My wife and I went on a business trip to Phoenix, Arizona. We had a free day and decided that since it was February and we were not in Chicago, that we should take advantage of the beautiful weather and go for an easy hike up Camelback Mountain. We looked at the map and found the best trail for an easy and leisurely stroll up the mountain.

We drove to the trailhead, parked the car and started our hike. There were a lot of young kids ahead of us on the trail so I was convinced that the trail wouldn’t be too hard to walk. I told my wife, “I do not want to do any climbs that require me to hang from any rocks and I would prefer to only use my feet”. She laughed and said, “I thought you used to be an Army Ranger”. The first 30 minutes of the hike were absolutely ideal: unbelievably scenic, perfect temperature and a nice smooth uneventful walk.

Then we saw an older gentleman sitting down on a rock. He was obviously winded. He said that he was not going to go any further. I asked him if he was OK and he said that he was fine but that we had a decision to make once we went around the corner in another 100 yards. His message was somewhat cryptic. I did not take him too seriously because – well, this guy was at least 15 years older than me and was at least 50 pounds overweight. Then we turned the corner. 

This hill was nothing like what I experienced in Ranger School, but I was also, thirty years years older and maybe 30+ pounds heavier than I was back in 1987. Now I have a wife, three adult children, a granddaughter, mortgage – way too many thoughts going through my mind now. 

We headed up the hill. As we climbed, we passed a guy about ½ way up the hill who was obviously struggling with the climb. Unsolicited, the guy said, “Yep, they just airlifted a guy out of here two days ago”. Of all things that he could have said, why did this guy have to say that? I was now thinking about falling over the edge or having a grabber instead of enjoying the beautiful day. His comment did not give me any confidence to continue the climb – my legs and my hands were shaking! But, we kept going!

After we got the top of this hill we hiked for a while longer and then we came to another climb that was even steeper.  

We had a conversation and my wife convinced me that it was time for me to – in her words, “Man up and keep going”. (She finished a triathlon last year and is just a little bit competitive) So, we kept going. When we were almost half way up to the top of the hill, I saw a woman to my front who appeared to be close to, if not already, 80 years old. She was on her way down! She was wearing leather gloves, had two hiking poles with straps, a helmet, and braces on both knees. Again – she was on the way down and I was on the way up. I was just working hard to catch my breath and get it together so I did not freeze and cling to the side of the mountain.  

I looked at this woman who was at least a ¼ century my senior and watched her slowly descend the uneven and very steep slope with care, confidence and grace. When we were brushing shoulders next to each other, I looked at her and said, “You are inspiring me.”

She said, “Thanks!”  

She then rolled up the left sleeve on her shirt and showed me her tattoo. The tattoo read, “Inspire Someone.”  

I said, “That’s Awesome!”

And just like that, she was gone at a snail’s pace headed down the hill. I continued to climb and crawl my way up to the top. Although, now I had a little extra pep in my step and was no longer thinking about getting airlifted off the mountain. I was now thinking about that chance encounter on the trail. I was thinking that she was now a new hero of mine and how I really want to be just like her when I get to be her age.

She inspired me! The interaction made me think about how her outlook on life was literally tattooed on her arm. Inspire Somebody! What would happen if we all made a decision to do that everyday? We all have choices to make about the words we choose to use and how choose we live our lives. We can choose to either encourage and inspire or we can choose to discourage and scare. I want to be like the lady with the tattoo! I did not get her name or find out where she was from but, I really hope our paths cross again because I would love to hear the rest of her story.

Wes Becton is the Co-founder and CEO of George Washington Street Partners which is an executive leadership, career, and performance coaching and consulting company. Wes is a former Infantry Officer and graduate of the Army’s Ranger School. Wes has extensive executive leadership and governance experience in a wide range of industries including banking, education and healthcare. Wes is the former Board Chair of Northeastern Illinois University and currently serves on the Boards of Elmhurst College and Pan American Bank. Wes earned degrees from George Washington University (BA International Affairs) and Lewis University (MBA Health Care Administration). Wes is also a member of the International Coach Federation. and is a frequent speaker and lecturer on the topics of leadership and diversity.