"He is the best man who, when making his plans, fears and reflects on everything that can happen to him, but in the moment of action is bold."
Greek historian Herodotus
There's no mistaking that smile. It's completely guileless, totally spontaneous... almost childlike in its innocence. And it says volumes about the person sporting it. "I am what I am," it proclaims. "I've got ab-so-lu-te-ly nothing to hide..."
And then there's his laughter. Boisterous, unruly — a raven's raucous chortle — it bursts out into the conversation at the least incitement. And you can't help but laugh along. For there's a level of positive energy there, a sense of good-natured power, that draws all in its wake. It's almost humbling that way.
But then it should be. You see, this Tim Emmett guy is no ordinary human being.
I know. I know. Everybody's special in their own unique way (especially here in Sea to Sky). Still, like the ubiquitous "consumer" goods that come and go in our all-too-disposable culture, words that were once reserved to describe extraordinary achievements by exceptional individuals have become devalued in recent years.
Extreme. Radical. Awesome. Astounding. Amazing. Cutting-edge. Revolutionary even... these are all words that, once upon a time, would have been perfectly adequate to describe what Emmet has achieved in the world of high-risk sports. But today? I fear they barely skim the surface of what this über-athlete stands for.
He's the Renaissance Man of vertical sports. A master of the planet's toughest environments — earth, air and water. I mean, this guy does it all, and at such a high level that it boggles the mind. He's arguably one of top two or three ice (and mixed ice-and-rock) climbers on the planet, a well-respected alpinist, a world-class B.A.S.E. jumper and wingsuit pilot, a muay thai boxer, a surfer... oh yeah and he's widely recognized as one of the early pioneers in deep-water soloing (which means climbing impossibly difficult pitches above water — usually with no protection — in exotic locales like Thailand or Vietnam).
More importantly, though, Tim Emmett loves life. And he loves it with such passion and enthusiasm, that's there's just no room for attitude or snobbery... or even a hint of entitlement. No wonder the 39-year old Brit is such a popular motivational speaker back home in England. He sees people. He understands their hopes and dreams. Bottom line? As exotic and wild as his own life may be, Tim knows how to connect his own questing spirit to others' and, if only for that moment, make people believe that they too can reach far beyond the ordinary.
He's a citizen of the world, at home on any rock crag or chunk of ice, as welcome in Chamonix and Kathmandu as he is in Aviemore and Bristol. So what the heck is he doing living in Squamish?
Well," says the wild-haired climber, "that's an interesting story..." And he bursts out laughing again.
And it is, indeed, an interesting tale. Tim, his Canadian wife Katie Schaitel and their newborn baby, Rocco are all sitting in my tiny Creekside condo. The anecdotes have been coming fast and furious all afternoon, but this is one question, I can see, that resonates deeply with both of them. So I encourage Katie to interject whenever she feels the urge.
"It all started in Thailand," begins Tim. "I think it was in February of 2007..."
"Sure was," says Katie. "There I was sitting on this beautiful tropical beach – you know, swaying palm trees, warm water, a languid breeze." She smiles. "I was minding my own business, just enjoying a beer on the beach, when all of a sudden this guy falls out of the sky... and lands, literally, right next to my blanket."