2018 USX Denali Expedition: Through the Fog (Part V)

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Editor’s Note: The mission of the USX 2018 Denali Expedition is to gather research data to assist the science and medical communities in understanding how the human body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic systems change with acclimatization. This data will be harvested using Cardiac Insight’s wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors during a summit expedition of Denali, North America’s highest peak, by USX’s team of military members and veterans from May 14-June 5, 2018. The team includes U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Nicklas Anthony. Here’s his story:

As I started to write this, I glanced at my watch. Only a few short hours before I depart for our summit attempt on Denali. And then my thoughts began to drift…

“Yeah, you’re a real go-getter.”

The sarcasm smeared in my mind deeper than the concession grime and garbage juices that had once stained my shirt.

It was the height of the economic crisis, it was my graduation night, and I was working the only gig I could find to try and make ends meet. Working my way through college was not foreign to me. It’s how I afforded to eat, drink, and be merry while still managing to stack up about $30,000 in student loan debt. But now was different; I had responsibilities, I was graduating, and, as a pre-law major with no real-world experience, holding two jobs as an office clerk and as a part-time janitor for an events center was the best I could do, given the economic circumstances.

I had been a good student. Having studied law in Europe, mastered a foreign language, and maintained a respectable GPA throughout my college career, I was ready for what was promised to come next: a stable job and the start of a career as an information worker. However, reality soon set in, and brutal economics glared at me, emotionlessly.

I lost the office clerk gig just before graduation. I practically begged for additional shifts to make rent. On my graduation night, I stared down on my graduating class, dropping balloons on their celebration, and trying to stay in the shadows so nobody would recognize the guy from Ancient Philosophy class now covered in garbage juices. After a few weeks, the ends were once again too far apart to be met. I moved into my car and crashed on couches for the next 6 months. A veritable homeless male, I was a statistic.

In high-school, I had wanted to become a Marine Officer. Military service was part of my family tradition and I had initially hoped to graduate law school and practice military law as a Judge Advocate. Perhaps I had watched A Few Good Men a few too many times. When I graduated college, I was in terrible physical condition. Eating top ramen and spending my time in the library or office clerking was not exactly the activities that shape a future Marine Officer.

When I first approached my “friends” about pursuing the military option, I was met with expressions of incredulity, laughter, and — my favorite — “Yeah, you’re a real go-getter.”

At that point, I recognized my life was being defined by the circumstances and adversities I found myself in. My circumstances were essentially controlling me. I bucked.

I took the first step by visiting the Marine Corps officer selection team near my university. After a few minutes in the office, Sgt. Dwayne Tanksley (aka “Tank”) introduced himself to me. We talked for a couple of hours.

For the next 12 months, I worked my ass off. I quit smoking and started to pay close attention to my physical fitness. All the while, those words ringing in my head, an ever piercing screech that echoed and motivated … a real go getter, huh? Whatever.

As I snap back to the present, I consider where I am now seven years later, relaxing after a day of work on my sofa in the home I recently purchased in Issaquah, Washington. In just a few hours, I’ll wake up to take on another seemingly insurmountable challenge. But whether we summit Denali or not is really inconsequential. This sport is about a process that is deeply personal.

And as I anticipate the labored zen of those moments moving up those icy slopes, I recognize an appointment with oblivion. An appointment that will send the noise of self-doubt, the fear of the unknown, and the ever-present "imposter syndrome" into a muted duffel dragging somewhere behind me.

I am certain that at some points during this climb, I will glance at my watch and, in those ephemeral moments of discomfort, chuckle to myself at the words inscribed on the back. I’d transcribe them for you here, but at this point, you already know what they are.

Capt. Nicklas Anthony, 33, is an active duty U.S. Marine Corps recruiting management officer and the Marketing & Communications Director for USX. Anthony is from Norman, OK, and currently resides in Issaquah, WA. He is a graduate of Fork Union Military Academy, Fork Union, VA (2003), and the University of Oklahoma (2010). In 2016, Anthony was nationally recognized and subsequently awarded by the Marine Corps for helping rescue an elderly veteran stranded on a Seattle-area mountain.