Raglan teacher Dave Williams is tackling seven sea-to-summits to raise money and awareness for mental health.
Dave Williams must be a sucker for pain.
Where one marathon is more than enough for most people, Williams, 34, runs six, eight, 10 or more marathons consecutively, carrying 8kg of gear on his back.
When he’s done running, he doesn’t find a finish line and a bottle of bubbles awaiting him, but the foot of a mountain, which he then climbs.
Not content to do this just once, the Raglan teacher has made it his mission to conquer every continent’s highest summit, starting from sea level.
If he completes the challenge, it will be a world first.
It’s a gruelling mission, but Williams has now ticked off four sea to summits; Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and Kosciuszko.
“When I started, I put aside six years thinking that would be heaps, but that’s the beauty of naivety – if I had known it would be like this, I wouldn’t have started,” he says.
“It’s that classic Kiwi mentality of ‘let’s just go, she’ll be right, get stuck in’.”
It’s already taken Williams six years and the earliest he could logistically finish is 2022, but his final three summits – Everest, Denali and Vinson Massif – may also be the hardest, and he may not succeed on his first attempts.
Williams has already had one crack at Denali in Alaska, but a melted glacier field on the approach forced him to abandon the expedition.
He will return in June 2020 for another attempt.
Despite the disappointment of that trip, Williams says it’s much easier to turn back when bad weather or conditions decide the outcome.
He didn’t summit Argentina’s 6960m Mt Aconcagua until his third attempt – and he took the failures hard.
“You blame yourself, and the pressure you put on yourself. You can’t help but feel you’ve let down all the people who are following and supporting you,” he says.
It’s these unsuccessful missions that resonate the most, however.
“You learn more about yourself, about resilience and dealing with failure, and they tend to be the stories that are more meaningful,” he says.
And it’s the vulnerability and struggle that captures the very heart of William’s mission – he’s doing it all to raise money and awareness for mental health, and has so far raised more than $14,000 for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
Williams was close to two people who lost their battle with depression.
“I wanted to do something special to raise awareness and promote the idea that asking for help and admitting vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.”
Williams believes he would have given up a long time ago if he wasn’t doing it for a cause.
“If you’re doing something for yourself and you fail, you only deal with one person,” he says.
“When you attach something to a cause you believe in, and see the difference you’re making, it motivates you to keep going.
“It’s allowed me to go to places physically and mentally I didn’t think I could have before.”
Mt Everest will be the final summit in Williams’ challenge, and it’s a behemoth.
It’s nearly two kilometres higher than his previous summits, and the 1200km approach is twice the distance.
He initially expected to run 32 days to reach it, but now believes it will be closer to 40.
From there, he will rest, bulk up and acclimatise for a few weeks, before attempting the summit with the guidance of New Zealand trekking and mountaineering company Adventure Consultants.
Williams says he couldn’t have achieved any of his trips without the support of friends, family and sponsors.
“That’s the thing with doing a solo – even if I’m the one taking the steps, I’m never the only one doing the journey,” he says.
“There’s no way I could have continued without the support of my wife Lynn – it’s almost more of a sacrifice for her. I’m off having fun, and she’s left at home with all the rest.”