Andes Survivor Expedition: Resilience, Dignity, Strength

Resilience
is not the ability to recover. It is the ability to go through hell, to endure
the indescribable, and not to break.
—Pedro Algorta, survivor
It was a story
heard around the world in 1972—the “Miracle of the Andes,” some called it. It’s
a story that tore at hearts, shocked others, made new believers of God, and
made some turn away from faith forever. It’s a story you couldn’t make up, that
plumbed the depths of the human heart and soul. How does one survive the
impossible, and still retain dignity, humor, compassion, teamwork?
I have yet to
meet anyone in my life who has not heard of the Andes plane crash survivors. To
me, the story encompasses everything about life you might need to know. It is the
story itself of life. And the survivors, including the ones who survived impact
but perished before rescue, are heroes of mythical proportions. That is, until you
meet one of them. I was privileged to meet Eduardo Strauch last week, on an
expedition into the Andes, where we would have the chance to go to the crash
site. We spent the entire week together, along with ten other guests from
Argentina, Spain, the US and the UK. And our two guides, Ricardo Peña of Alpine Expeditions, and geologist Ulyana Horodyskyj.
 
Eduardo walked in
to the hotel lobby in Mendoza, Argentina, to meet our group, and seemed like a nobly aging warrior off the pages of a graphic novel. I have read three books on the
subject, the classic book Alive by
Piers Paul Read (three times), Miracles
of the Andes
, by survivor Nando Parredo (two times) and I Had to Survive by Roberto Canessa (two
times). I’m currently reading Pedro Algorta’s book Into the Mountains. Nando and Roberto were the two survivors who literally climbed out of
the Andes, after 60 days on the mountain, to seek help. (To this day, it seems
utterly superhuman and impossible.) I have watched the movie Alive countless times.
To meet Eduardo
was to meet someone legendary. Nowhere in history is there a story quite like that of the Andes survivors. Eduardo is at once dignified and friendly; a man with
an incredible history, and story to tell, who lives in the moment; famous, but
makes you feel as though you are the
important one. We instantly liked him, and our frozen awe began to thaw to a
warm friendship feeling. He is truly a wonderful person to know.
We spent a week together
traveling to the foothills of the Andes far outside of Mendoza. A four-hour car
ride, then we arrived at a farm of sorts, where we each got a horse, and loaded
our things for the week onto mules. At 70, Eduardo is handsome, fit and at ease
on a horse. With me was Angela Forsyth, a physical therapist from New Jersey, who works for
Diplomat and who I’ve known for probably 20 years. Our first day then was this
four-hour car ride followed by a four-hour horseback ride across an incredibly windy
flatland that threatened to permanently remove my cowboy hat, then up winding dirt paths into the mountains. We crossed several rushing
rivers that swept the accompanying, yelping dogs downstream and soaked our hiking boots. We
made camp that evening in a beautiful little valley, where the majestic Andes towered all
about us. We also had a small team with us to cook, handle the horses, and help
out with packing.
The next day,
Wednesday, we took a seven-hour roundtrip horseback ride up treacherously
tricky slopes, covered with nothing but rocks—the poor horses!—often at 45°
angles. It seemed we should have rode mountain goats instead of horses, but the
steeds handled it well, though they often looked quite wary. Our reward was a beautiful
mountain lagoon, left over from a glacial runoff.
The next day only
about half our group went to the crash site, another seven-hour roundtrip
horseback ride. The rest of us, me included, came down with either bronchial
issues from the tremendous dust kicked up by the horses as we rode, or a virus that
hitched a ride from Spain with Clara, one of the guests. Was I disappointed not
to get to the crash site, which was the whole point of the expedition? Not
really. First, Clara, the lady from Spain, is the niece of one of the young men
who died on impact from the crash. It was more important that she go to the
site with Eduardo. She had been sick the day before, but she rallied, and they went.
 
