Meet The Outdoor Power Couple Setting Their Sights On Everest, English Channel And Gender Equality
For many, climbing Mount Everest is an achievement of a lifetime. But for one Park City resident, summiting the highest mountain in the world is just one in a series of goals he’s checking off his list this year. Endurance athlete Rob Lea recently became the first person on record to climb Everest and swim the English Channel in the same year — and he’s still going.
Lea plans to round out an endurance challenge he’s calling the “Ultimate World Triathlon” next month, with a bike ride across the United States. But before that, he’s marrying ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich.
The traditional triathlon isn’t new to Rob — he’s a former competitive triathlete who now works in real estate. But the idea for his new challenge took shape after ankle surgeries and realizing he wouldn’t be able to run as much. He was on a doctor’s table a few years ago when he decided to swim the 20-plus miles across the English Channel. What he didn’t realize at the time was how many jellyfish there would be.
View this post on Instagram Wanna see what it looks like to take a jelly fish to the face?? The channel was a roller coaster of mental and physical challenges. One such challenge was getting stung by over 50 jelly fish. Some hurt more than other, but two direct blows to the face were the worst. This one was a compass jelly fish and I’ve still got some recovering “burns” on my face from the tentacles. On the bright side, they gave me an adrenaline shot about 4 hours into the swim and gave me something else to think about for a while. And they’re really beautiful to look at in the middle of the night, 10 hours into a swim. @carolinegleich A post shared by Rob Lea (@rob.lea) on Jul 15, 2019 at 4:20pm PDT
“I was prepared for some jellyfish and I was actually, in some weird sadistic way, kind of looking forward to those jellyfish stings because when you’re swimming for hours on end, I think you’re almost looking for something to break up the monotony,” Lea said. “I thought, ‘Oh, almost like a bee sting, like, it’ll hurt a little bit, but also maybe it’ll give me a little adrenaline rush and something else to think about for a half hour.’”
Rob said he thinks he got stung between 50 and 100 times. Most of them weren’t two bad, but he “took two direct blows to the face that really hurt.”
”Ironically enough, when I first told Caroline about the project, and Everest in particular, she said that if I was the type of person who wanted to climb Everest, she was probably going to break up with me,” Rob said.
“I was pretty anti-Everest because it has such a bad reputation and it’s so crowded,” Caroline said. “I had the same preconceived notions a lot of people have: that you pay your way up and it’s easy. It was a really good lesson for me to challenge those.”
Caroline proposed to Rob on the top of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world, last year.
“I felt like it was a way for me to feel a sense of agency in the whole marriage proposition and to feel more control over that,” she said. “I think in a relationship that both people should be able to ask for what they want, and I think strong men will not be feeling insecure by that.”
View this post on Instagram Here’s what the top of the world looks like! I’m literally speechless and trying to find the words on what it all means. We arrived at the summit at 7:05am on May 24. We’re now back at base camp, safe and sound. Definitely exhausted and ready for some recovery. Guess it’s time to start thinking about swimming the English Channel. For now, I think I’ll just ponder the fact that I’ll stand on another mountain top in a few month and say my vows with the same woman I stood on top of the world with! A post shared by Rob Lea (@rob.lea) on May 26, 2019 at 3:38am PDT
Rob says he was not insecure about it and even felt a little relieved that the pressure was off him to propose.
The pair climbed Everest together in May. Last month, she was in a support boat alongside Rob as he swam the English Channel. But for the bike trip, which he estimates will take about a month, he’ll be on his own. “I don’t want to crew for 30 days because I think it could be devastating to our new marriage,” she laughed.
Throughout their adventures, the pair has been advocating for gender equality on their social media feeds. Rob says being with Caroline made him see a lot of implicit gender bias in the outdoors.
“When we first started dating and I was brand new to backcountry skiing, we’d be out in the backcountry and she was a professional skier.” Lea said. “People would always kind of assume that I was a guide and I was guiding her, just because I was male and I was 6’1”.
But Caroline knows her stuff. Two years ago she became the fourth person and the first woman ever to ski what’s called the Chuting Gallery, which are 90 of the toughest and steepest backcountry ski descents in Utah.
"Gender equality is just a difficult topic to bring up, so we were hoping we could kind of make it more fun," Caroline says. "Also just to remind people that it’s not only a woman’s job to advocate for gender equality."