Some people just aren’t made for an ordinary, routine, calm, commute-work-sleep kind of life. This is the case for Jean-François Tardif, founder of Archimed Medical in Sherbrooke. Starting a life sciences business and being the father of two young children would already be enough to fill most people’s days! But it wasn’t enough for Jean-François, who also went to Mount Everest in the spring of 2016.
The first two parts of this blog have already been published, and the third is late, but you will now understand why.
Jean-François did indeed go to Everest. He made it halfway from Camp 2 to Camp 3—twice. But he had to hold back from the summit this time, with health problems.
I would nonetheless like to present you with the text I had prepared, and then I will share with you the conversation we had upon his return.
No Quebecer has ever reached Everest’s summit without supplemental oxygen and only one Canadian has achieved this feat. This information doesn’t cause Jean-François to flinch: “I never bring my ego with me; it’s a very poor travel companion and the best way to never return. My goal isn’t to be the first.”
“For me, not using supplemental oxygen is the best way to stay alive!” In fact, the equipment required for a climb with supplemental oxygen is heavy and cumbersome. Plus, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature—the regulator could freeze—and of your travel companions, who might get their hands on the bottles you plan to use.
According to Jean-François, the key is to take the time to acclimatize by closely monitoring your pulse oximeter readings and following the advice of your Sherpa. While waiting, he’ll play guitar at the base camp, meet other climbers, and talk and laugh with them. “It’s cool to spend a day chatting with people who have come from around the world to take on this challenge.”
Jean-François also has his own climbing plan when it comes to his day at the top. In general, everyone rests at camp 4 (at 8000 m) for a few hours to start their climb around midnight. That way you reach the peak between noon and 3 p.m. Always marching to the beat of his own drum, Jean-François wants to depart at 4 p.m. to reach the peak in time for the sunrise, a breathtaking sight that is never far from his mind. “Can you imagine the little red spot on the horizon, then a line, then the sky wraps itself around you? That’s what I want to see!”
Like any good entrepreneur, he says that everything is possible, but he is aware that his master plan may change during his journey. You have to be like the mountain, evolve and adapt.
A little advice
I wrapped up my interview by asking Jean-François what he would say to someone who wants to start a business. He again had words full of imagery to impart: “You might have the best plot for a movie, the best actors, the most beautiful sets, the most spectacular music. Nothing is set in motion until a guy like Spielberg says ‘Action!’” You have to act, action is everything.
Then he quoted the famous former Formula 1 racing driver Mario Andretti, “If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough!”
This is what was supposed to be the last part of the blog. Now, what really happened:
Hitting the wall
During a sunny noon hour in June, on an outdoor patio, Jean-François is sitting in front of me, smiling broadly. I ask him, “Aren’t you disappointed?” He responds, “Of course, Josée, I’m disappointed! But it was still one of the greatest experiences of my life!”
It was his lungs that held him back. Even before getting half way to the summit, Jean-François was short of breath. It wasn’t the time or the place for such a problem, you would think, but when the body speaks you have to listen! After his first attempt, Jean-François returned to a village at the foot of the mountain, rested, tried to get better, then returned.
With difficulty breathing and unable to eat enough to regain his strength, he had to face the facts: it would be impossible for him to reach the summit and return healthy—or even alive. He had to stop trying and go home. He cried when he made that decision, but he was also thinking of his children and his love waiting for him at home. It was the right decision for him—his only choice.
An unsettling encounter
After making his decision, Jean-François was on his way down when he came upon a young woman in difficulty. Already at that altitude, she was using an external oxygen supply and was still having trouble climbing, breathing. They chatted, and Jean-François told her that he was abandoning his attempt—and that, in his experience, she should do the same. She could not accept this; she was going to reach the summit at all costs, despite her family waiting for her. She pushed on stubbornly—but it was unfortunately the mountain that prevailed. The young woman—Maria Strydom, 34—died on her descent. Ouf… It turned quiet on the patio when Jean-François told me that. It’s hard to hear such a story, to put yourself in the shoes of that woman and her family in those tragic circumstances. It’s difficult for me to understand what pushes people to risk their lives for such exploits.
Jean-François told me about all the beauty he admired on the mountain, the incredible emotions he felt—as well as his health problems and the technical difficulties he encountered, which made him want to call his expedition “Apollo 13”. I listened, and I could still see the sparkle in his eye. I thought, ‘No, I can’t believe it, is he already thinking about returning?’
“Not just yet,” he said. “At this point, I’m like the woman who has just given birth who is asked if she wants a second child…” But, yes, he plans to try for the summit again in a few years.
I am speechless. Good luck in all your projects, dear Jean-François, and thank you for having shared your memories of this adventure with me!