Interview by Pat Burns
Werner Berger could be the poster child for wellness. Never mind that he’s in his mid-70s. He’s the picture of health and well-being. In fact, this successful corporate consultant, leadership/performance expert, mountain climber and wellness advocate is a living example of what Werner calls “the four domains of health”: physical, emotional/mental, spiritual and financial. Werner advocates the virtues of leading a healthy, balanced life that includes good nutrition, exercise and the pursuit of meaningful and enjoyable activities, relationships and livelihoods. And he walks the talk.
He certainly is an inspiration to his grandson, Cameron (20), and granddaughters Jordan (13), Lexi (8), Reese (7) and Riley (5). All five grandchildren were on hand to enthusiastically cheer their grandfather upon his return after summiting Mount Everest in May 2007.
“That was fun,” Werner reminisced. “They were very proud of their ‘TwoPaPa.’”
At the time, Werner was the oldest Westerner and third-oldest person in the world to accomplish the feat. He’s also the second-oldest person in the world to have climbed the 7 Summits — the highest peaks on the seven continents. He summited South America’s Aconcagua and Europe’s Elbrus in 2002, Africa’s Kilimanjaro in 2003, Antarctica’s Vinson in 2004, Oceania’s Kosciuszko in 2005, North America’s McKinley/Denali in 2006, and Asia’s Everest in 2007.
In May of this year (2012), two months before his 75th birthday, Werner plans to become the oldest person in the world to summit Everest. In June he’ll lead an African safari through the Serengeti to Ngoro Ngoro Crater and Olduvai Gorge before climbing Kilimanjaro (for the fourth time). In mid-July he’ll also lead a trek on the Inca Trail through the Amazon jungle to Machu Picchu in Peru.
You might be wondering what would possess a man in his 70s to climb the highest mountains in the world and go on adventure treks all over the globe. You would be wrong if you assumed it was for the challenge or the glory of it. For Werner Berger, it’s all about the awe of it.
“I cannot be on a serious climb or a good trek where I do not live completely in the moment,” he explained. “I notice a shift in my being…. Everything becomes exquisitely beautiful.” He went on to explain that before he started climbing, he didn’t really know what spirituality was. But during his first serious climb, he had an “aha moment” that clarified what spirituality meant to him.
“It’s looking at a sunset and being in awe. It’s looking at a baby and being in awe,” Werner said. “For me, spirituality is being in awe with what we’ve been presented and the humility that comes with it.”
Last year, on his third climb up Kilimanjaro, Werner was accompanied by his fiancé of many years, Heshie Segal. The couple planned to wed atop Kilimanjaro’s summit on 1/1/11. Unfortunately, altitude sickness struck Heshie at 13,000 feet, forcing her to turn back. Werner continued on with the other members of the team, reaching the summit that afternoon, as planned. By the time the 15-member team had descended the afternoon of January 2, Heshie had organized a traditional Jewish wedding, held that evening at a local resort. The marriage ceremony was conducted by a Jewish gentleman who’d participated in the trek/climb and Father Aloyse, a local priest with whom Heshie has worked to provide necessities for 800 African orphans. In attendance were two of Werner’s grandchildren, Jordan and Lexi.
Clearly, following one’s heart is another virtue Werner teaches by both deed and word. He encourages his grandkids to “find things they love to do and to follow those interests.”
“So many kids — and I was one of them — grow up feeling they’re not good enough. Encouraging them to be themselves and to know they are perfect just the way they are is key to their well-being.”
Werner believes that when children grow up in an environment like that, it facilitates not only their well-being but also the well-being of the world. “High self-esteem is so important for a better world.”
That, perhaps, is Werner Berger’s greatest legacy: a grand passion for living life to the fullest and for making a positive difference in the world.
Video: Watch Werner on the Today show in 2007 after he summited Mt. Everest at age 69.
Colleen Sell balances her prolific writing/editing career with organic gardening; trekking with her husband; renovating their ancient farmhouse; and enjoying their large family, including six delightful grandchildren.
Go Adventure Trekking with Werner
Reserve your space now for a travel and personal-development adventure led by Werner Berger and Heshie Segal.
Three life-changing expeditions are scheduled for 2012:
Mount Everest Base Camp Trek
May 3–May 18, 2012
African Safari and Kilimanjaro Climb
June 18–July 4, 2012
Amazon Jungle Trek and Machu Picchu (Peru)
July 12–July 24, 2012