Second, I felt privileged to meet
Eduardo, a survivor of this terrible yet timeless event, and that was enough for me. He sat with us in the
evening after dinner in the mess tent, and answered our many questions about his experience. Our questions
were candid but sensitive. We asked him about leadership: how and when did he
and his two cousins become the de facto leaders of the group? About the role of
women: how did the boys treat one another after Liliana, the “mother” of the
group, died in the avalanche? (Without her feminine presence, the boys became a
bit more aggressive with one another) About faith: did this experience deepen
his faith in God? (The Read book made much of the issue of faith. Answer: no) About survivor’s guilt: did he suffer from it? (No) The
worst part of the experience? (The avalanche)
Laurie Kelley with Eduardo Strauch
We were enthralled.
We were like students listening to a sensei. And yet, the more Eduardo shared,
the more he seemed like a regular person, not a mythical hero, which I know he
does not want to be seen as. I saw how odd it is to put him, or anyone, on a
pedestal. He is relatable, real, though his experience was surreal. We ate
dinners together as a group, shared stories, teased one another, laughed, chatted
about normal things. We shared a laugh when Ricardo wanted to put Angie and me
in one very small tent. We are not ones to complain but… Ricardo looked over at
Eduardo’s larger tent and said, “Well, maybe I could ask Eduardo…” But I said,
no, whatever Eduardo wants, Eduardo gets. But after looking again at the small
tent… I said to go ahead and please ask Eduardo. I apologized later for kicking my hero out of his
tent! He laughed and graciously accepted the swap.
If you are
interested in leadership, teamwork, faith and survival under the harshest of
conditions, read the books I mentioned. At the very least, watch the movie
Alive. When you ask people about the greatest survival story ever, most people
will mention Shackleton and the failed Antarctic expedition. But he has nothing
on this story. To me, the Andes plane crash story is the greatest story of
survival, and I have read so many. It’s a story of deepest humanity, of people at
their best.
I asked Eduardo
on our last day, as we stopped at a tienda for cold drinks en route home, if he
could tell my readers one or two things he took away from his experience, what
he would tell us?**  “First, the power of
love,” he replied. When you lose everything, and can rely only on one another,
you learn the true meaning of love. “Love is everything. We loved one another
and cared for one another up there. And our love for our families back home
kept us going.” The second thing?
Carpe diem!
While Nando and
Roberto disappeared into the Andes for 10 days, Eduardo was left with the 13
others to wait, never knowing whether a rescue would come, whether the two had
fallen into a crevasse, or were killed in an avalanche or simply starved to death.
Their epic climb out got all the headlines, but it took incredible strength to
simply wait in the fuselage and not give up hope.
“You have more
strength in you than you will ever know,” he said to me assuredly, knowingly.


**
Roughly quoted, as I did not have my notebook with me. Apologies to Eduardo for
any misquotation.
To learn more about
the Andes Survivor Expedition: www.AlpineExpeditions.com

Eduardo Strauch
has written his own account of his ordeal, Desde
el silencio
, which is currently in Spanish only, and is available on Amazon.com

Want to be a Leader?

Leonardo di Vinci once wrote: Ask
advice of him who governs himself well. 
Learning to govern oneself is a principle of leadership, and can be taught and then honed. But not just through books. Often, the best leadership tenets are learned in real life. Bayer is offering a chance for young, potential leaders to govern themselves, test themselves and put their burgeoning leadership in action.
The Bayer Hemophilia Leadership Development Program is one of my favorite programs in our community. It’s a rare opportunity to be in the thick of decision-making, action and marketing. Read about it below, and apply at www.HemophiliaInternship.com! Deadline is March 13!

