Gabriel Filippi: The man


Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw
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Have you ever dreamt, even for an instant, of admiring the world from its roof? Gabriel Filippi has taken that dream a step further. This man of action is the sole Quebecer and only the second Canadian to have climbed both faces of Everest (8850 m). This is a man who lives for the sake of challenge, so for him, there is no such thing as a status quo. He is living proof that with perseverance and mental strength, success is within everyone’s grasp.

Raised in a family of ten children, he revealed his natural leadership at a very young age by organizing activities for his brothers and sisters on rainy days, to give his mother a break. At the age of 11, he took his first trans-Atlantic flight:  that journey became the spark for many future flames. This introduction to the world was the greatest gift he could have received.  On his return home, he devoured books, seeking out new countries, exotic cultures and interesting peoples.

As an adult, still enamoured with air travel, his passion for adventure led him to the air traffic control tower, directing planes through a microphone, a recurring object in his career. Today, between two peaks, he shares his thrilling adventures and experiences. His curiosity has turned to discovery: he has toured over 40 countries, seeking out mountains, new people and causes to support. He uses the media visibility garnered by his expeditions as a lever for change. His social activism focuses mainly on children and the environment.

Picking up a microphone in public would have been completely out of the question a few years ago. In 1995, the mountains beckoned him away from an exciting career in management. After a few months of training, he took the competencies he had acquired and applied them at high altitude to conquer Mount Aconcagua. Reaching the peak awakened in him an enormous respect for the mountain and for the elements. That discovery revealed a new reason to live: to seek out new challenges.

And it is exactly that pleasure in tackling new limits, both professionally and personally, that he now shares with employees and employers all across Canada and the United States. He shares the philosophy he has forged step by step in profoundly inspiring and moving presentations, recast to reflect the realities of the business world. His experiences outfit the audience with new paradigms and push individuals and businesses to confront their own obstacles and face their own Everest. “If it has been done, then I can do it. If it has never been done, then I’ll be the first!”

Innovation is an intrinsic part of his approach. In 2003, he led a ground-breaking expedition, the Life Line. Followed by over 10 million Canadians, this was a truly unique adventure: a heart transplant patient climbed to the top of Mont Blanc (4810 m) on his own. But a mountain is only one possible backdrop for testing and proving yourself. Advancing, exploring different fields, perpetually developing: that is the real feat!

To celebrate his 50th birthday, Gabriel preached by example and confronted his own worst fear: water. As a child, he almost drowned, and since then just wading in water to his ankles had provoked a powerful stress reaction. He decided for once and for all to conquer it. Having never swum a stroke in his life, he signed up for an Ironman triathlon: a 3.8-km swim in the open ocean followed by 180 km of cycling and wrapping up with a 42.2 km marathon. He invested himself body and soul for several months and managed to turn his fears into strength. His faith in himself took him the distance. On November 7, 2010, little Gabriel crossed the finish line. As the announcer so rightly proclaimed, “Gabriel Filippi, you are an IRONMAN.” Victory over the self is the most profound achievement.

From one challenge to the next, he is constantly exploring his potential. In 2010 he became the first Quebecer to climb both faces of Everest. His first ascent was recognized by the Quebec government by a motion in the National Assembly. The previous year, in a speech in the House of Commons, the Canadian government did likewise. In short, his exploits have brought him widespread recognition (sponsorships, appointments as spokesperson of various causes, a nomination as the star ambassador of greater Megantic, etc.).

His mantras are practical: Push back your own limits. Struggle through storms to refine your vision of life. Use action to move from dream to achievement. And his head is still full of plans, so he no doubt has many more surprises in store for us…