an Oregon state champion swimmer in high school and went to Yale University on a swimming scholarship. Upon graduation, he set about to see the world and ended up in a tiny Thai island participating in a local beach custom of jump roping over a flaming rope.
The rope wrapped around his legs and he caught fire. With flames reaching his neck, he jumped into the nearby ocean. “I was lucky –– doctors later said in another five seconds I would have been burned all the way,” Colin says. “That being said, getting burned on 25 percent of your body and jumping into a salty ocean is not something I would recommend to anybody.”
There was no hospital on the island; treatment on a nearby island wasn’t much better. His mother arrived from Portland and helped connect him to the Legacy Oregon Burn Center. After telling his mother of the plan to complete a triathlon –– despite the fact that his legs were the size of his wrists at the time –– Colin eventually came to Legacy Emanuel for treatment.
Colin credits the treatment at the Burn Center, on the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center campus. “The doctors and the staff made a huge difference in my recovery,” he says. “Their expertise allowed me to be where I am today.
Colin is now a motivational speaker; more than a million people have viewed his TED talk in Portland from 2017.
Media inquiries: Vicki Guinn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-413-2939.
Photos courtesy of Beyond/72. Photos: (1) Colin at the South Pole, (2) in Nepal (3) at Mount Kosciuszko in Australia