Excellence: On Top Of The World

slav on summitVachyslav Tokarev graduated in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in Engineering. He now lives in Dubai and works in the Middle East for a large oil service company as a drilling consultant, helping plan and drill complex oil wells. In May of 2018, he climbed to the top of Mt. Everest.

Where did the idea to climb Everest come from?
I remember the moment vividly. I was an RA on Kingsmen in EMR and working on my weekly RA report when I became distracted and researched what it was like to climb Everest. It's not often that a distraction leads you to something good, but in hindsight I believe it was the Holy Spirit. Two years ago, in similar fashion, I decided to trek to Everest Base Camp. Once I saw Mt. Everest, it hit me: this is what I must do. The mountain became something I must overcome. If I could climb this mountain, if I could achieve something so seemingly impossible, I could achieve anything in life. 

How long did the preparation for the climb take?
Two years. Since there are no mountains to speak of in the Middle East, I climbed the stairs of high-rise buildings in Saudi Arabia and UAE. I live in Dubai and I've spent lots of hours climbing in the different stairwells of the city. As the climbs became easier I began adding weights to the point that I was climbing for hours with sixty pounds on my back. I'd say doing that, running regularly and doing some other difficult climbs got me prepared. I climbed four of the seven summits (tallest mountain on each continent) in one year last year. I also climbed the tallest mountains in Antarctica, North America, South America, and Africa last year.

When and how did you get into climbing in general?
It began with that Everest Base Camp trek two years ago, when I saw Mt. Everest and realized that I must climb it. I understood that I couldn't just climb Everest tomorrow. I must start with smaller peaks first and each peak must be climbed a step at a time. Someone said the mountain is 30% physical and 70% mental. My thought was to train to be indestructible. Where fatigue would not defeat me. Cold would not defeat me. Fear, anxiety and doubt would not defeat me. I trained my mind and body by climbing more and more difficult peaks. I spent three weeks in Antarctica training my mind and body to overcome similar conditions I would face on Everest. 

How long was the journey to Everest?
The actual journey from Kathmandu to the summit of Everest and back took 56 days. It took 10 days to get to base camp with a stop in a Sherpa village that is not typically part of your average Everest Base Camp trek experience. It took 43 days to climb to the summit Everest in 3 rotations from base camp and 3 days to descend from the summit to base camp. From there we took a helicopter from base camp to Kathmandu to save us 3 days of trekking out. 

You went up with a group of people—what were they like? Did you form friendships? Will those last beyond the peak of Everest?
The group of people that I was climbing with were some of the most successful people I've met in my life. Eight out of ten climbers were self-employed business owners who were doing quite well for themselves financially. I was fortunate to spend two months with these people as they were highly motivated and positive thinking individuals who all had great stories to tell. Having done something so difficult together we will surely be lifelong friends. A month later I'm still in touch with everyone with some planning to visit me in Dubai and others I will visit in Seattle, Aspen, and elsewhere. 

What motivated you to take an ORU flag with you?
I wanted to give back to an institution that gave me so much. One thing alumni can do for their alma mater, besides giving money, is to do great things, to become great. Nothing inspired me more at ORU than seeing great alumni. Sometimes we think the university just needs our money, but what motivates current students, what inspires future students, is the success of ORU's alumni.
 
Take us back to the summit. You’re standing on the top of the world and looking out. What was that like?
I've spent lots of time imagining the summit, especially at base camp and other camps over the 42 days I was on the mountain, what that moment would be like, the photos and angles I would like to capture. People could probably relate to the many different selfies they could take. But once I was there, it was not at all how I imagined. I didn't scream as I did on other summits. I did not feel any special euphoria. In fact, I was relieved simply to have made it; with oxygen levels being so low at that height, even with supplemental oxygen, the hypoxia left me out of touch with my senses. I also understood that the summit is not the finish line in regard to a peak like Everest. The journey on the way down is often more dangerous.
 
Returning to base camp, though: now that was a euphoric moment! I felt like my ceiling of what I could achieve in life had exploded. Nothing would ever seem impossible again. And I felt extreme gratitude to God, to my family and friends and everyone who had supported me. The mountain was a great time to connect with God. You bet I was praying and praising every day!

I feel like every mountain I have climbed was an encounter with God. My spirit was renewed but my body was weak. I lost 15lbs on Mt. Everest and since I have returned I'm still trying to regain the weight in a healthy way. I lost most of the muscle mass my body didn't need.
 
What’s next?
For me the sky has become a moving target. If there was something taller than Everest I would climb it. At this time I'm considering attending a top MBA program and perhaps ascending the ladder in the business world. But more than that, I hope my story inspires others to dream big, to attempt seemingly impossible things and to "Make No Little Plans Here." Be careful of the inspiration you get at ORU, it may literally take you to the top of the world.

[Note: This is an extended version of an interview that appears in our Fall 2018 issue of Excellence magazine. To read the complete magazine online, go here.]