At 52 years old, tenacious endurance athlete “Epic” Bill Bradley completes physical feats that even most fit 20-somethings wouldn’t be crazy enough to volunteer for. He has taken on challenges like swimming the English Channel without a wetsuit, biking across America and running marathons in Death Valley.
In May, Bradley became the first person to run seven single-day rim-to-rim crossings of the Grand Canyon, setting a world record. This rigorous trip covers 24 miles, and elevation changes of 11,000 feet. Averages of four to five people die on this trail every year. Bradley and his group completed each separate crossing in less than 24 hours.
With such a hefty list of competitions under his belt, one might assume Bradley has been training for most of his adult life, but this isn’t the case.
Before becoming an endurance athlete, Bradley was an entrepreneur, and for over 20 years owned Bradley Video, a successful chain of game and video rental stores, putting him on the map as one of the top independent video retailers in the country.
In 2005 his life changed dramatically when his company went under and Bradley went bankrupt. On top of this, Bradley was in the midst of a devastating divorce.
Bradley described suffering a loss of identity while coping with these losses; he recalled it being hard to look others in the eye because he felt so lost and ashamed of his failures. That’s when he decided it was time to find a new way to make his mark on the world.
While Bradley could tell someone a handful of “epic” stories from his various challenges, the focus of his motivational lecture was the seven Grand Canyon crossings, which he described as one of the most challenging and craziest things he’s ever done.
Like a true storyteller, Bradley recited a recount of each separate crossing. Read like memoirs, each narrative described a different challenge or defining moment. His charisma was only outmatched by his loud and hearty laugh at his own jokes.
Bradley recalled each incredibly difficult crossing; experiencing extreme heats of up to 130 degrees, heat exhaustion and loss of vision, lack of water, sore muscles and severely swollen, blistered feet. On the first crossing, Bradley had to stop because he had completely lost vision due to the heat.
“I was so embarrassed,” said Bradley. “I had run the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley in 130 degree weather, and yet the first day at the Grand Canyon had put me on my knees…I underestimated the Grand Canyon.”
While each crossing came with a unique set of challenges, he quickly learned from past mistakes, and figured out a way to avoid the severe heat exhaustion by drinking a small amount of water every five minutes or so.Each crossing was so grueling that it pushed Bradley to extreme mental levels, forcing his exhausted limbs to continue to carry him.
Sonoma State University Director of Athletics Bill Fusco, who helped coordinate the event and deliver Bradley’s introduction, was impressed by the presentation.
“[It] demonstrated the power of our minds, to overcome physical obstacles [and] to accomplish great things,” said Fusco.
In one scenario, Bradley had been so delusional at a resting point that he had forgotten to refill his CamelBak with water. It wasn’t until later down the trail, when he sucked the mouthpiece and heard the disheartening slurp of an empty pack that it dawned on him.
While his friend graciously shared his water, eventually the two of them ran dry. Their only option was to drink from a creek they’d been warned to avoid.
Given the option of death or running the risk of contracting giardia, an intestinal bug that causes severe sickness for sometimes months of time, the men decided to drink the water. Luckily they both skimmed by without getting sick later.
His mantra is “show up and suffer.” Bradley urges people to push past their comfort zones and past their mental capacity in order to reach greater heights. His resiliency and vitality is an inspiring reminder that the human spirit is capable of growing and pushing farther than it’s ever been before.
“In closing I will ask you this,” said Bradley “what is ‘your’ grand canyon?”