Two-time World record holder Colin O’Brady’s journey to greatness is as unconventional as any you’ve probably ever heard. He was a standout prep athlete in his native Oregon–lettering in both soccer and swimming. He became a local star, winning Oregon State Championships and receiving national honors in both sports.
Already a high school standout, Yale recruited the young star and he went on to swim all four years at the Ivy League school. At the end of his swimming career, Colin knew he wouldn’t be able to go pro, so he did what many recent college graduates do, he embarked on an adventure.
The day after graduation, he embarked on a 4000-mile cycling trip from Connecticut to his native Oregon, to raise money and awareness for Habitat for Humanity. Before he started a career in finance, he decided that he wanted to see more of the world, so Colin planned a year-long international backpacking trip. Midway through his trip, O’Brady suffered a terrible burn injury while participating in a fire jumping contest on Koh Tao.
As a result of the injury, O’Brady suffered second and third degree burns over ¼ of his body, mostly on his legs and feet. Doctors told him he’d never walk normally again, which was devastating to a guy who had played sports at a high level for most of his life.
“It was one of the darkest moments of my life. Certainly, I think that’s a tough piece of news no matter who you are, no matter what age you are. But certainly, as a young man on the brink of adulthood,” says O’Brady. “it just certainly now appeared that my life as I knew it was going to be dramatically different.”
What O’Brady believed to be a negative turning point in his life, ended up being the polar opposite. Thanks to constant encouragement from his mother, who flew to Thailand in order to be by his side, O’Brady’s attitude began to change. His mom pushed him to think positive and set a post-hospital goal that would change his life forever.
“My initial reaction to her was, ‘You’re crazy, mom. The doctors are telling me I’m never going to walk again. My life is over. I’m screwed, you know?’ But that sort of positive mindset eventually rubbed off on me and I said, ‘Alright, I’ll play along with this.’ And that’s when I came up with the goal of one day completing a triathlon,” says O’Brady.
After he was cleared to leave the hospital in Thailand, O’Brady moved to Chicago where he took a job as a commodities trader. He also began to rehab that year. Thanks to a year-long rehab process, Colin gained enough strength to walk again and eventually run. Shortly thereafter he began to train for his first triathlon. Although he’d never competed as a runner or cyclist, he hadn’t forgotten the goal he set in that Thailand hospital.
Just 18-months after his horrific accident Colin won the overall amateur division at the 2009 Chicago Triathlon. The guy who had once dreamed of swimming in the Olympics or playing soccer in Europe was now on a path to finally becoming a professional triathlete. Over a six-year span, O’Brady competed in over 50 triathlons in 22 countries and on six continents, including the 2010 World Triathlon Championships as a member of Team USA. Colin had a great run, eventually retiring after placing 6th in the pro division of the Ironman Japan competition.
Colin’s next endeavor—the Explorers Grand Slam—would take him to new heights…literally. The Explorers Grand Slam is the holy grail of the mountaineering world. In order to complete the EGS, competitors must scale the seven tallest mountains on each continent (The Seven Summits) and reach the North and South Poles.
He not only completed the Slam (something only 36 people have ever done), he did it in record time. On May 27th, 2016, O’Brady reached Denali in Alaska to set a new record of 139 days. Subsequently he also became the fastest male to complete the Seven Summits and the Three Poles Challenge (North Pole, South Pole and Mt. Everest). He was also the first person to post a Snap from the top of Mt. Everest.
The beauty of Colin’s accomplishments is that he did them to bring light to childhood obesity, a cause that may seem odd for a lifelong athlete.” I feel very fortunate that I was raised in a family that really valued health,” says O’Brady. “My dad is an organic farmer in Hawaii and my mother and stepfather have worked in the natural food health industry for a long time, long before [it became] a mainstream thing of people eating organic and sustainable.”
Colin realizes that he owes a lot to his parents for embedding a healthy lifestyle into him at an early age. With, he and his fiancée Jenna Besaw’s, not-for-profit organization BEYOND 7/2, the couple set out to bring the cause more eyes and funds by raising $1 million to inspire active and healthy kids.
Although they weren’t quite able to reach the 7-figure mark, Colin says that they raised a good “chunk of money,” during the race and they continue to do so today. He also gained a huge media impact as well during his journey. In addition to several million social media impressions, O’Brady has given a TEDx Talk and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, Forbes, Fortune, USA Today and tons of other outlets.
Colin wouldn’t spill the beans on his what his next athletic feat will be, only saying that “there are incredible endurance adventures on the horizon.” Judging from what he’s done in the past, we can’t imagine what’s next for Colin, but we’re pretty sure it is going to be amazing.