Just about a year ago this time much of the world was celebrating the accomplishments of American adventurer Colin O’Brady. After all, the 33-year old had just wrapped up his “Impossible First” expedition, which saw him crossing the Antarctic solo and unassisted. It was a cause for celebration not just amongst those of us who follow these kinds of endeavors on a regular basis, but the mainstream media as well. O’Brady’s accomplishment made headlines across the globe and his face was on magazine covers celebrating his darling feat. But not long after he had packed up his skis and headed home, questions from within the exploration and adventure community began to emerge. It seemed that O’Brady had indeed pulled off an impressive feat, but it perhaps wasn’t quite as groundbreaking as he would have us believe, nor was it possibly even the first time someone had traversed the frozen continent. Now, with O’Brady’s book a best seller, readers are getting a chance to hear about the journey from the man himself, and from all accounts he continues to inflate the story to increase his own fame.
A new article from National Geographic entitled “The Problem with Colin O’Brady” dives deep into the controversy that surrounds not just the expedition, but the man himself. Writer Aaron Teasdale puts O’Brady under the microscope, starting with his book — The Impossible First — which was recently released. In that book, the adventurer apparently goes to great lengths to play up his story, choosing words that help make it seem larger and more difficult and dangerous than it really was. In some cases, he exaggerates (or outright lies) about some of the elements of the journey, making claims about how dire his situation was. Some of those claims seem to be completely unsubstantiated, including remarks that he was passing through areas that were “off the map” or in places where a rescue was impossible.
The Nat Geo article is a fascinating one for anyone who followed O’Brady’s story last year. Teasdale has interviewed a number of other polar explorers as part of the process, speaking to men like Borge Ousland, Mike Horn, and Damien Gildea to get their impressions of not only what Colin accomplished on his journey, but how he has conducted himself. Ousland and Horn have both done longer and more difficult polar expeditions, and yet O’Brady has rarely mentioned that they have accomplished bigger and bolder things than he has. Gildea was also one of the first to call out his claims, taking umbrage with his story early on. Also of note, Teasdale says that he talked with O’Brady three times on the phone as part of the interview process, but eventually Colin stopped taking his phone calls altogether.
It is important to point out that what Colin O’Brady did accomplish in the Antarctic is still impressive. He skied for 54 days, covering 932 miles (1500 km) through one of the most remote and difficult environments on the planet. Those numbers pale in comparison to what Ousland and Horn have done however, nor was O’Brady’s route as grueling or groundbreaking as he claims. One of the biggest knocks against his story for instance is that he followed a road for part of the journey, eliminating the need to navigate in the difficult Antarctic conditions at the very least, while potentially making it faster and easier to cover longer distances.
For those outside the adventure and exploration community, a lot of this probably sounds like splitting hairs or even sour grapes. But at the end of the day, O’Brady comes across as someone who is looking to make a name for himself and is willing to exaggerate the truth in order to increase his fame. So far, that strategy has worked, earning him spots on television shows, headlines in newspapers, and book deals. All of that is fine of course, but it wouldn’t hurt if he did so with a bit more acknowledgement of those that came before him and truly broke new ground.
Check out the full National Geographic story about O’Brady here.
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