Charlie Wittmack swam down Britain's River Thames and across the English Channel, then bicycled across 13 countries in Europe and Asia over several months in 2010 and 2011.
To top it off, he headed for the top of the world: the summit of Mount Everest. It was his second trip there.
The mindset that helped him complete what he called his World Triathlon can be applied to growing a business and a community, Wittmack told a Fort Dodge audience Thursday evening.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Keynote Speaker Charlie Wittmack talks about his adventures exploring the world.
To be successful, he said, one must dream big and then take small steps toward making those dreams become reality.
The Des Moines attorney and adventurer was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance. About 300 people attended the event at the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites at the intersection of highways 7 and 169.
Wittmack, who grew up in Boone, became interested in adventures as a boy after he read books about a man swimming across the English Channel in 1876, and Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbing Mount Everest.
"I fell in love with the idea of reaching for something that's beyond what's obviously attainable,'' he said.
In 1995, he rode his bicycle across the United States.
Then in 2003, he climbed Mount Everest for the first time, becoming the first Iowan to reach the summit.
He began training for his World Triathlon by swimming in Lake Michigan near Chicago. Swims across the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and a 12.5 mile ocean marathon around the Florida Keys followed.
Just as he was about to begin the triathlon, his wife, Katie, was diagnosed with cancer. That development caused them to realize that what really mattered in life was the experiences they shared together, Wittmack said.
With his wife's encouragement, the triathlon went on. Katie Wittmack accompanied him for part of the trip.
To complete the grueling trip, Wittmack realized that he had to bring it down into smaller segments, such as a day of swimming or bicycling, that could be easily accomplished.
He said that's the same technique that must be applied to everyday life: take a big plan, break it down into smaller sections and keep working on it incrementally.
Teamwork helps as well. he said.
''If we're going to have success on these big things, we're going to have to work together to make the intangible tangible,'' he said.
On the trip, he enjoyed days when he felt great and seemed capable of doing anything. Then there were the lousy days, filled with bad weather and sand that made bicycling almost impossible. Wittmack said he used the good days as his inspiration to get through the bad ones. That's another technique anyone can use successfully, he said.
''That's the mark of an explorer,'' he said.
Wittmack completed his voyage on June 1, 2011. His wife recovered, and today they have two sons.
Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or email@example.com