Eight years ago, Colin O'Brady was lying in a hospital bed 8,000 miles from home, covered in burns so severe he thought he'd never walk again. At the time, he was 22 years old.
But this June, he returned home to Portland triumphant. He had just become one of about 50 people to have ever climbed the tallest peak on all seven continents, and visited both the North and South poles.
It's called the Explorers Grand Slam, and O'Brady did it in a record time of 139 days—just under five months—trouncing the previous record of 194 days set by Wales rugby player Richard Parks.
Take that in for a second: The feat includes reaching the summits of Mount Everest, Denali, Aconcagua and Mount Kilimanjaro.
"Two people died on the same day I was there," O'Brady says of his Everest climb. "On the exact same summit day, exact same time."
But O'Brady had already faced a life-changing event that could have crippled or killed him. Climbing those mountains was the easy part, he says.
In January 2008, while on a backpacking trip in Thailand, he tripped on a burning, kerosene-soaked rope during a "fire game" and suffered burns affecting one-quarter of his body. A doctor told him he may never walk unassisted.
For the spry Lincoln High School graduate—who'd spent his weekends climbing Mount Hood before being recruited by Yale University to swim—the news was devastating.
But it took O'Brady only a month to get back on his feet. While still in the hospital, he set a goal to finish a triathlon someday. Within two years, he'd placed first in the Chicago Triathlon and quit his job to devote himself full-time to endurance athletics. For three years, he says, he was sleeping in a different bed every three nights.
Although O'Brady often spends months away from home, he says Portland is a major part of his devotion to the outdoors. "It's such a gift to grow up staring at those mountains from our city," he says. "My family didn't have much money, so we'd drive out to the Gorge to go on hikes."
For now, O'Brady says he's planning to enjoy his Northwest Portland home for a while: "I'm allowing myself a moment just to breathe."