Robinson man goes to great heights to honor SEALs
After Mike Kobold's friend was critically injured in Iraq, the Robinson watchmaker decided it was time to conquer his fear of mountain climbing.
Consider that done. Kobold, 31, has twice climbed Mt. Everest to raise money for the Navy SEALs Warrior Fund, a nonprofit group offering support to wounded SEALs and their families.
"The Navy SEALs are really among the very best in our military," said Kobold, who scaled the peak -- more than 29,000 feet high -- for the second time May 17. "They take extraordinary risks to do extraordinary things, and we don't do enough for them when they get injured."
He began raising money for the Warrior Fund after his friend Elliott Miller, a SEAL from Illinois, was injured in an explosion in Iraq. As a result, Miller can't speak, but communicates through text messages and e-mails. Kobold attended the annual gala for the fund two years ago in New York City and said he got "roped into" climbing Mt. Everest when a SEAL commander chided him about going to the mountain -- part of the Himalaya Mountains on the border of Nepal and Tibet -- but not attempting to climb it.
Kobold hopes to raise $250,000 for the fund through his climbs. Last year's raised $15,000; he hasn't tallied this year's take yet.
"We watchmakers have some sense of pride, so I said I wanted to go back and climb the summit the next year," Kobold said. "I never thought they would hold me to it. I was just trying to be cocky."
Some background information
SEALs are deployed in more than 40 countries worldwide. The average SEAL is away from home more than 50 percent of the time, either on deployment or for training. In addition to offering support to injured SEALs and their families, the Warrior Fund provides support to active-duty SEALs and their families.
"Everyone involved with the fund appreciates his interests in supporting our mission as the Navy SEALs work with other special warriors in keeping this country free," said David Guernsey, executive director of the Warrior Fund. "He has an appreciation of what the Navy SEALs go through in defending the freedoms of this country. I think there are a lot of people out there who want to support us, but very few people are willing to put their life on the line like he does."
Before the first climb in May 2009, Kobold trained with eight SEALs in Coronado, Calif. -- no small feat, considering he was afraid of heights and not as fit as they were. Kobold and his wife, Anita, spent about six weeks this year and last getting acclimated to the conditions on Mt. Everest, climbing daily with a doctor, guide and three Sherpas.
Oddly enough, Kobold professed he doesn't really like climbing. What he enjoys most is the camaraderie he shares with fellow climbers.
"It can play with your mind if you're not a roughy-toughy mountaineer," Kobold said. "I never thought I'd do something like this. I'm really a pretty boring guy."
Kobold, who started making watches as a teen and opened Kobold Watch Co. as part of a class project at Carnegie Mellon University, puts his craft on hold for several months each year to make time for training. He and Anita won't return to the United States until the first week in July, to allow their bodies time to slowly readjust to the lower altitude.
"It's an absolutely breathtaking view from the summit," Kobold said. "You see all these huge peaks around you and it's awe-inspiring. There's nothing in this world like it."
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