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VT Group’s Dave Dacquino Goes for Seven Summits

Dave Dacquino, VT Group

Dave Dacquino is an executive on a mission. To be more precise, Dave is on seven missions: He is aiming to climb the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents, also known as the seven summits. GovCon Executive caught up with Dave to find out how he is progressing toward his goal and what he’s learned along the way.

GovCon Executive: How exactly did you become interested in mountain climbing?

Dave Dacquino: My wife, Mary, and I have always hiked a lot internationally.  I was at a party with some friends and their children (in their 20s) were in the other room talking about mountain climbing and getting their certification.  I drifted into the room and was teasing them about it and instead ended up getting hooked — by the ‘kids.’  So I just took hiking and trekking to the next level.  I thought that would be a fun thing to do; it’s a physical challenge and a mental challenge.

GovCon Executive You took it beyond the level of just a physical challenge; you are trying to climb the seven summits.  Where did the idea come from to do that?

Dave Dacquino: After I decided to do the certification climb, I started reading a few books.  The seven summits are a pretty popular goal among mountain climbers — when I was going through the certification course on Mt. Rainier, all of the mountaineers were talking about them.  I became interested in that and it was exciting to talk about climbing the highest mountain on each continent and the different challenges that each one had.  I decided that is what I wanted to do even before I finished my certification course.

GovCon Executive:  How far are you along in your goal to reach the seven summits?

Dave Dacquino: I’ve completed four summits—Kilimanjaro at 19,340 feet; Kosciuszko, which is a little one in Australia at 7,300 feet; Aconcagua in South America in the Andes at 22,841 feet (that was a tough one) and I just completed Mt. Elbrus in June of 2010, which is at 18,510 feet.  I might do the one in Oceania (Puncak Jaya) which is in Indonesia on the island of New Guinea and is at 16,000 feet.  New Guinea is in Australasia, so there is some dispute as to which mountain to count in the seven summits—Kosciuszko which is the highest mountain in Australia or Puncak Jaya, which is the highest mountain in Australasia. Regardless, I have completed Kosciuszko so I have covered one of the two of them. I am now desperately trying to schedule Denali for this year.  Denali is the highest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet and is located in Alaska.

GovCon Executive:  Out of those experiences, what was the most difficult part?

Dave Dacquino: No doubt Aconcagua was the toughest. It took us three weeks to summit and return. It took us three days just to get to base camp and we were trekking loads (about a 70 pound pack) up from base camp.  We had to hustle a little bit because there was a storm coming in. We ended up summiting on Jan. 4. We were experiencing 60 mile-per-hour winds when we summited and it was bitter, bitter cold. The wind chill factor was -60 degrees.  It was severe. Nobody summited for three days after that because of the severe winds. That, by far, was the toughest climb that I’ve done.

GovCon Executive:  This requires a lot of training and time off work. How are you able to manage a work-life balance and still pursue your goal of doing the seven summits?

Dave Dacquino: Honestly, I haven’t trained the way that I should have, so I have to rely on gutting it out. I discovered a new concept with training for the marathons that I’m doing now–preparation for marathons is a perfect training environment for climbing a mountain.  The only thing that it lacks is carrying the backpack.  So I altered my regimen and after I would run a long distance, I would put a backpack on and train with the heavy weight on my back to get my body used to carrying weight and having the weight shift.

GovCon Executive: Which marathons have you run?

Dave Dacquino: I did the Camp LeJeune marathon in March 2010 on behalf of Hope for the Warriors. It was actually a half marathon and I worried because I’m built like a mountain climber, not a runner. I ran with the president of our Integrated Solutions company and he has long legs, so I was very intimidated. My shorter legs were going twice as fast as his.  Then, I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2010 and was really worried because I had never run 26 miles before. It was a tough one, but I finished well (4 hours, 9 minutes and 24 seconds).

GovCon Executive:  What is your advice for someone who is just starting or would like to start a climbing hobby?

Dave Dacquino: I would say to go get a certification first and make sure safety is number one.  It’s just so easy to make a mistake and a mistake will cost you dearly, possibly with your life. It’s all about finding the right company to get the certification and training from. Never compromise on safety, it’s just too easy to do especially when you experience ‘summititis’ – you get on a mountain and it’s all about making the summit so sometimes you just don’t think about safety as much as you should.

GovCon Executive:  Is that something you believe you can apply to your work as well?

Dave Dacquino: You know it really does because, at work, you get all of this pressure to perform for the customer and perform for your business and you’ve just got to keep your head on straight saying, ‘I know what my number one priority is.  It’s about safety in the workplace. It’s about making sure that everybody gets home safe every day. It’s always about doing the right thing and you never let anything compromise that no matter how bad the pressure gets or how distracted you get.’  It really is a direct corollary to the mountain. When you are on that mountain and you are just so focused on the summit, you have to be well trained and well focused and never get distracted.

Further, it’s all about teamwork; nothing teaches you better about teamwork than mountain climbing.  You are relying on your team, they are relying on you and you are literally one second behind them if they fall.  If someone does fall, everyone has to work together so the ‘team’ doesn’t fall.  You get to know their strengths and weaknesses and you become comfortable with the fact that you have to do it as a team.  You can’t be the best at every single thing you do.  That team is what gets you to the top and that absolutely applies to business.  It’s been a great lesson, a great life lesson.

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