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  Canadian Mt. Everest 2005: Ode to Sean


Dr Sean Egan

Update: Monday 9th May, Ryerson University, Toronto

By Norman J. O'Reilly

After reading Terry’s inspiring personal memories of Sean and following Harold’s heartfelt posts over the past 2 weeks, I asked if I could briefly share my thoughts as the member of the Expedition who knew Sean the longest. I hope readers find them informative about Sean and my fellow expedition members find them therapeutic as we all work through the mourning process.

In life, we meet many individuals in many contexts.  Of those thousands of meetings, we are lucky if a few provide us with the opportunity to get to know and learn from someone who we aspire to be like.  For me, Sean Egan was one of those people. I met him in the fall of 1997 as a graduate student when he hired me to work
as a Teaching Assistant in one of his courses at the University of Ottawa. There was immediately a connection.  Perhaps it was our shared Irish roots, perhaps we were both athletes turned academics, perhaps it was our common interest in studying sport and health, or perhaps it was just chance…all I know is that it was a meeting that benefited me immensely in my life and I feel extraordinarily lucky for it.

Over the next three years, he provided me with many opportunities both as a researcher and as a teacher to work with and learn from him and his colleagues. On many occasions he supported my graduate student life with advice, references and a free lunch or dinner. Then, in 2001, he asked for my help to pursue his life’s dream – a summit of Mount Everest – as he was uncertain about some of the business aspects necessary to accomplish such a feat. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted but, looking back, I am very happy that I did.  Four years of disappointments, successes, failed fundraising attempts, thousands of hours of work, a 200+ page business plan, people coming in and out of the team, late night phone calls, constant emails and team-building led to the Kanatek Expedition to Mount Everest, which – in its final form – exceeded in every respect any vision Sean or I or Harold had (Harold was the 3rd member of our core team who thankfully joined us in mid-2003 and brought us to the next level). A team of 20 impressive individuals was compiled with a tremendous and generous title sponsor, a dozen or so supporting sponsors, the full support and official involvement of my employer (Ryerson University, where I am a professor), the involvement of 3 other universities and Sean’s fully supported summit attempt all included. Except for the ending, everything went perfectly. Even here at Ryerson, Sean was adopted as one of our own as he became great friends of my fellow expedition researchers (Professors Peter Luk, Dave Valliere, and Michael Dewson), provided research work to one of our student researchers (Chris Archer) and received considerable coverage in the Ryerson press.

Over the 8 years that I knew Sean, I never once saw him in a bad mood, never once saw him say anything mean to another (even those who deserved such!) and saw a man who truly enjoyed life. He was one of those rare individuals who can walk into a room where he knows no one and leave an hour later with 10 friends. He viewed the train ride from Ottawa to Toronto not as a trip or a time to nap or work but as an opportunity to meet new people and socialize. He was an athlete, an optimist, a linguist, a writer, a father, a teacher and a proponent of a healthy lifestyle. For me, he was a friend and a mentor. Despite what some might deem an unorthodox style, he was impressively successful in all of his endeavours rising to the top of all of his vocations in life.  A champion boxer and well-know intellectual is a combination one doesn’t often see!

The last time I saw Sean was the day I left base camp. He seemed relaxed and ready to succeed but, for some reason, I had serious trouble with the goodbye…all I could do was cry and give him a hug. I tried twice since there was so much I wanted to say but I could not. At the time, I thought it was because I always have trouble with goodbyes or because I felt guilty about leaving and not staying for the summit attempt but, now, I wonder if there was more. I’ve also been struggling with how Sean passed on. He was supremely prepared – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – for his summit and for him to pass on as he did is hard for me to comprehend. Thankfully, after hearing about the cremation ceremony with his family, closure seems to have come and the knowledge that Sean died chasing his dream makes it easier if not clear. All that I really know though is that I’m going to miss him.  

Norman J. O’Reilly

Dispatches

 

 

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