Getting Uncomfortable

Extreme adventurer Sean Burch teaches clients to reach their goals by facing their fears.

Knowing that adventurer Sean Burch holds eight records for mountaineering and climbing some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest, would make you think the 40-something-year-old isn’t afraid of anything. But in reality, says Burch, “I am scared of heights big time.

“It’s a matter of facing your fear,” continues the Fauquier County resident and motivational speaker. “I just had to deal with it. I threw myself into it. If you remain complacent, your whole life will be complacent. It’s human nature to be comfortable. If I did that, I would not reach the goals I’ve set for myself. I have to get myself uncomfortable.”

Growing up in Fairfax County, Burch was an athlete who played a variety of sports. He discovered his adventurous spirit when his grandfather, a World War II veteran, passed away in the late 1990s. “My grandfather spoke four languages and traveled the world,” Burch says. “He lived all over the world, and I was fascinated by that.”

During their last conversation, Burch’s grandfather admitted he still had unmet goals and dreams. He didn’t want his grandson to face that realization at the end of his life. At his grandfather’s funeral, Burch vowed to live up to his grandfather’s wish and live his life, moment by moment, in a fulfilling way. 

One of Burch’s early goals was climbing Mount Everest. He was fascinated by the strength—physical and inner—of the climbers who summited the Himalayan giant. Burch, a fitness enthusiast by nature, threw himself into mountaineering. “I had to learn the basics,” he says, noting he was physically ready for each climb but had to learn the process. “I kept going to bigger and bigger mountains.”

The training paid off; in 2003, Burch summited Mount Everest at 29,029 feet on his own, without a guide. He was the first Virginian to conquer the peak. “I wanted to be on my mountain and climb it to learn more about myself, to help me grow and be a better person,” he says, adding that he puts himself in challenging situations to better understand himself. “I don’t do it for the world records, although that is a goal as well.” 

Burch at a speaking engagement.

Burch thought climbing Everest would be the key to his future happiness. He would go back home, get a regular job, and “live like everyone else.” But, he says, “I realized Everest was a journey for me, a goal, and it’s not happiness. You have to work on happiness every day. Everest was the meaning. When I got back, I didn’t stop. I built [my life] from there.”

One of Burch’s world records was for the fastest crossing of Nepal from India to Tibet. He ran and trekked high-altitude peaks across the Great Himalaya Trail in 49 days, six hours, and eight minutes, traveling 1,250 miles. He faced obstacles ranging from snowstorms and the worst monsoon in Nepal’s history to landslides and leeches. He doubted himself on the first day of the trek, but admits, “I doubt myself on every expedition. I could give up or do it. I deal with things in small steps. I focus on getting through the next day. In my mind I think, ‘How am I going to achieve this?’”

The key, says Burch, is his philosophy of life: Every second is a gift, and you have to treat it as such. “The goals you set for yourself, you have to shoot for them,” he says. “Life can change in an instant.” He constantly asks himself how he can be the best person possible and get the most out of himself. “Every single day I work on it,” says Burch. “If I maintain programs I have set for myself, I can help others. I can teach them to be the best they can be.” 

Burch, who wrote Hyperfitness: 12 Weeks of Conquering Your Inner Everest and Getting into the Best Shape of Your Life and is the founder of Hyperfitness Living, works with Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg on healthy living. “I designed a fitness program and also teach a [Nordic trekking] class,” he says. “I approached Salamander about this unique program. I don’t think other resorts are doing this, and Salamander embraced it.”

He sees a connection between leadership and physical fitness, and demonstrates that in the leadership and personal development classes he teaches at Fortune 500 companies around the world. “A lot of leaders exercise because they know the importance of exercise,” he says. “A lot of the work I do is when I am training and the ideas start flowing. Exercise is an important base. I exercise every single day.” 

Burch loves working with people and helping them get “on the same page,” he says. “Life is a special gift you have to make a difference. You have to set your own legacy deep down inside of you.”

This article originally appeared in our April 2019 issue.

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