Fitness expert, mountain climber, and inventor Ruben Payan runs fitness studio Human in Motion in Shunyi. He’s a man on a mission, six mountains into a quest to climb eight of the world’s highest peaks – an experience he has harnessed as a metaphor for determination, learning, dreaming big, and achieving one’s full potential. He met with Grade 5 students at Beanstalk International Bilingual Academy to talk about his inspirations, experiences, philosophy – and even his dog, Worm.
Ian Zhou, 10, Hong Kong
How did you feel after climbing six of the highest peaks?
I felt very humble and grateful. I got into a lot of trouble on Mt. Everest; I developed wind blindness on my way to the summit. I had to work hard to come off of the mountain. I appreciate everyone who was with me and I’m excited to move on to the next mountain.
Molly Han, 10, China
Which mountain was the hardest to climb?
Everest was definitely the hardest because of the problems I had with my eyesight. But I’ll climb K2 in 2016, and that has a reputation for being particularly tough.
Enrique Eddy, 11, Mexico
What inspired you to become a bodybuilder?
When I was 11 years old, I watched a movie called Conan the Barbarian. I was a little guy and I thought “I have to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I begged my dad to buy me a gym membership. I went in there and people at the gym started teaching me how to train. Later I went into the Marine Corps, and after I got out, I changed my career; I’ve been in the fitness industry for the last 14 years. I love helping others get to their goals, just like other people helped me.
Richie Zhang, 11, China
Why do you like to invent things?
I’ve always liked inventing things. In the sixth grade, my first-ever invention was an automatic page turner. If I have an idea, I just go for it.
Dora Youn, 10, South Korea
Did you climb with a partner?
When you do a high-altitude climb in the Himalayas, you have Sherpa. Sherpa will help you, guide you, and carry some of your gear. On our expedition, we had seven people in total supporting five climbers.
Arguin Ankhbat, 10, Mongolia
What was your Marine Corps training like?
At the beginning, I was scared because I was only 17; I just wanted to go home. Boot camp lasted 12 weeks, and those turned out to be the best 12 weeks of my life. Because they take you from fear, and they make you so strong physically and mentally, after 12 weeks you feel ready. The Marine Corps was tough but definitely worth it.
What was your greatest invention?
I have a new one, but you have to promise me you won’t say anything. My son is 19; when he was young, he didn’t have a lot of friends because he and his mom moved around quite a bit. I invented these little jackets with sleeves you can flip inside out to make a puppet. You can take the sleeves off and switch out your puppet. So I called it My Vest Friend.
Jason Chen, 14, China
When did you start climbing the eight tallest peaks?
In 2005, the first one that I climbed was Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Nini Chen, 10, China
Why did you choose those mountains?
I’m working on this project called Powerful Human. It’s a program for kids about doing cool things and supporting others. Each one of the mountains represents a certain part of my program. On top of every mountain I open up a banner and each banner is the title of a chapter in my program.
Alex Rao, 10, China
Did you sleep overnight on Mt Everest?
On Mt Everest, we spent a lot of time sitting around because we have to wait at base camps, wait for the weather, wait for our bodies to adjust to the altitude. I had a bad stomach and headaches. On the days that I was in camp, I was sleeping around 12 hours a day. There’s nothing to do but eat and sleep. But when it’s time to go up, you have to work really hard.
Brijana Shao, 11, New Zealand
Is mountain climbing dangerous?
It’s really dangerous. A few weeks ago, they had a big accident on Mt Everest. There are huge glaciers through the mountains. You have to be really careful because you never know when Mother Nature is going to shake things up. The sun melts the snow and ice flows come crashing down. Once when we were eating, a big rock rolled from the top of the mountain and came right through the tent. It could’ve really hurt somebody if we hadn’t been eating.
Louis Lee, 10, Malaysia
[After Payan introduced his dog] How did you find your dog?
Around the corner from our gym, there’s a gas station. A dog there had puppies; the puppies would come to the gym and we would feed them. It started getting cold and I let the dog, Worm, sleep in the gym one night. That turned into two nights and eventually we just brought her home. Now she’s my dog.
Amy Bai, 10, China
Why do you want to climb mountains?
I thought climbing would be a challenge physically. But I’ve learned so much about myself, different people, and other cultures.