Imagine a little boy on his eighth birthday. You're probably envisioning an excited little kid who can't wait to cut into that cake and share it with a bunch of equally excited friends.
For most eight-year-old boys, you'd be right. But for one little boy in particular, this was not the case. No, this little boy was rather depressed. Afraid of growing up, he felt a sense of urgency, a "knowing" that life is short gnawing at him and making him feel like he was already getting old.
Encouraged by his father to be an avid reader, a young Laval St Germain devoured books about adventures, expeditions and explorers. He loved the Hardy Boys, Ernest Hemingway, Tarzan, and National Geographic. He dreamed of scaling mountain peaks, crossing burning deserts, and riding out stormy seas.
"I need to get stuff done. I need to cram in as much living as I can because it passes by too quickly," says the now 47-year-old airline pilot, recalling his thoughts as that young boy.
This was confirmed when tragically, St Germain and his wife, Janet, lost their beloved son, Richard, 21, in a canoeing accident on July 15, 2014.
Is it possible that as a child, he had some awareness of this future event? Or was it simply that someone as young as eight can already be aware of a calling to do something great, to conquer the world, and to change lives?
Growing up in Alberta (Western Canada), St Germain was already lifting weights by the time he hit that memorable eighth birthday. Back in the Dark Ages when I was an eight-year-old...well, a skipping rope, some hopscotch and hanging off the monkey bars were about the extent of my workouts. And it was pretty much the same for my five children and the abundance of other kids I've known down the years.
But then, St Germain was not your average, run-of-the-mill kid. Nor is he your average run-of-the-mill adult.
At the time of this writing, he's in a tiny rowboat in the middle of the Atlantic. Alone.
Having left Canadian shores several weeks ago, his destination is France, a journey that he thought would take three months but thanks to a lot of prevailing west winds, he's making good progress.
When I spoke with him, he was "sitting in [his] long johns" inside the cramped cockpit, riding out a wicked storm with gale force winds expected to toss his tiny boat around for at least another 15 hours.
Thankfully, fresh water weighs more than salt water, so the torrential rain flattened the waves, keeping them at around three meters high.
As if climbing the highest peak on six of the seven continents, being the first Canadian to scale Everest without oxygen, and various other risky pursuits weren't enough, I asked St Germain, "Why this journey?"
"I like big blank spaces on a map," he replied, "spaces where I can push myself, challenge myself. I've always done endurance sports on land but wanted to challenge myself intellectually and psychologically. This route has only ever been successfully completed by one other person, a Canadian woman in 2013."
Mindful of the still-raw wound of losing his beloved son in water, I had to ask how St Germain's wife was coping with his decision to make this journey.
"I'm incredibly fortunate," he enthuses, "she is open to this type of stuff, a real partner...it's like winning the lottery to have gone from that eight-year-old boy to who I am today and having a life partner who is really with me. I remember back in 2010, I poured her a glass of wine and said, 'Babe, I'm gonna climb Everest in the spring and I'm gonna do it without oxygen.' She just took a sip of her wine and said, 'It's about time. You're not getting any younger.'"
What about the danger of this solo row?
"It's all about preparation. Like Lincoln said, if you've got six hours to chop down a tree, you spend four hours sharpening your axe." St Germain's many years as an airline pilot have certainly assisted in the preparation for such a journey as he is now making. "I hope for the best and plan for the worst. I have a Mayday check list, an abandon ship check list, and other procedures on the cockpit wall. I rehearse them daily."
(St Germain inside the cockpit)
With his lifelong voracious appetite to live life to the fullest, St Germain was hit especially hard when his previously fit father-in-law retired, ready to enjoy life but instead, received a cancer diagnosis and died within months. More recently, when a dear friend and 41-year-old father of very young children was diagnosed with lung cancer St Germain decided it was time to take action.
Combining his desire to row across the Atlantic with a desire to make a difference in the world, St Germain is raising money for cancer research.
St Germain explains, "This rowing journey...if you can imagine getting into a tiny little rowboat with 5,000 kilometers of ocean ahead of you...and think about a cancer patient. They're walking to the dock blindfolded, step down to the boat and the doctor shoves them off and says 'Here you go, you've got cancer and you're in for the ride of your life' with no preparation, no idea what's going on.
"You're strapped into that ocean rowboat. The doctor says you're going to go through storms of seasickness with the chemotherapy, and pain, like days and days with the oars. And even though you've got family around, you're totally on your own. These big, dark, stormy seas are a lot like getting that diagnosis."
St Germain is quick to acknowledge, "This journey I'm on, this expedition...it pales in comparison."
It is brave and compassionate souls like St Germain who remind us of our immense potential, and that we're all in this together.
But with great humility, he says that really, he just feels like "that little boy who loves adventure."
Track St Germain's journey here. All photos courtesy of Laval St Germain.
For more about St Germain, visit his website.
For more from this author, visit www.libertyforrest.com
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