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James Ketchell - Pushing The Limits

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Boy, do we have something for you today! This week’s guest on London Real is James Ketchell, who is the only man to have climbed Mount Everest, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean AND cycled around the world. Now, if you saw the trailer for this, or you heard me talk about James before, you probably have this picture in your head of a kind of action hero alpha male, a sort of Hollywood character. That’s surprise number one! James is one of the humblest and guests we’ve had on the show, and there’s nothing aggressive or macho about him. James is actually quite soft spoken, thoughtful and he’s rarely smiling. There’s something very ENGLISH about James, and he’s charming without even trying to be. Some of the crazy stories, and the death defying feats, he talks about, brought back to me the old British war movies like Bridge Over The River Kwai, and I even bring that film up in the interview. James is like a character from those old movies. There’s something reserved and self-effacing about his manner, he’s not trying to place himself above anyone else in the room. On the face of it, you think it doesn’t make sense. How did this humble, very normal, very down-home English guy pull off all these insane adventures, and live to tell the tale? But it’s that and quiet that’s the key to James’ ability to achieve his goals. We start off talking about the horrible accident that kicked off his desire to become an adventurer. It’s a harrowing tale, but right from the outset you get a flavour of the mindset behind everything James does. James had a terrible motorcycle accident that caused severe damage to his foot. Doctors said it was very unlikely he’d be able to walk properly again, never mind take extreme risks up against nature. Instead of getting drawn into defeatism and cycles of self-pity, James set himself the goal of rowing across the Atlantic. He was working on the project, raising money and networking, from his hospital bed! This is a bit of a theme for James. He mentions the importance of goals. We talk a lot about goals on the show and in the Academy, and it’s a big part of what we are all about, as you know. But James uses goals as a kind of survival technique. It’s goals that get him through impossible challenges. He said that the mentality of having something concrete to work towards helped him recover from the accident almost completely within six months. He also talks about how goals are achieved by breaking them down, and giving yourself manageable tasks every day. This proves to be a real game changer when it comes to those do or die moments out on the adventure. And do or die moments are what James is all about! But it’s funny, every time I get him to talk about some amazing feat he accomplished, he passes it off as just obvious or not that big a deal. James talks like he’s just the guy at your local pub, joking and smiling and telling good stories. But it’s deceptive because he’s also lived the storiesThere’s no ego, though. He’s not one of these guys doing extreme sports or survival feats just to prove to himself how amazing he is. James merely enjoys being out there in the middle of the ocean, or on top of the world surveying the landscape from the peak of Everest. It’s just his natureI really recommend looking out for his story about nearly dying while crossing the Indian Ocean. This is the stuff movies are made of, and the way James tells it, you are it all in your head, and I swear you’re going to be on the edge of your seat. It’s a tense, epic and at times terrifying tale, but James delivers it with comic timing and humility. One minute he’s dangling from a rope ladder at the side of an ocean tanker in the middle of a violent storm, and minutes later he’s drinking beers with a bunch of Indian characters up on the captain’s. It’s like something out of old fashioned boys’ comic books. You’ll have to check out the way James tells it to know what I’m talking about, but it’s super-entertaining. Each story comes back to that mindset I mentioned. Each time he’s confronted with death, or as he puts it “hairy moments”, he takes it one step at a time. No grandiose statements, no big talk, no over-thinking. Just one foot in front of the other. Set the task, and keep performing it until you get where you need to be. They don’t make them much like James Ketchell any more, and I wish they did. We get a lot of high performance people on the show, but true character and grit like this is rare. James represents so much of what I love about my adopted country of Britain. Quiet confidence, resolve, tenacity and courage – all completely lacking in bravado or egotism. James has this uncanny way of making you believe you can do it too, of making the entirely possible. And that’s basically his life’s missionWhen he cycled around the world he made sure he spoke in schools in each country he passed through. His “knack for survival” goes hand in hand with his amazing story-telling, and I can really see how he is able to connect with so many young people across the world. He’s big hearted, gracious and an absolute delight to interview. London Realers I give you the serial adventurer, and the master of survival that is James Ketchell.

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