On the weekend of Nov. 20, Mark Gibson will attempt to “climb” Mount Everest right here in the City of Brotherly Love — by running, Rocky-style, up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art approximately 880 times.
That works out to a distance of just over 29,029 feet, which is the height of Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Since Gibson won’t include in his tally the distance he’ll then have to cover by repeatedly running back down the steps, his feat will actually be the equivalent of both ascending and descending the famed Himalayan peak.
He’s calling his endeavor “The Rocky Steps Everest Challenge” and figures it will take 24 hours, including time for meals, bathroom breaks, and occasional rest periods.
“It will be the hardest thing I have ever done,” said Gibson, 60. Which is saying a lot. Because the Everest quest is just the latest of some wild physical challenges the Perkasie resident has taken on since 2010. That was the year he received his first solicitation in the mail from AARP, just days before he tuned 50. It featured a smiling photo of now-98-year-old actress Betty White.
“I said, ‘Betty White is my peer — how did that happen?’” recalled Gibson, who was born and raised in England and retains the country’s accent. “I had run marathons and done a lot of travel when I was in my 30s. But that [mailing] reminded me: Time is ticking.”
He wound up putting together a bucket list of physical challenges for himself, “certain things that would require endurance, fitness, and strength.”
The feats he has checked off since then include:
A 3,400-mile solo bicycle ride from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Ocean City, N.J.
A 276-mile run, accompanied by his son Tim, 25, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia in 10 days (the equivalent of a marathon a day).
A 600-mile skateboard ride, also with Tim, from the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to the Parliament building in Ottawa, Canada.
A run across the Grand Canyon, from the north rim to south rim — and back again. All told, he said, he traversed about 47 miles in about 24 hours. “My legs hurt, and I ached — and as low as I felt, it was an amazing high, the stars were out, and it was a great scene,” he said. “You are on the edge with everything you do.”
When he’s not testing the limits of his physical endurance, Gibson owns and runs Boing Gymnastics Center, in Perkasie, where he works alongside his wife, Donna, and his two other children — Bri, 23, and Missy, 21. Coaching young people to leap, tumble, and jump comes naturally to the Gibsons. Mark was a member of the British Junior National Gymnastics Team and, later, an assistant coach to the U.S. Junior Olympic boys’ national team.
He’s also a best-selling author: His 1995 book, Going For It! The Gym Bag Companion for Living Your Dreams, remains a popular read in the gymnastics world. Donna Gibson, too, has cred with the families who send their kids to Boing: A graduate of Perkasie’s Pennridge High School, she was a member of its gymnastics team.
Global adventure comes naturally to the couple, too. In 1991, they used their savings to explore the world for a year and a half. Even after they settled in Bucks County and started their family, they’d travel with their children for months at a time, living off the fees Mark received from book sales and from motivational speaking he did at conventions and gymnastics centers around the country.
“It was all a great experience,” said Donna, who good-naturedly puts up with her husband’s obsession with pushing his physical endurance.
“I am used to it,” she shrugged. “It’s something he has always done.”
Gibson’s Mount Everest endeavor is a one-man fund-raising event for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, the foundation that supports research and advocacy of pediatric cancer research (donations can be made at highbarperformance.com). In preparation, he’s been pounding the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum for hours at a time. But at least, starting out, he already knew how to run. Not so with that long-ago skateboarding adventure, said his son, Tim.
“What’s amazing is that he had never been on a skateboard until about three months before our trip,” Tim said. But “he got good enough to do it, and it was a great trip.”
Donna Gibson said her husband is “always aware that life is short and not something to take for granted.”
As for Gibson’s take on his incredible feats of endurance, it’s all about the journey, he said.
“So many [others] get fired up about the dream,” he said, “they’re focused on the goal and not the process of achieving the goal.”