 Start shaping your future and your community! 
Apply today for the Bayer Hemophilia Leadership Development Program. 
APPLICATIONS ARE DUE NO LATER THAN 
Friday, March 13, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. ET 
To learn more and complete an application, visit www.HemophiliaInternship.com
 Making a change in the world begins by making a change in your community! Apply to be an intern through the Bayer Hemophilia Leadership Development Program and begin to learn how to be the change YOU want to see in the world. 
Students enrolled full-time in college who are touched by hemophilia can apply now for the opportunity to: 
Engage in leadership training and hands-on business projects 
Learn how to support the hemophilia community as a potential future leader 
Apply now for a six-week paid internship at Bayer HealthCare’s U.S. headquarters in New Jersey. 
In addition to working directly with leaders at Bayer, selected interns will: 
Collaborate with local hemophilia organizations and learn about efforts to support the hemophilia community and partnerships with business professionals 
Meet with healthcare public policy professionals to experience first-hand how effective advocacy relations impacts legislative decisions 
Be responsible for developing a project that will be presented to Bayer Senior Management.
Learn more at   www.hemophilialead.net

Great Book I Just Read
Take Yourself to the Top
Laura Fortrang
This is the perfect book for beginning leaders. A hard-hitting, direct and fun read about how to clarify your needs, set goals and remove obstacles to your goals. Fortrang is a life coach who shows us that without self-mastery, we will continue to be victims of our own biases, addictions, blaming mindsets, and circular thinking. A quick read, fun and impactful, you will start to make immediate changes after reading this! I’ve been reading this book for over 10 years every January to kick off the new year and get myself on track. It works! Four/five stars. 

Become a Leader! (Fast!)

We have a lot of programs in the hemophilia community, but this is one of the best. You may need a lot more than just a diploma to secure a great job; you’re competing with talented and smart people. One thing that all prospective employers look for (me included) is leadership: that esoteric quality about someone that sets them apart from the pack. You don’t always learn it in school, but you can learn it here.
I was present in 2006 when a group of great people from our community came up with this idea and presented for funding. The Bayer
Hemophilia Leadership Development Program
(BHLDP) provides college students from the hemophilia
community a unique internship opportunity to build foundational leadership
skills while also deepening their connection to the hemophilia community.
BHLDP, now in its eighth year, gives selected interns an opportunity to work
directly with the Bayer marketing team in Whippany, New Jersey. Interns also
get to experience rotations which include a public policy awareness session in
Washington D.C., a community advocacy-focused visit to National Hemophilia
Foundation in New York, and activities with Bayer’s partners. 
When discussing their favorite aspects of the internship process, the former interns commented that they were surprised—and thrilled—by the amount of real work they were able to do during their time with Bayer. “We were exposed to real meetings and real experiences,” said Lewis Chesebrough, a 2012 BHLDP intern. “We participated in a
real professional environment with people who were supportive and kind to us.”

In addition to getting to do real, meaningful work, the program also helped interns chart a course for their future. Christian Mund, a member of the 2013 internship class and a junior at Syracuse University, said that his Bayer internship helped him realize marketing was the path he wanted to pursue following graduation. “Before the internship, my local sales representative asked what I wanted to do after college; I had no idea. After I finished the BHLDP internship program, I knew marketing was what I wanted to do because the internship really opened my eyes to what I could do after graduation and now I am looking for other internships in marketing.”

Following a BHLDP internship, many former interns have stayed involved in the hemophilia community. Rich Pezzillo, a member of the 2007 internship program, is now the Communications Director at the Hemophilia Federation of America (HFA). “The BHLDP internship helped give me direction on what I was most passionate about and how I felt most
fulfilled,” said Pezzillo. “I now have opportunities to help other young adults that may not have the proper resources or the family to talk to about what it is like to have a bleeding disorder.” And Aaron Craig, a member of the 2010 internship class, started a company called Microhealth that developed an app for the hemophilia community that he says is like
“Facebook for the health care system of hemophilia.”

