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Master of Two Worlds

The full moon over the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s Sapphire Coast.
The full moon over the Pacific Ocean on Australia’s Sapphire Coast. By Charles W. McCormick
By Charles W. McCormick, Crimson Staff Writer

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” —Winnifred Crane Wygal, “Serenity Prayer”

In the spring of my freshman year, I was diagnosed with anorexia. The story of college for me, at its core, has been about asking where Charlie went and finding him again.

I can confidently say that my relationship with my body is healthier now than it has been in a long time. This does not mean, however, that the obsessive thoughts are completely gone, that the wounds aren’t still raw, or that questions remain unanswered. I am continuing to climb and suspect that, to some degree, I always will be.

When Nicholas C. Ige ’25 and Kevin Fischetto ’26 first approached me in the fall, I was immediately drawn to their project for this reason. They offered a solution to my dark days and responses to my endless volley of questions. I disclosed this with Nick a few miles after leaving Charlotte’s Pass, the trailhead for Mount Kosciuszko, and in turn he shared with me the somber contingencies of leaving the army — anger, losing your closest friends to self-harm, breaking down when you watch a particularly realistic war movie. Nick, ever the open book, will share all of this if you ask.

On our afternoon in Bermagui, we asked a fisherman at Blue Pool where the best bars were. He assured us that the drinking demographic of the 1,500-person town always flocks to “the Bermy pub,” so that evening we ate, drank, and rubbed elbows with Bermagui’s finest. Nick has told me countless times that to fight back against depressive thoughts and win, you must simply “do hard shit.” But that night, it occurred to me to ask Nick a new question: “Do you believe in free will?”

Nick paused, took a sip from his lager, and encouraged me to think back to Blue Lake and what luck really means, to consider more fully the significance of opportunity and preparedness. Much is out of our control, but how capable we are of responding is not. Self-doubt, impatience, hatred — all seem so trivial when you’ve run a dozen miles before 9 a.m., or better yet, when you’ve spent the entire day outdoors with a friend.

By chance, there sat a playground with swings across the street from the Bermy pub that many pints had rendered deeply enticing. It just so happened that the same thought struck another four geezers from the pub, and so by sheer accident, Nick and I made four new friends, swinging and sending laughs into the balmy evening air long past the pub’s closing. By the time Nick and I walked the short distance back to the Suzuki, parked on top of a cliff overlooking Blue Pool, the clouds had cleared and we had the good fortune of viewing a full moon before drifting off to sleep.

There was so much spontaneity to attend to — so many jokes to crack and smiles to share, so much fresh air to breathe and moonlight to swim in — that I ran out of questions to ask that night. The dark days, as luck would have it, felt so very far away.

* * *

Nick driving the beloved Suzuki from Sydney to Thredbo.
Nick driving the beloved Suzuki from Sydney to Thredbo. By Charles W. McCormick

“I am scared, and want to love so hard, I want to love and be loved. But until then I am alone.” —Nick Ige, Dec. 3 journal entry

It’s difficult to overstate just how much Nick and I talked about over the course of the trip. There was plenty of silence, sure, but the two of us were quite rarely outside spitting distance of one another the entire time. And when you’re on a road trip with someone as storied as Nick, you find yourself covering all kinds of unexpected ground.

That this would be a discussion-based trip was established on the first day. Deftly maintaining conversation while adjusting to driving on the other side of the road, Nick enlightened me about the training Rangers must endure, their odd fraternal rituals, how depoliticized war feels in live combat, the mission on which he earned both his Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals, the time he rescued two people from a burning house without protective gear while off duty, and how he still tenses up slightly when he sees “ambush trees” — the kind of cover that assailants in Afghanistan would often spring from — alongside the road, among other things. And that was just in the first two hours.

We proceeded to discuss how deployment changed his perspective on religion, the various spiritual leaders we’ve had in our lives, and open-mindedness as a kind of religious practice. Conversation petered out as night fell because we had to keep a lookout for kangaroos jumping onto the road.

