Eddie Taylor, a science teacher, was inspired to climb Mount Everest after a fortuitous encounter in a dog park in southern Colorado.
That’s how he met Phil Henderson, who was putting together the first Black climbing team to try the peak of the world’s highest mountain.
“I think we were both walking our dogs and he’s like, ‘Oh hey, how’s it going?’” Taylor recalled.
Taylor was in Ouray, Colorado, a lovely mountain town known as “America’s Switzerland,” for an ice climbing weekend in January 2021.
Following the encounter, a chat, a ski excursion, and an offer to join the Full Circle Everest Expedition team ensued. In early April, Taylor, who teaches chemistry and coaches track at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, will join the team in Nepal. He and his seven comrades will be ready to set out on their historic journey to the top of the globe by early May.
Taylor, who started climbing after college, hasn’t had much time to worry or be thrilled about the adventure since he’s been so busy teaching, coaching, and preparing for his lengthy departure this spring.
His assistant track coach stepped in while he was talking with a guest in an empty science classroom on a recent day, and they had a short conversation about updating a student’s event registration.
“My focus right now is just trying to make sure that these kids have the best experience here,” he said.
Taylor believes that the expedition and the press surrounding it will serve as a welcoming mat for individuals of color who are interested in participating in outdoor activities. Climbing, as well as the media images around it, is currently dominated by white people, he noted.
“If you’re a black person or a Latino person and you Google ‘climbing,’ you’re going to still see lots of people who don’t look like you,” Taylor said. “That, I think, makes those sports … seem a little bit more unapproachable.”
According to Taylor, there is a lot going on to help alter that. This includes organizations such as Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors, as well as organisations that give specialized equipment to folks who don’t have easy access to it.
According to him, the Full Circle trip is another piece of the puzzle, displaying exceptional Black climbers who “want to give back and say, ‘OK, you can do this, too.’”
Taylor discovered teaching in the same way he discovered the Everest expedition: by chance.
He found a position at an analytical chemistry lab after double majoring in math and biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder. Taylor rejected when his college track coach contacted to ask if he would assist coach pole vault at a neighboring high school. Taylor was persuaded to come to a single preseason practice by the high school’s track coach.
After that, all was agreed.
Taylor found he missed his college racing days and that dealing with children was something he liked. That season, he coached pole vault and high jump at Broomfield High School, and he did so for several more seasons after that, all while holding his chemistry job. He made numerous friends among the student athletes and liked following their development during the track season.
“In the spring, I’d wake up every morning excited to go coach,” he said. “And then work became something that I was just doing to make money.”
Taylor subsequently chose to pursue a career in education and enrolled in night classes at Regis University to get his master’s degree. He earned his first teaching position at Fairview High School in Boulder two years later.
Taylor, who grew up moving about a lot and went to high school in Minnesota, finds many connections between teaching and climbing, including a lack of variety. He only had one non-white teacher as a child, in second grade, when he went to a Navajo tribal school.
The teaching profession is predominantly white across the country, despite the fact that the majority of pupils are not. Only approximately 2% of instructors in the United States are Black men, and the percentage in Colorado is considerably lower – 0.5 percent.
When children of color see someone who looks like them at the front of the class — at least some of the time during their 13 years of K-12 schooling — Taylor believes it makes a difference.
“Sometimes that kid’s just going to connect with that person a little better,” he said.
Taylor is a down-to-earth guy who isn’t the sort to make a big deal in class about his aspirations to climb the world’s highest mountain. In fact, most of his pupils were unaware of the voyage until Taylor told them about it. They saw portions of the trip on television or read news pieces about it in hundreds of publications, including the Washington Post, CNN, and People magazine.
Some students were full of questions: “What’s it like going to Nepal? What’s it like going to Asia? That mountain’s crazy!”
Others have offered advice, he said. “Some of my track kids are like, ‘What’s your training looking like? You should be doing more sprints.’”
Taylor’s only presentation regarding his trip, outside of one-on-one conversations, was the result of a bribe. If his pupils performed well during a television crew’s visit to shoot one of his courses, he promised them a pizza party.
“They all came in exactly on time. They were all raising their hands, asking questions,” Taylor said, chuckling. “Not that they don’t do that normally, but it was over the top.” During the pizza party, he talked about the expedition.
In the next weeks, more local schoolchildren will learn about the Full Circle journey. Taylor’s wife, a Boulder Valley elementary school teacher, is combining the voyage into classes on capturing events and creating time capsules — materials that Microsoft, one of the expedition’s sponsors, hopes to make more publicly available.
She also started the Everest Kids Challenge for local kids, which pushes them to run, walk, trek, or cycle 5.5 miles, the mountain’s elevation above sea level. Participants will be placed into draws for prizes such as mountain bike and climbing adventures.
Taylor said part of the goal is to impact the broader community: “It’s not just a climb I’m going on,” he said.
Mount Everest, like his ascents of other iconic peaks such as Denali in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina, is more of a stage in a longer journey for him. He wants to rise to the top, but he also needs to get back down.
“None of these are successes if you don’t get home safely,” he said.
The article is paraphrased from the following: This Colorado teacher is about to climb Mount Everest, Ann Schimke, Mar 22, 2022, 4:39 pm MDT, https://co.chalkbeat.org/2022/3/22/22991401/teacher-eddie-taylor-mount-everest-black-expedition