Dr. Jon Kedrowski graduated as a valedictorian and four-sport athlete from Eagle Valley High School in 1998. He went on to play NCAA Division I basketball, earn a doctorate in environmental geography, write books and climb Mount Everest.
Last week, he spoke to Eagle Valley High School students about his area of expertise - making goals a reality.
"Set your goals high, chase your Everest," he said. "There's no reason you can't go and do something great. Also remember that friends - the relationships you make - are important for helping you on your journey."
Climbing Everest last spring had been a lifelong goal for Kedrowski, ever since he discovered how much he loved mountains when he was a teenager. He framed his message in the context of that story and shared slides from his ascent.
"When I realized I wanted to climb Everest, I hung a photo of the mountain over my bed so I saw it every day when I woke up," he said. "Ask yourself each day what you want to do and then you have to do it!"
Kedrowski's story of Everest included a rescue he helped with and doubts over a short window of good weather for a second attempt. He wasn't able to summit on his first attempt because of crowds and assisting in a rescue. At one point, he gave his bottled oxygen to a climber who needed it more.
"The summit of Everest has 30 percent of the amount of oxygen that sea level does," he said. "It was tough going without supplemental oxygen - my body hurt from it - but I discovered I could do it."
It helped that he had kept his supplemental oxygen at minimal flows before that, so he never depended on it as much as others.
By the time he recovered at base camp, there was one last short window of good weather forecasted.
"People didn't think I could do it safely but I felt I could," he said. "People will tell you sometimes you can't do something but listen to yourself when you know you can do it. A sherpa asked me to go with him on his summit bid. He'd summited all eight times he had been on the peak and felt he could make it again. We made a very fast ascent, climbing to Camp III in one day and then summiting the next morning before the sun camp up."
Now that he's accomplished that goal, he is planning his next adventure to climb Gasherbrum I and II in Pakistan next year with the same sherpa he befriended. The Gasherbrum peaks are the 11th and 13th highest mountains in the world.
"I might also return to Everest to try it without oxygen someday," Kedrowski said.
In a way, a lot of Kedrowski's success kicked into high gear when he discovered the mountains as a kid.
"My parents encouraged my buddies and I to go off into the woods for a few days," he said. "We hiked up Grouse Mountain and I saw Mount of the Holy Cross for my first time."
Soon he was climbing Holy Cross. It was his first 14,000-foot peak. "Fourteeners," as they're called, are the highest peaks in the state. They are mountains above 14,000 feet in elevation and there are 54 in Colorado. Kedrowski climbed all of them as a teenager. It helped when he got his driver's license, which allowed him to drive to the mountains on his own.
Besides giving him a direction he would follow the rest of his life - up - all the summer hiking at altitude did something else for him.
"I returned to football practice and everyone was like, 'You're killing it on sprints!'" he said.
Eagle Valley High School Football Coach John Ramunno remembers that time fondly. He said above all, Kedrowski was always a hard worker with a positive attitude.
"I've been accused of being too positive," Kedrowski said.
Kedrowski finished climbing all of Colorado's fourteeners before he graduated high school but it wasn't for the last time. He did them all again, and camped on top of each one during a single season in 2011. It was for a book titled "Sleeping on the Summits."
He told the EVHS students that it was a way to stand out.
"Go do something that sets you apart from everyone else," he said.
It also prepared him for bigger challenges to come.
"Compared to Everest, sleeping on all the fourteeners was pretty easy," he said.
The bottom line of Kedrowski's message is to actively pick goals and take them seriously from the very beginning; that success comes in small, steady steps.
And it's not just lip service. Kedrowski is literally invested in programs to help young people succeed. He runs a No Off Days (NOD) Basketball Camp at EVHS in the summer and raises money for the Education Foundation of Eagle County through book sales and speaking engagements.
During an interview with a reporter, a student who knew him from the basketball camp approached him about college prospects. Kedrowski talked with the student in depth for a while and offered to give him a ride to visit the Fort Lewis College campus in Durango when he went down there over the weekend.
Clearly, Kedrowski keeps a busy schedule. He sleeps an average of six hours a night and spends most days training in the mountains, squeezing desk work in between. The main thing missing from his life right now is a lady.
"Eventually, I'd like to meet a woman and get married," he said. "I'd like to climb one of the easier seven summits with her, like Kilimanjaro."
The seven summits are the highest mountains of each continent. Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest.
For more information about Kedrowski, his books and organizations, visit www.jonkeverest.org.