Maj. Rob Marshall and Capt. Andrew Ackles, members of the Air Force Seven Summits team, hold the Air Force flag May 19 after reaching the highest point of the world, atop Mount Everest at 29,035 feet. (Air Force)
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Reaching the top of the highest mountain in the world wasn’t enough for Air Force Maj. Rob Marshall.
Marshall, team captain of the U.S. Air Force Seven Summits Challenge, needed to complete a ritual he has performed on the other peaks he has climbed: Victory pushups. The team had asked people to donate to two charities based on how many pushups Marshall could do at the summit.
“I’m doing it to show that mountains can’t stop you if you have teamwork and good physical fitness, and it also goes out to The Special Operations Warrior Foundation,” said Marshall in a video of the event.
So, at more than 29,000 feet, Marshall dropped to the snow and seemingly effortlessly banged out 30 pushups in just under 30 seconds.
“I don’t want to do any more and pass out,” said Marshall, a bit short of breath for being at high altitude with less oxygen. He then gave a crisp salute to the camera and said, “God bless America! Go Air Force!”
The team reached Mount Everest’s summit on Sunday, completing a journey eight years in the making. Marshall got the idea of climbing the seven tallest mountains in the world in honor of fallen airmen after several of his friends died in plane crashes.
On this trip, the team has raised between $60,000 and $75,000 for charity, said retired Air Force Col. Robert Suminsby, who has been posting updates on the team’s progress on their blog.
Other members of his team include Capt. Andrew Ackles, a TH-1N instructor pilot stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala.; Capt. Marshall Klitze, an instructor pilot at the Air Force Academy; Capt. Colin Merrin, a GPS satellite operations mission commander stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo; Capt. Kyle Martin, a T-38 and F-16 pilot stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; and Staff Sgt. Nick Gibson, a reserve pararescueman stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., who served as the team’s medic.
For Marshall, getting to the summit was the fulfillment of a dream.
“My favorite memory was about 30 minutes before we reached the summit, the sky was in that black to that dark blue and it slowly turns to a pink and an orange, and I knew I was going to see the sunrise from the top of the world,” Marshall said Thursday via a satellite phone while descending the mountain. “That was probably the most exciting part was just seeing the world come to life from 29,000 feet.”
As he always does, Marshall had saved a little bit of extra energy so he could do the pushups.
“I think I wanted to do some more, but the risk management in brain was telling me, ‘Hurry up, pack up and start going down,’ because I knew there was a whole crowd of people I was going to have to work around to get out of the death zone,” he said.
Before leaving, Marshall said the trek would be a success even if they didn’t make it to the top — as long as everyone returned home safe.
Both goals were accomplished, but a Sherpa the team knew died in early May of high altitude cerebral edema.
“It is a sobering reminder that humans are merely visitors to these high mountain realms, and even then, only in the best of circumstances,” the team’s blog said.
Getting to the top of Everest didn’t mean it was all downhill for the team. Many of the climbers have bad coughs from upper respiratory infections, bloody toes and beat-up knees from the descent, Marshall said.
“We’ve been going for almost 50 miles now nonstop since we reached the summit — we haven’t taken a rest day,” he said. “We’re just pushing hard because Capt. Martin, his wife is expecting a baby — not right away — but he wants to get back so we’re all working together to shorten our return time and hike through the darkness. It’s actually kind of fun to see how far we can push.”
The team left for the Himalayas in late March. Senior Master Sgt. Robert Disney was one of the wounded warriors who accompanied the team to base camp, the south side of which is at 17,700 feet in elevation.
Disney has sustained several injuries over the years, including being shot in the face by a Taliban fighter, but he never let any of that stop him.
“People who get hurt in a car wreck on their way to work don’t stop going to work,” he told Air Force Times before the team left for Everest. “They get their car fixed, they get themselves healed up and they continue going to work. That’s all I've done — that's all any of us have done.”
With this expedition, the Air Force flag has officially flown atop the seven highest peaks in the world.
“It looked so cool to see the Air Force emblem up there in the first light of the day,” Marshall said. “I knew people who took up tiny, little flags and we unfurled this gigantic Air Force flag and everybody knew at that moment that the United States Air Force was on top of the world.”