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BY: MARYAM SROUR
Renowned for his extreme athletism, mountaineering, and adventures, Lebanese Armenian Ara Khatchadourian has one remarkable motto to preach by example: “Conquer the unconquerable.”
From climbing the ‘mountain of death’ in Switzerland and the Everest to crossing miles of geographic borders with extreme endurance, he is now set for a new super challenge ahead.
At fifty-five years of age, Khatchadourian is currently training to dare a mindblowing adventure: To row a boat from Marseille in France to Beirut, Lebanon.
The arduous task would require him to cross 1,903 nautical miles (3,524 km) of treacherous weather throughout the heart of the Mediterranean Sea.
Khatchadourian is no stranger to danger. He is a world-renowned athlete and mountaineer. He discovered his passion for mountain-climbing by chance when one of his friends challenged him to a trip to the Swiss Mont Blanc. With climbing fatalities estimated around 6,000 to 8,000, that Swiss peak is infamously dubbed “the world’s deadliest mountain.”
At that time, Khatchadourian had no mountaineering experience at all but was in great physical condition due to his regular marathon races. Nonetheless, he took up his friend’s offer and embraced the challenge. After only three days of developing proper skills, Khatchadourian ascended the mighty dangerous mountain.
That extreme experience got him to catch a whiff of the thrill. Since then, there has been nothing that could stop him.
In 2015, the thrill-seeking adventurer sought to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by climbing Mount Everest.
In order to prepare himself for the physical and mental strain of the challenge ahead, he trained rigorously and went on climbing first the highest mountains throughout Africa, South America, and Central Asia.
In Spring 2015, Khatchadourian, aged then 51, headed off to Mount Everest to begin the mighty ascend with his crew of fellow mountaineers.
By far the most treacherous part of the climb for the mountaineers was at reaching the “death zone” with an altitude above 25,000 feet (7,620 m). This term was coined due to its extreme elevation and the knowledge that a person cannot acclimatize to that altitude.
Most of the deaths on Everest happen in this zone with almost all the dead bodies remaining on the mountain.
When asked how he felt seeing bodies lying along the trail as he got closer to the summit, Khatchadourian gave this response, “..it gave me even more motivation to reach the summit, as I was not just doing this for myself and my people, but also for my fellow mountaineers who never made it.”
The “death zone” is also known for its extreme unbearable cold that caused frostbite to many. It did not spare Khatchadourian who lost the tops of his two big toes.
It took Khatchadourian years of preparation and training, mind and body discipline, and hard work to stand at the top of the world.
According to him, the journey was deeply symbolic; coming from the base of society as a poor refugee from a war-torn country to achieving a triumph that was accomplished by less than 4,000 people in the entire world.
Climbing Mount Everest has not been his only physical achievement.
In 2018, Khatchadourian ran a tri-continent marathon from Marseille to Yerevan. He covered 11 countries, 500 towns, and 2,685 miles (4,321 km) in an astonishing span of 105 days, averaging 26 miles (42 km) a day.
So remarkable was this achievement that he was greeted by crowds of people in Yerevan, and most notably he was commended in person by the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.
Born to Armenian parents in Beirut in 1964, Khatchadourian was forced to leave Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War and take refuge in France at the young age of 19.
“I always tell people [that] everyone has their own Everest,” Khatchadourian says. “It could be summiting the tallest mountain in the world or getting the job you always wanted. It will take hard work and perseverance to conquer such things, but it is the greatest feeling in the world when you succeed and reach the summit of greatness. So I ask them, what is your Everest?”