Bayer is currently accepting applications for the 2014 Bayer Hemophilia
Leadership Development Program. Applications for the six-week, paid internship
are due by Friday, February 28, 2014. (Yeah, I put that in red, so move on it!) For more
information and to apply visit https://www.livingbeyondhemophilia.com/webapp/index.jsp

For US patients only.
(Truth in advertising: The above is an unpaid announcement for the common good)
Great Book I Read
Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment   by Steve Harvey

This was a gift from my co-worker Zoraida, who obviously thinks I need help in the dating department. She might be right, after reading this hysterical and no-nonsense view of how women should date from a man’s point of view. Blunt and taking a somewhat dismal view of men in general (think “dog training”), there are still some nuggets of truth here and it’s a whole lot of fun to read anyway! Men are not just from Mars, they are an entirely different species altogether and in sever need of BF Skinner’s behavioral training. I read it in one night and laughed a lot. And learned a few things. Three/five stars

Youth Leadership: Ender’s Game


I changed plans for my blog tonight after burning out from too much computer work to go to a  matinee movie. What to choose from? I could easily recommend Captain Phillips or Rush… both excellent. But I chose Ender’s Game, not expecting too much. It’s received 62% on the “Tomatometer” (know what that is, everyone?), not exactly stellar (no pun intended).
Here’s the plot, which I shamelessly rip off (with added commentary and at least one grammatical correction) from RottonTomatoes.com: 
“In the near future, a hostile alien race (called the Formics, [kind of like a hybrid giant praying mantis/”Alien” critter]) has attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) [who has now disappeared, presumed dead, and who is a Maori from New Zealand!], all would have been lost. In preparation for  the [presumed] next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young children to find the future Mazer. [Why children? Because their minds integrate and process computer simulations faster than adults…]
Ender Wiggin, a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite. Arriving at Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters increasingly difficult war games, distinguishing himself and winning respect amongst his peers. Ender is soon ordained by Graff as the military’s next great hope, resulting in his promotion to Command School. Once there, he’s trained by Mazer Rackham, himself [who–surprise!—is not dead], to lead his fellow soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race. Based on the best-selling, award winning novel, ENDER’S GAME is an epic adventure…”
I thought this was going to be a purely sci-fi, CGI, blow up the aliens tale, but it’s much more than that. Yes. It does proceed slowly with the plot, focusing on character development. The real action doesn’t take place until the very end. It’s gotten its share of criticism for a variety of reasons, but… I liked it!
I liked that it’s about children applying themselves, finding value in their studies, discovering a higher calling. It’s a movie about leadership and youth; what does it take to be a “leader”?
A variety of youth leaders are portrayed, from different genders to nationality and races: Ender’s own sister, talented like him in her own right, was deemed “too compassionate.” Another leader, short and muscular, was too aggressive and demeaning, authoritative. You wonder about Ender himself—yes, he’s smart, but can he get people to follow him?  Over the course of the movie, you watch how he develops his own leadership style, and matures into a true leader, demonstrating strategy, psychology, risk-taking, challenging the status quo [his elder leaders], accepting responsibility when things go wrong, and most of all, honoring his own values. These are all important ingredients to making an effective leader. He embodies all three styles of leadership: positional, situational and transformational. For that alone, the movie should be seen.
Especially by hemophilia youths. We’ve been hearing for a long time that we are victims of our own success. When you have aliens threatening the earth (or HIV threatening the blood supply) you can more easily mobilize an army to do battle—and leaders arise from the masses to spearhead change. When things are cool, good, life is chillin’, it’s harder to get people to train, study and implement leadership for when things don’t turn out right in the future. During a crisis is not the time to study leadership for the first time. we’re victims of our own success; we no longer have an alien to fight, or do we?
Healthcare reimbursement maybe? Could be. Those of us educating and fighting for access to therapies, and lowered copays are not the ones who will be needing this in the future; it’s our kids. They are the ones, the “Enders” we need to enlist now. Teach them how to do battle in the Battle Room while we still have our own Rackhams (starring Michelle Rice maybe?) with us? Something to think about.
In any case, bring your child to see this movie, and talk about leadership afterwards. There is a lovely twist at the end that brings it all together as a feel-good movie. Ask:
What traits make for effective leadership? Is it a popularity contest? What hurts about being a leadership? What do you stand to lose? To gain? Who are your child’s admired leaders? If they are stuck on sports stars, broaden their vision of who and what a leader can be. And let him or her know that the hemophilia community has its leaders too… who will one day need the youth to come forward, like Ender, to plot new courses in our universe, to protect our community from invaders, both pathogenic and economic.

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