Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

September 18, 2019

The Magic Of Knowing That You’ll Make It Out Alive.

There is nothing more powerful than believing that you are going to make it. Not just believing. Knowing.

Knowing that no matter how bad you feel right now that you are tough enough to make it through to the other side. To survive. And thrive.

If you are struggling right now, you know the sense of dread that accompanies problems. You know the panic that creeps up the bottom of your throat. The hopelessness and fear.

You aren’t sure if this is the struggle that finally breaks you. You don’t know if you are going to be able to make it this time around.

What you need is to know that you will indeed make it out alive.

That you are strong enough to do what it takes to realize your dreams.

No matter how bad things look, you need to know. Like “Nando” did.

It was October 13th in 1972.  Flight 571 from the Uruguayan Air Force was flying over the Andes Mountains.  Onboard were 45 people, the entire Uruguayan rugby team and their friends and family.

It was a time of celebration and joy as they enjoyed each other’s company and the time they had together.

And then, that all changed in an instant.

A flash snowstorm high above the mountains caused the aircraft, a twin-turboprop Fairchild FH-227, to crash.  As the plane exploded against the side of the mountain more than a dozen of the passengers were killed instantly.  

The rest were left scrambling. In a wild panic.

Wondering how long they would make it.

At 11,000 feet in blizzard conditions, the 29 remaining survivors huddled around a makeshift shelter sharing a can of sardines, a few chocolate bars, and a couple of bottles of wine that they found in the wreckage of the plane.  

That was all they had.

They waited for rescuers to find them in temperatures that plunged to -30°F.  The first night 5 more survivors died.  Frozen solid in the unforgiving conditions.

A few days later, an avalanche fell from the top of the steep mountains peaks above them.  As the snow swept furiously around them, several of the group were snatched from their flimsy shelter and swept over the side of the mountain to their death.

Little did they know that the search-and-rescue effort for them had been called off days ago.  The best search teams in the world couldn’t make it to them.  

They were doomed to certain death.

Stuck impossibly high in one of the most inhospitable locations anywhere in the world.

For days they waited to be found by people who weren’t actually looking for them.  

No food.  Harsh conditions.  The odds against them.  

But then – things were about to get worse. Much worse.

To stay alive they resorted to the unthinkable.  The only thing left to eat were the frozen bodies of the family and friends who had died in the plane crash.  

They couldn’t build a fire in the swirling winds of the mountain top so they ate the frozen body organs raw.

Sickened by their state. Weak. And broken. They waited to die.

Hours turned into days.  Days turned into weeks.  Weeks turned into a month.  One month turned into two.  

That’s when hope began to die.  

They had survived an unimaginable tragedy.  They had stayed alive for 60 days by resorting to cannibalism.

And despite it all, they were still going to die.  Only 16 of them were left.

That’s when Nando knew he had to make a difference.  

A poor child from a poor section of Uruguay, Fernando Parrado, was a knock-out: a rugby player and captain of a popular team.  

His mother and sister had died in the crash.   He was all alone now.  If anyone was going to live, it was going to be because of him. He would go find help and bring them back to rescue the remaining survivors.

To begin their escape, he made snowshoes out of seat cushions and seat belt straps.  Using an old sleeping bag he put together a three-day ration of human flesh as food for their journey.  

Nando asked two other survivors, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintín to go with him.  

They left the crash site and headed west.

To get out of the mountains, Nando led his small group up the mountain pass directly to their west.  The peak of the mountain was over 14,447 feet high.

From the top of the mountain they could see the faint outlines of a road and the Pacific Ocean far away.  They knew they had a longer trip than 3 days.  

They started walking.

For 10 days they walked up and over mountains until they finally saw signs of civilization — green grass, a farm, and a river.  

They had walked 40 miles and were now in Chile.

Too exhausted to go any further, they collapsed on the side of a riverbank. They had given all they had. They were finished.

A short while later, a Chilean rancher found them and brought back the military and a medical support team, who were shocked at the men they saw.

It had been 71 days since their plane hit the side of the mountain.

The next day, Nando led helicopter pilots to the crash site where 14 of the survivors waited to be rescued. They had lived through the most horrifically improbable tragedy in history.  

Weeks later as the dead were buried atop the mountain, the rescue workers marked the grave with an iron cross on top of a pile of stones.  

That still stands today as a monument to the tragedy and a memorial to the miracle of hope.

Hope led by one man.

A man who knew that he was going to make it.

Chances are your life isn’t exploding against the side of a South American mountain pass like Flight 571 did 47 years ago.

You won’t have to eat the dead bodies of your friends and family to survive.  You have food in the pantry, a roof over your head, and 300 channels on cable TV.

But your problems might seem just as horrific.  And they’ve still solved the same way: “You need hope.”

You need to believe that you can make it. To know that “you’ve got this.”

You need to know that no matter how tough things are right now that you can do what success requires.  You can make it out alive.

You are tough enough to do what it takes to realize your dreams.

Shuffle. Stumble. Crawl. Move. Do whatever it takes to make forward progress.

You go this.

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.