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Rob Raker: What I’ve Learned

Filmmaker, 55, Golden, CO. Sometimes the worst things in life can lead to the most positive outcomes. In my case, it was a really bad ski accident...

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This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 191 (January 2011). 


Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Sometimes the worst things in life can lead to the most positive outcomes. In my case, it was a really bad ski accident 15 years ago that resulted in a knee injury that required three surgeries, a broken elbow, and a head injury that has affected me to this day. While recovering, I discovered I enjoyed shooting video and making films.

***

Find something that allows you to pursue the experiences you love most. Quitting my job as an environmental scientist to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking was one of the best decisions of my life.

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In Iraq, I learned that working under the radar and having trusted companions is crucial in documentary filmmaking. In 2003 we traveled to places like Fallujah, Abu Ghraib prison and Ramadi for our interviews. We didn’t have the security of the big news stations, but were also able to get better stories.

***

I’ve been to all seven continents. Interior Antarctica was the wildest: shockingly devoid of life. Madagascar, where I shot Lynn Hill, was one of the poorest places I’ve been. The overall desperation was something I will never forget. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to have the time and resources to participate in something as trivial as rock climbing.

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I started rock climbing in 1968 when I was 13 years old. On a family trip to Grand Teton National Park, my dad, brother and I decided to take a rock-climbing class with Exum Mountain Guides. My instructor, a young strapping Rod Newcomb, who later became the company owner, was the epitome of confidence and fearlessness. I wanted to be like him when I grew up! I’ve been a climber ever since.

***

Climbing is the unifying theme in my life. It has pushed me mentally and physically, taken me to the most remote and beautiful places on earth, and fostered insights and observations about the natural world that benefited my films. But even more rewarding are the friendships I’ve made through climbing.

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My climbing partners are like family. They have been extremely helpful, especially recently with the discovery that I have a very aggressive, advanced stage prostate cancer.

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I am approaching cancer as I have approached all challenges I’ve faced in my life. You can’t change the past, but you can collect as much information as possible about the best ways to proceed and then carry on.

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If I could turn back the clock five years, I would make sure the results of my annual physical were being properly evaluated. If they had been, the screening tests I was having would most likely have caught my cancer. Once it spreads into the lymph nodes, as mine has, there are very few options.

***

My advice to all men my age: Get screened and get evaluated by a doctor who knows what the f- he’s doing!

***

Never stop having as many new experiences as possible. Climb new routes. Visit new countries. Embrace opportunity. Love your friends. Engage in the natural world. When I am climbing on a crag in South Africa, watching birds in the Amazon, diving on a reef in Fiji, or just being with my friends, I am the happiest guy around.


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