Opinion » Alta States

Tim Emmett — a man for all environments

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"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 ├╝ber-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."

More laughter from Tim. "Yeah, I was B.A.S.E. jumping there that day... it's one of the most beautiful locations in the world." He lets a few beats go by. "Well, I had this Audi sponsorship at the time, and there was a big Audi logo on my canopy — probably the only one in the world like it. I was also wearing a video camera on my helmet." And that obviously intrigued Katie.

Tim continues. "So this girl comes up to me and say: 'Hey — hi. I work for the Whistler Film Festival. And if you have good B.A.S.E. jumping footage, we could always use it...'" Another pause. A smile. "We were together for less than an hour that day," he says, "but something obviously clicked."

Now it's time for Katie to laugh. A farm girl from Saskatchewan — born and raised in Swift Current — she'd made the move to Whistler back in 2000. And she loved it. An aspiring actress and film buff, she had been drawn into the WFF's circle soon after settling down in the valley. But she certainly hadn't planned on being the festival's film scout on her Thai holiday.

"For me," she says, "it was almost immediate. There was one moment in particular... it was the way he looked at me — I just knew..." They're both laughing now. Still, Katie wants me to understand just what she was feeling that day in Thailand. "I'm not some touch-feely new ager," she says. "I'm a tough, red-necked gal from the Prairies. This was entirely new to me... and very powerful." She sighs.

They could have left it at that... two ships passing in the night. Both were over-the-top busy, so it would have been entirely understandable if the Brit climber and the Canadian actress never saw each other again.

But Katie wouldn't let it go. "We started corresponding," explains Tim. "And she used poetry and painting and other feminine guiles to lure me to Canada." He smiles. Shrugs. "But seriously — I knew we had made a strong connection on our first meeting. And I was curious to see what might happen if we met again."

Katie: "I had this feeling that we were meant to be together. You know, people always talk about magic and destiny and stuff like that when they talk about love. Well, meeting Tim made me feel like my life was being orchestrated by something larger than me." She pauses. "I just wanted to see this thing through."

And the trip to Vancouver? "Amazing," enthuses Tim. "We had this whirlwind week of adventures." He stops. Inhales a slow breath and smiles from ear-to-ear. "It didn't take long for me to realize I'd found my soul mate."

In Tim's line of work, hesitation can kill. You make a careful plan, you account for all the variables, but when the moment for action comes, you have to go for it. Boldness, in this environment, is always your best friend.

So he followed his instincts. "I bought her a ring while I was still in Vancouver," he says. And laughs like a little kid. "It was the most expensive thing I'd ever bought... and of course I didn't have enough money to pay for it..." No matter. The young climber phoned a buddy and asked if he could use his credit card for the purchase. "And he agreed to it," continues Tim. He lets another booming laugh crash around the room. "Fortunately for me, Katie said yes too!"

Crazy, eh? I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried...

On with the story. The two young lovers were married in 2008, under the looming peaks of Lake Louise. But deciding on a place to settle down together proved more problematic. "A lot of my work takes place in England," explains Tim. "But Katie wasn't all that comfortable living there. So we tried living in the Alps... in Chamonix to be precise." A few beats pass. "Finding a place that suited both of us was a real challenge. At one point, I started feeling like: 'Wow! What did I get myself into?'"

Katie jumps in. "Europe was great. But I really missed Canada. And particularly the West Coast and Whistler. I love having sea and mountains so close together..."

Tim and Katie would probably still be global gypsies today, if not for one small detail. "We got pregnant," says Katie. "So finding a place to settle down took on more urgency." They decided to compromise. "In the end," says Tim, "Squamish was the perfect choice. It's on the West Coast, close to Whistler..." More happy laughter. "And it has some of the best rock climbing in North America."

What really impresses Tim, however, is the region's diversity. "The more I learn about the corridor," he says, "the more I like it. I mean, I've never seen a place with such a multitude of world-class sporting venues... You can do it all here." But it's not just the geography. "The people here: wow! So friendly, so welcoming... it's the perfect community for us. Just the right place to raise a family."