We all share that common hunger to show the world our worth. It’s not about where you come from, where you live, how much money you have, what kind of job you do … it’s a basic deep-down in your soul desire to make your mark on this earth. To prove to yourself, and to others, that your existence means/has meant something. It’s a self-conscious flow, burning through the veins when all the outside distractions fall at our feet. For most, this drive doesn’t come until later in life, when we realize all that other “stuff” didn’t matter at all. For others, however, it starts at the beginning, a life-long journey of acceptance.
Dale Sanders has climbed mountains, crossed rivers, and walked literally thousands of miles to reach that pinnacle.
The journey for Dale began soon after middle school, during a time when bullying was seen as no more than boys-will-be-boys instead of the painful scarring it truly is. He was small in stature and found himself, like many others, a target by the insecure. But for Dale, those years of bullying sparked a drive inside him that soon turned into a raging fire, blowing him into the winds of self-determination and into a life that has proved beyond measure... enough.
Dale’s story, his life, speaks to us all through his determination to show the world that a square peg doesn’t always have to fit into that round hole others try to place us in, and it’s perfectly alright. In fact, it’s even better. His mark, already left etched into the many, many minds who have met him, speaks loud and clear a formula for finding your way. A map you will have to travel yourself, but one you can certainly follow as an example, moving toward positivity which is the elixir, he says, for a long, beautiful, and adventurous life.
In 2017, I wrote about Dale. At that time he was an 82-year-old man who completed a “walk through” of the Appalachian Trail in the same year. He finished the 2,190-mile trek with his family waiting at the end with excitement. Before that, Dale and his wife Meriam backpacked around the world. He paddled the full length of the Mississippi River at age 80, completed the MR340 race across the entire state of Missouri from the first stroke in Kansas City to the last gasp in St. Charles, hiked over a thousand miles on the Florida National Scenic Trail and the Pinhoti Trail, and most recently this year, joined an elite group of those who have hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim from the south rim to the north rim and then back down across the Colorado River and up to the Bright Angel Trail.
Before putting these many accomplishments in the books, Dale lived a very full life after leaving the family farm nestled on the banks of the Whippoorwill Creek in Lickskillet where he was born. In 1958, he joined the United States Navy. During this period, he became a Navy Hospital Corpsman, Hard Hat Deep Sea Diver, and served as a Navy Medic assigned to the United States Maine Corps in Okinawa, Japan. After his service, he earned two degrees in Parks and Recreation and carved out a professional career in the field where he worked full-time for the next 37 years.
By the mid-1960s, Dale was already recognized through competitive sports such as swimming, springboard diving, and spearfishing. He also served as Recreational Dive Master for the United States Marine Corps. After graduating from college he started a commercial driving school and underwater service company, all of which helped further his life-long career in the field of Park and Recreation.
To say Dale has lived a full life is an understatement. And although he has earned many accolades and world records along the way, appeared in several prestigious magazines and newspapers, and is known around the world as the “Greybeard Adventurer,” nothing compares to the enlightenment his travels have provided.
Dale has lived that full life, but he has done something even bigger. A small bullied boy who started out in Logan County, Kentucky has navigated through the many rivers, forests, and mountains of life we all face and proved not only to himself but to all of us, that the way to greatness is as simple as not being afraid.