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To the extreme Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002
Coming 4,000 feet short of reaching the earth’s highest point does not mean failure to Don M. Casto III. Climbing 25,000 feet to the South Col marks his Mount Everest adventure as a success, even though he didn’t reach the much-sought-after summit.

For Casto and other businessmen who are extreme sports enthusiasts, the process is the experience, a mindset that is reflected in their business life, as well.

It is their personalities that make them want to achieve more.

“These are men who are very successful, who seek a challenge in their workday world,” says Roger Hall, Ph.D., a psychologist with Compass Counseling and Consultation, Dublin, who consults with executives and their families. “It makes sense to seek an ultimate challenge elsewhere. Regular people wouldn’t want to get out of bed to do this. For these guys, it’s what they eat and drink.

“They are successful in their work because they have channeled that intellectual or physical thrill.”

Climbing is a metaphor for life and for business, says Casto, president of Don M. Casto Organization, Columbus, a third-generation developer of retail and living space. The company has developed more than 15 million square feet of shopping centers in the Midwest and 6,000 multifamily dwellings, building at a rate of 1,500 units a year.

“A life well lived involves a certain degree of risk, the management of that risk and overcoming fear to live a full life. It is no fun taking the easy route up a mountain.

“A part of climbing is that you learn early on that failure is part of the equation,” says Casto, 54.

He was 40 when he made his first climb to Mount Rainier in Washington. Since then, he’s been climbing all over the globe, with his next trip planned for Greenland in June.

“You spend a lot of time failing, so you take it for what it is. Climbing is a process. You have to enjoy the process of getting there.”

Climbing Mount Everest is a 12-week process. For those who reach the summit, the reward is, at best, a 15 minute stay at the top, because of environmental and health factors.

“If you do it for the summit, it’s a bad ratio,” he says.

The 1993 Mount Everest trip cost $45,000, plus $10,000 for airfare and hotel. With shorter climbs, as a reward, he meets his wife after the trek in fun places, including Rome after climbing Mt. Elbrus in the Russian Caucuses; Tanzania for a family safari after climbing Kilimanjaro; the Italian lake country after climbs on and around Mt. Blanc; Zermatt and Geneva after climbs on the Matterhorn; and the Indonesian resort island of Biak after climbing the Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea.

“The reason you are there is the beautiful mountain, the vistas, the bond of the rope,” Casto says. “The lessons you learn are the patience in the process, the organizational skills. I solve puzzles for a living. I’m not sure which benefits which (business or climbing).”

Tom Mueller, 43, has worked his passion for long distance trail running into his business plan. He is president of Sport Management Inc., Westerville, which grosses $2 million in annual sales.

He competed in his first triathlon in 1983, and in 1988, before he started his sports marketing company, finished his first ultra-marathon, a 50-mile run at Mountain Masochist, Linchberg, Va.

“A lot of people like to run. But not a lot of people want to run 100 miles,” says Hall, a cognitive therapist. “They seek the ultimate challenge in every day life. They have the freedom to pursue these sports because they have the financial means to pursue them. People who don’t have the financial means to pursue this find other ways to get that mental physical thrill,” such as closing a deal. “They’ve channeled it in a good direction, something useful for society and their family.”

Mueller, who goes through as many as 15 pairs of running shoes a year, has a new deal with sports apparel company Brooks Sports Inc., Bothell, Wash.

“I’ll be on the Brooks sports team in the year 2000 and will put on seminars at some of the Brooks-sponsored running events,” he says.

He wants to build those seminars into a national tour for his own business. Meanwhile, he will gross close to $2 million in sales this year for his four-year-old business. But that success isn’t on Mueller’s mind when he trains six to 10 miles a day, or when he’s running 50- and 100-mile races. Last year, he ran two 50K races, three 50 mile races and one 10 mile race.

Running strips everything away,” he said. “It’s you and that course — what you are made out of and what is your threshold of pain. Being able to think through that whole race — 100 milers — you think your race out, what you are doing, maybe that you need to drink more water, change your socks, your bodily needs and your mentality.”

“(Even) if I didn’t have this job, I’d still be an ultra runner,” he said. “It is about discipline, goal setting and taking it to the finish. I find that applicable to anybody’s daily schedule.”

For Dan Evans, chairman, chief executive and board secretary of Bob Evans Restaurants, it can cost up to $20,000 for his annual Alaska big game hunting trip to bring home Kodiak bear and Dall sheep. He’s hunted in New Mexico for elk and when he started in the sport 30 years ago, he hunted in Ohio.

A decade ago, he was serious about competing in cutting horse competitions, and won the cutting horse championship trophy in 1991 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.

“I won the trophy so I could talk about it,” he said. “I’m not riding at the level you have to compete now. I used to practice at 5 a.m. every morning.”

When he plays, Evans, 63, doesn’t think about his job.

“I don’t have any phones ringing,” he said. “I don’t want to worry about anything at home.”

In 1999, he visited 200 of his company’s restaurants, which employ 34,000.

“Whenever I go to a restaurant,” he says, “I have the names of all the people and try to call them all by name.”

In business and in sport, Evans says: “I’m challenging myself. I don’t say that to myself. But down deep it really is a real challenge.”

Andria Segedy (aesegedy@sprintmail.com) is a free-lance writer for SBN.