#48 The It Factor

This is What “It” is all About 
By John P. DeGrazio 
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John & Ricky Join in for a group photo with the O.A.R.S. Tuolumne Hikers

The “It” factor is a concept that there are certain intangible characteristics individuals possess that set them aside from other peers. It’s a widely used phrase in our daily lexicon whose meaning is often implied, yet it is never fully explained. It’s often used in sports when people talk about special athletes who may not be the most gifted but can succeed at the highest levels because of “It”. Think Derek Jeter, or since it’s Super Bowl week, think Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson. What is the “It” factor? What is “It”?

“It” is also commonly used in the statement ‘That’s what “It” is all about. I was preparing my blog for this morning and was ready to share my thoughts on a certain Half Dome adventure until I was distracted by a couple of compelling Facebook videos. The second one made me stop everything. It was a video about George Wendt, the founder of O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists). In this video, George spoke about an event in the late 1960’s that moved him to create his company and the passion he now shares with thousands of people each year. He is a true pioneer in the outdoor adventure industry and someone I personally admire a great deal. We at YExplore are fortunate to partner with O.A.R.S. for a very special multi-sport trip called the Yosemite & Tuolumne Hiker.

One thing we all inevitably learn over time is that we are not immortal and our lives are very short. That is why it is of the utmost importance to find interests we are passionate about and find a way to weave them into the fabric of our everyday life. That is exactly what George did when he created his company while I followed a similar path almost four decades later. We have been partnering with O.A.R.S. for over 5 years now and continue to offer exciting adventures throughout Yosemite National Park. At one time, we were able to offer the Half Dome trek as part of our itinerary. Here is a story about one of our Half Dome trips with a group from O.A.R.S.

9 eager hikers set out in the dawn hour on September 2, 2010 from Curry Village to the John Muir Trail. Alyssa, Tammy, Matt, Greg, Zaven, John, and Denise joined Ricky and me that morning for a brief safety orientation. Some of our groups in the past were not as well prepared for the hike so I wanted to really emphasize the importance of safety and focus, especially on the latter sections of the hike. I was so focused on sharing my message that I temporarily lost sight of why we were all there, to have fun and enjoy the scenery. As I faced the group, I noticed that several members of our team were clearly distracted. This became my distraction as well, but I was determined not to let it sidetrack me. I spoke for another minute or two until I finally relented. Thinking they were watching a deer, I asked what was taking us away from these all important life saving tips. The answer came from Alyssa who was extremely polite but told me the group was observing a bear walking through the woods about 50 yards ahead of us, and I had missed it. Lesson learned. Always be aware of your surroundings, always be adaptive, always stop to enjoy rare encounters, and never take yourself too seriously.

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The O.A.R.S. group on the Half Dome Summit by John P. DeGrazio

After the first mile of the hike, Ricky and I agreed that this seemed like a strong group. Ricky was a guide who worked with us for a couple of summers. I had met him through coaching at the local high school. He and I shared a different passion, baseball. He was looking for work that summer so I told him to join me on some hikes where he could work with youth and help share our beautiful home region with people from all over the world. We spent the rest of the summer coming up with creative ways to inject our coaching techniques while guiding people on strenuous hikes.

We moved at a moderate pace, and there were absolutely no problems until we reached the cables at the top of Sub Dome. This is a familiar reprise and a recurring theme of this blog series, but one of our members was ready to throw in the towel at the Saddle. Tears were shed, and I allowed the team member to release some emotions before I approached. Through coaching, I have learned to help athletes deal with many adverse situations from injuries to overcoming emotional hurdles. I feel I have made a successful transition to professional guiding because of that experience.

I relish earning the trust of my groups and have to work harder than usual sometimes. After the tears subsided, I asked this member if they were interested in making the summit attempt. The group had formed such an incredible bond throughout the week’s activities and felt it was important to share the success with everyone who started the day together. Once I received an affirmative response, we made our way up the cables. Our journey came to an abrupt halt about forty feet high on the rock.  With only the sound of the wind blowing at our backs, we were suddenly frozen. After some deep breathing, the fear subsided, and we continued up the cables. The trust we all had in each other was undeniable while we moved as a single unit, one stanchion at a time. One of the greatest delights I draw from leading this hike at the front of the group is being able to look down at our line and measure its efficiency. Listening in can also be fun as teammates shares advice of best practices learned with each other. We smoothly navigated the final four hundred feet, and everyone rejoiced when we reached the summit.

There were cheerful conversations and playful photographs from everyone on the peak. I often reflect back on this group because I witnessed so many true friendships being developed. I have stayed in touch with a couple of members from this dynamic team. It is so wonderful to know there are pioneers like George Wendt who were out there paving the way long before I arrived in California and amazing to think that this opportunity to meet such wonderful people arose from a partnership with an organization with a similar ethos. Sharing Half Dome and the natural beauty of Yosemite is one of the greatest successes of my professional life, and I owe a part of that to George and his team at O.A.R.S. I am so grateful to be able to mix my passion with profession, and that is what “It” is all about for me.

YExplore Lead Adventure Guide John P. DeGrazio has reached the summit of Half Dome more than 100 times. In this series, he will share stories from some of the most interesting journeys along the trail of Yosemite’s most popular peak. He will reflect on some of the most inspirational moments he has shared with hundreds of others while achieving their lifelong dreams. John will also share tips on how to properly prepare for such a long, arduous trek while providing insights on how to successfully complete this quest. He’ll also discuss changes to this hike he has witnessed throughout the years as well as many interesting encounters along the way.

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