But thankfully these conversations extended beyond the car. Over breakfast, we discussed the pitfalls of the American two-party system and what characteristics you should look for in a long-term partner; over lunch, his tattoos and our relationships with our families; over dinner, the social scene at Harvard and ideas for my thesis.

Nick is an unapologetic person and we disagree on many things, but rarely have I felt my lived experience received so respectfully and my opinions pondered so deliberately. Assumptions were always checked at the Suzuki door, and leaning into empathy was a consistent theme of the trip. Of course, anyone who eats in the Cabot House dining hall and sees Nick chatting with someone new at every meal could probably guess something similar. Loving life so fully entails loving the people in it.

* * *

Nick during his 50-mile ultramarathon in Puerto Rico.
Nick during his 50-mile ultramarathon in Puerto Rico. By Nicholas C. Ige

“I am granite reorganized, a formation—: yet forming. I dream with the mountain because I am of the mountain. … I was dreamed into being—: I was the dreamer.” —Natalie Diaz, “Duned”

You won’t be surprised to learn that Nick has continued to push himself physically and mentally this semester, running self-timed marathons regularly. In February, he ran 37 miles across Cape Cod. Over spring break, he notched a cool 50-mile run in Puerto Rico.

Ultramarathons are part of his training to tackle Mount Denali in Alaska — the next mountain on his list and the tallest from base-to-peak on the planet, only third in total elevation behind Asia’s Mount Everest and South America’s Mount Aconcagua. Nick plans to begin climbing Denali on May 18, just days after the semester ends, but you can support him now by contributing to his GoFundMe, which you can find on his Instagram bio.

Injuries, travel expenses, and LS1b problem sets are always emerging to obstruct Nick’s progress, but he continues to find new sources of inspiration. Nick is a magnet for similarly ambitious training partners, who accompany him in the weight room and on his runs. His Instagram page is overflowing with uplifting comments from friends and distant supporters alike. Nick and his project possess an unmistakable gravity, one felt within his communities on campus and also far beyond them.

The mission is to promote student mental health and veterans’ education. Nick has come far, but five more peaks and countless memories await him.

* * *

Nick pausing at a viewpoint along the Main Range loop in Australia’s Snowy Mountains.
Nick pausing at a viewpoint along the Main Range loop in Australia’s Snowy Mountains. By Charles W. McCormick

“Where is that real, unconditional, nourishing something? How can I be good to others and good to myself, one with body and one with mind? Make this part of your Constitution, Charlie. Somewhere between Sunlight and Mountain, heart and soul, worries dissolve as though they never existed.” —Charles W. McCormick ’24, Jan. 12 journal entry

Late in April, I visited Nick in his room to chat about these articles. I walked in to see gear sprawled everywhere and Nick lying like a mummy in a bivy sack on the floor, taking stock of his equipment before he leaves campus. The goofiness clearly never left.

But it’s been a long semester, and we are both tired. I’m in a rut with final papers looming. Nick shared that he’s been feeling undisciplined as the year comes to a close. Not one to dwell on negative feelings, however, he reminded me that the mountaintops are that much sweeter when you’ve experienced the valleys. In the moments we are tested, we also see growth.

Nick let me skim through his journal from winter break to find quotes while he packed. I’m never quite sure how to end my entries when I write, but Nick always signs his off with a brief message: “Nick, lead with love” or “Nick, plan your victory.” These little reminders anchor his writing, prescribing something to focus on until he opens his journal again.

I think it best to end this article with some reminders of his. I look forward to hearing all about Denali the next time I see him, and I can’t wait to pass his stories along to you. Maybe I’ll even have some more questions answered. But until then, dear reader,

“Seize your chance to grow,”

“Rebuild your trust with yourself,”

“No longer let fear stop you,”

“You are in the journey, keep going,”

“Love yourself, and let it be free.”

—Staff writer Charles W. McCormick ’24 can be reached at charles.mccormick@thecrimson.com. His column “Dagger and Book” explores the artistic experience of Nick’s mountain climbing adventure.

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