The Pain of Climbing Kilimanjaro and Other Humiliations

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua.- At 43, Bonner Paddock has already accomplished what, at 68, I have failed to accomplish three times: He has retired.

I was intrigued by his story, So I pressed him for details.

He told me that he had busied himself with “various projects” for several years, and ended up moving to Nicaragua. (He pointed out where his house sits, on the beach directly past Mag Rock.) He’d had a successful career as a marketing executive for a large western US beverage distribution company… and decided, one day, that he had enough money to retire.

I wondered how much “enough” was. As an employee of a brick-and-mortar business, even as superstar marketer, he could not have accumulated, at his age, the sort of money that most people feel comfortable retiring with.

I asked him if he knew of Mr. Money Mustache. He didn’t. I explained how Mr. MM had also quit working at an early age, and then wrote a blog about his ongoing attempt to live well on an income of only $30,000 a year.

Then I told him about my three failed attempts to retire, and how (with my therapist’s help), I had finally gotten to the point where I don’t beat myself up for doing what I obviously want to do.

We were there to talk about working together: FunLimon, my family’s community center in Nicaragua, and his charity, which helps children in developing countries with cerebral palsy and similar disabilities get the therapy and special education they need. (CP, by the way, currently affects more than 500,000 children worldwide.) The idea was that we (meaning FunLimon) were going to provide a facility and equipment for the programs. And he was going to find the people and the equipment to make it happen.

Bismarck and Number Three Son Michael, co-directors of FunLimon, had agreed in principle to the joint venture. I was there because everyone wanted my input.

I won’t get into the details of our discussion. What I liked, and very much, was that Bonner agreed with me on the challenges of charitable giving. He believes, as I do, that charity brings with it a great responsibility.

I asked him how he got involved in his charity. He told me it started when he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. “No shit!” I exclaimed. “So did I.”

We slapped five. (I know. Don’t say anything.) And I told him my horror story.

“I was miserable, too,” he agreed. “Every step of the way.”

“I wrote an essay about it,” I said. “I’ll send it to you.”

He thanked me and then told me why he did it… which made me feel like an idiot for even mentioning how much I had suffered on the climb. I had done it because… I don’t know why. But he had done it for a reason. He had cerebral palsy, he told me. And he had done it to bring attention to the challenges that are faced every day by people like him. Turns out he was the first person with CP to climb Kilimanjaro unassisted.

Then, rather than offering me an essay on his experience, he promised to send me the documentary movie he’d made about it. And, if I wanted, his NYT bestselling book.

And if that were not enough humiliation, he went on to tell me that he had taken on another challenge to raise money for his charity: to be the first person with CP to complete the Ironman Kona triathlon.

I must admit that when Bismarck first mentioned his name to me, I was dubious. “Who gets to have a power name like Bonner Paddock?” I thought. So just to be sure, I googled him. And sure enough, he is the real thing.

So I am inspired and motivated to make our partnership work. And confident that Michael and Bismarck will work with him to make it everything it can be.

But I’m also simultaneously inspired and humiliated by how Bonner Paddock has thrice outdone me in a lifespan that is 25 years shorter than mine!