Overcoming fears and reaching new heights

Well that’s a wrap on the 2019 Strive Challenge and what a way to finish!

Richard Branson Strive Challenge 2019 - summit

We got up bright and early yesterday to trek and summit Mont Gelé in the Swiss Alps. It was a steady climb - winding up, up, and up, before skirting around a beautiful mountain lake with brilliant views of the Mont Blanc range. It was a moving moment as I looked out over Mont Blanc and remembered the first time we climbed the peak – to launch Big Change in 2012.

It’s amazing to reflect on the progress that has been made since then. Big Change now supports and incubates 24 different education projects and pioneers from all over the world to reimagine the way we educate our young people. The £5 million raised from the Strive Challenges over these years is what makes this progress possible.

Richard Branson Strive Challenge 2019 - team

Once we reached the summit, there was a united sense of elation, exhaustion and excitement.

As some of the team paused for a photo, I snuck up on them and popped a bottle of champagne over their heads!

Richard Branson Strive Challenge 2019 - Champagne

Now, there was only one challenge left to complete - paragliding down the valley to Verbier. I was very excited for the glide, but was all too aware that my fellow Striver and Spanx founder, Sara Blakely, was grappling with a lifelong fear of heights.

I first met Sara when she became a contestant on my US TV show called The Rebel Billionaire, back in 2003. Today wasn’t the first time I’d seen Sara face her fear of heights head on. As part of a challenge on the show, Sara crossed a plank between two hot air balloons at 10,000 feet and then went on to climb for 48 minutes to have tea with me on top of the balloon. 

Her arms were spasming, and she had to claw the hot ropes that lace the balloon together - but she pushed through. When she reached the top of the balloon, she slipped through the vent to dangle over the flame omitting burners. Luckily, a crew member grabbed her by the ankle, but in that moment I remember thinking: “Would we have fried her or would we have plummeted together?”

Despite running dangerously low on fuel, we made it safely to the ground and Sara’s career went on to really fly. It was incredible to see her bravery and determination in full force back in 2003, and today was no different. When it’s a long way down, you’ve just got to keep looking ahead.

Richard Branson and Sara Blakely - Strive Challenge 2019 - Lake Swim

After a rather dramatic landing (more about that to come), we all hugged and celebrated together with a huge sense of elation, relief, pride and a bond like no other. Each year, the Strive Challenge really proves that we’re so much more capable than what we think, and we can overcome enormous challenges when we do it together.

Richard Branson Paraglide - Strive Challenge - 2019

As the Strive team say: “Growth happens when you step out of your comfort zone; magic happens when you do it with others.” This motto well and truly lives on in 2019 and I can’t wait to see this magic play out through the work of Big Change for many years to come. 

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