Former National Football League player Mark Pattison doesn’t shy away from challenge or adversity. The Seattle native, who hung up his cleats and retired from the playing field nearly three decades ago, has taken on a new life conquest: the world’s Seven Summits.
The 56-year-old father of two, who played wide receiver for four seasons for the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Raiders and New Orleans Saints, now has four major summits under his belt since taking on the lofty goal of becoming the first NFL player to ascend the Seven Summits on seven continents. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2013, Mount Elbrus in Russia in 2014, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia in 2015, Mount Aconcagua in South America in 2016 and Denali in Alaska in 2018.
The remaining two? Mount Everest, Nepal, and Vinson Massif, Antarctica.
For Mark, who splits time between Sun Valley, Idaho, and Hermosa Beach, embarking on this crusade six years ago hasn’t been easy—but he hasn’t wavered. He has endured terrifying electrical storms on top of Mount Elbrus; not showering for more than three weeks at a time and carrying 70-pound packs on Mount Denali; and battling altitudes of more than 22,000 feet on Mount Kosciuszko.
“I carry a necklace around my neck with a key that says ‘Believe,’” says Mark of his climbing ritual. “Whenever I start to doubt myself, I feel my key around my neck and remember that I need to believe in my goal. So I keep on taking one step after another without any ‘quit’ in me until I reach my goal. No fear.”
Mark, who grew up going to Husky games with his grandfather and camping with his father, says the journey from football to mountaineering wasn’t merely by accident. “I think a lot of times you’re a product of your environment. I don’t know what it was, but it seemed like I was born with a football in my hand.”
He began playing football in the fourth grade before going on to Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington. “I got some lucky genes. My dad was an athlete and an outdoors guy, and he climbed all the major peaks throughout the Northwest.
He really exposed me to camping and hiking. This is kind of cool to look back on now, but my dad and I climbed Mount St. Helens with his climbing party [before it blew its top in 1980.] I was a senior in high school, and that was my first real exposure of being roped up on a team and having crevasses you had to jump over.”
Flash-forward post-football career to several years ago, and while many of his friends and old teammates were settling into retirement, Mark grappled with what to do next. “I’ve gone through a divorce, and I’ve had three successful businesses. But I had another one that blew up during the economic downturn,” reflects Mark, who attributes his principles of goal-setting and staying focused to Don James, his coach at the University of Washington.
Despite setbacks, Mark knew he had to press on. “When I got into the mountains and was beginning this Seven Summit quest that I’ve been on, I had been in this dark place. I had moved to Seattle where I knew everyone and everything was going great.
Then my now-ex and I moved to L.A., and I found myself in a lonely spot. It was very difficult. After two years of feeling lost and ‘How did I get here?’, I had a mindset change and asked myself, ‘What am I going to do about it now?’ I had to get my mind clear and not worry about what happened in the past and think, ‘What can I do in the future to really fill my bucket?’”
After months of searching for his next move, Mark, who now does public speaking around the country, decided on one last great athletic achievement. “Growing up in Seattle in the mountainous community, there are a lot of famous mountain climbers that have come out of that community and have done Everest and all these other crazy mountains. I started doing some research, and I found that no NFL player had ever climbed the Seven Summits,” he explains. “I said, ‘I want to be that guy, and I want to go after that goal.’ From there I went back to ‘What are those principles that are going to get me to the top, to summit?’”
Of his preparation, he explains, “You just don’t say, ‘Let’s go climb the Seven Summits.’ There’s a whole process to it, and I took that same approach I did when I was training. You wouldn’t just go out and catch the winning touchdown. You had to train, you had to lift weights, you had to run, you had to study your plays and do research. In my case, it was: Who’s going to guide me? Where do I start? What’s the first mountain? I mapped it all out, and it was all part of executing a vision board and how I was going to accomplish it.”
Now, after ascending five of the Seven Summits and documenting his experience on Instagram and Facebook, he has more than 250,000 followers. “None of this was on the road map,” says Mark, who works for a Seattle–based digital media company. “The only thing that was on the road map was: ‘I’m in this dark place, my bucket is completely empty, and I need to figure out a way to refill it by setting some monster goal that’s going to be super-difficult to achieve—to change my whole focus of what I had been dealing with.’ You hear this line when people say, ‘It’s all about the journey and not the destination.’ But that really has been the case.”
He returned for a second attempt at Denali in early June (he attempted last year but wasn’t able to complete the climb due to –60º temps at the top and extreme conditions) and plans to attempt Everest or Vinson in 2019. Mark confesses that he’s right where he wants to be. “If you were to ask a lot of my friends about what I’m doing, they’d say, ‘It’s a big-ass goal.’ But they’d also say, ‘It’s probably right in line with what he does.’”
He continues: “One of the differences between myself and not all but many former athletes is that it takes such a high level of drive and motivation and work ethic and pushing yourself to limits that most people never get to. When they are finally retired, they are like, ‘I’m done.’ I would have gone on to college and played for free, and I would have played in the NFL for free. I just loved the game and the sport. I think one of the things with my situation is that I never stopped, no matter what. I’m not special or anything else; it’s just that I’ve chosen a life that motivates me, and it’s a passion to keep my body and my mind physically active.”
A year ago, Mark launched a podcast called “Finding Your Summit” about overcoming adversity, featuring guests such as Laird Hamilton and mountaineer legends Ed Viesturs and Lou Whittaker. “I say this all the time, but I feel like the luckiest guy to be sitting on the other end of the mic and for them to share their stories,” says Mark. “I feel so blessed that I’ve been able to climb with or meet these different people.”
With two more mountains still on his list, he’s fully prepared for what’s ahead. “I can’t wait for Everest; I’ve always had my eye on that mountain,” he says. “I think it’s going to be one of the most amazing and incredible experiences. All these different things that took me years to master and learn in football is what I’ve been trying to do on these mountains. Ultimately it has all been leading up to this mountain: Mount Everest.” It will be epic.
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