Other Life: Whether a business challenge or an Everest record attempt, financial planner Jason Desaulniers has no quit in him
This is our Friday feature, called Other Life, which focuses on what financial professionals do when not at their desks serving clients and managing portfolios. If you have a hobby, interest, or achievement that you'd like to share, please email [email protected]
Last November, Jason Desaulniers, Certified Financial Planner at Excalibur Executive Planning Inc. and BP Group Solutions, stood on a narrow mountain trail beside a yak train in Gorakshep, Nepal, the last civilization before Everest Base Camp, waiting for his duffle bag to be unloaded from the back of one of the animals.
Along with his spouse Chantal, Desaulniers had travelled 26-odd hours from Edmonton to the other side of the world, bussed to the local airport, flew to a town called Lukla, and starting walking. They trekked for 10 days, including two acclimatization days at Namche Bazaar and in Pheriche as their bodies adjusted to the altitude, before reaching Gorakshep.
What brought the couple to this small settlement that sits at an elevation of 5,164 metres? A Guinness Book of World Records attempt to set the record for most altitude gained and descended — over 10,000 metres — in an obstacle course race (OCR).
Starting out in the financial industry in 1996, Desaulniers has faced many career-related challenges: building a business, the ups and downs of the markets, changing rules and new regulations — “And more regulations and more regulations,” he adds with a laugh — and in 2016, he decided he wanted much more physical challenges in his life. He participated in his first OCR — think Spartans, X-Warrior, and Tough Mudder — in 2017 and enjoyed it, participating in more over 2018 and even more in 2019. Joined by his self-proclaimed better half, the couple did a 60-hour endurance event in Greece, represented Canada at a 24-hour World Championship Ultra OCR race in Sweden, and then in 2020, the pandemic shut everything down. The duo got into more outdoor activities like rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, and back country camping and hiking, never losing that passion for fitness and a challenge.
“Endurance events that involve no sleep, little to no food, and struggling under heavy loads might sound like work to most people, but we look at is as fun,” says Desaulniers, who is also Sponsorship Chair for Advocis Banff School following almost a decade in various roles — including a few terms as president — on the Advocis Edmonton Board.
“It takes a lot of mental fortitude, a lot of grit to push through these things. The body will tell you to quit long before it really has to, and it’s up to your mind to walk yourself through it — just like anything in life or in business. When things are hard you either keep going or you stop stopping, you just get it done.”
By 2021 the races started again, and the couple jumped at the chance to get back out there. Following a 63-hour event in Abu Dhabi, the World Obstacle Course Race Federation did a presentation at their host hotel on a Mount Kilimanjaro race for the Guinness Book of World Records. It went on the long list of events they’d like to participate in, and in 2022 the stars aligned and they signed up for the November Everest World Record attempt, bringing Desaulniers to Gorakshep where there are no motorized vehicles and everything from toilet paper, to beer, to OCR participants’ luggage is trekked up the mountain by porter, by yak, or on the racer’s own back.
After a close call — one of the massive animals hooked its horn under the strap of his backpack, which he admits “could have been nasty but I was fast enough to unclip it and get the heck out of the way,” — the couple settled in and prepared for the event. Along with 32 more participants from 14 other countries the group ascended to the course on Kala Patthar and tackled obstacles including several walls to jump, sand bags to carry, a cargo net to climb, monkey bars to cross, and a traverse to master — and this is all before the two-day trek back down, after which the couple decided they might as well do a 6,090 metre summit on Mt. Lobuche while they were in the neighbourhood.
“It was challenging for sure, but it’s a slow and steady thing for us – you just keep going,” Desaulniers says. “I don’t have a lot of quit in me. It’s a matter of pushing forward and if there’s something in the way you figure out how to go around it, over it, under it, or through it.”
This persistence is something Desaulniers embodied throughout his career, and for the last seven years that drive has spilled over into his personal life as fitness took up more and more of his free time. It takes dedication to run 5-10K a day, mostly outside — which he’s done religiously for two years now — especially on Edmonton mornings where the temperature dips to 30 below. It takes even more to return from that run and take his dogs rucking, where he hikes another 4K but with a weighted backpack.
For now, Desaulniers is keeping up with his routine as he awaits word from Guinness as to whether or not they set the record, and as much as he’s looking forward to making it official, he’s also eagerly looking ahead to the next challenge: the couple recently registered for Run Rock n Roll, a 5K followed by a 10K the next day, in Las Vegas.
“I’m just waiting for the World Record certificate to put up on the wall of my office,” he says. “And after Vegas, in October I plan to do the Grizzly Ultra, a 50K running race in the Canmore, AB area. I haven’t signed up yet — but I’ll be doing so shortly.”