Exclusive interview with Modern Day Adventurer, Tom Fabbri
Many people consider the sky to be the limit, but for some, the sky is just the beginning. Having experienced life at it’s lowest of lows and faced all of the emotions that accompany it, the gentleman we focus on today was able to take all of that darkness and find within it the reason, the purpose, and the inspiration to heal, to pursue, to succeed! And even greater, to have found the passion to help others find their own purpose, realize their own passion, and achieve their own goals. A person who far exceeded the expectations that many people around him told him he could never accomplish. Whether it was due to his age, or his past. There was always a “Don’t bother” ringing in his ear, until that one day when someone said “Go for it!”. And he did!
Meet Tom Fabbri, World Wrangler
Tom is currently fulfilling a personal challenge to complete what is known in the world of adventure as the “Adventure Grand Slam“, which consists of multiple extraordinary feats to complete. These include skiing both the North Pole, the South Pole and reaching all of the Seven Summits.
To this day, Tom has completed several of those feats including reaching the summits of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt. Elbrus (Russia) Mt. Kosciuszko (Australia), Mt. Aconcagua (Argentina), Mt. McKinley (Alaska), and his latest accomplishment being the completion of Vinson Massif (Antarctica).
Besides skiing both the North and South pole, Tom is just one summit away from joining the ranks of the world’s most elite mountaineers. More incredibly, he completed four of those climbs in just one year.
Tom explained to us the four phases of preparation he goes through to accomplishing such feats: the physical preparation, the mental preparation, the emotional preparation, and the spiritual.
“Physically, I got into the best shape I could through body building and running stairs, in the dark, at the local high school. A lot of lower-body training. I purchased an elevation mask, which simulates altitudes of up to eighteen thousand feet. And we’d practice stepping and breathing.”
“The mental is visualization, seeing myself succeeding at climbing, drawing pictures of myself on the top of the mountain, visualizing it all.”
“And as for the spiritual, I have a ritual every morning, some quiet time to myself just being grateful for the life that I am living. Like when I recall flying over Antarctica, and all I see is rock, and ice, and amazement. This remote place on the planet, and I’m in tears, because I’m doing it.”
What inspired Tom to take on such an adventure, you ask?
Inspiration is often borne out of our past experiences, both good and bad, and such is how Tom himself found his own inspiration.
In his earlier years, Tom faced many obstacles. Having grown up with somewhat of a disconnect with his parents, Tom had ended up going down some darker roads in his teen years. His angst driving him to drugs, alcohol, and gang participation. He ended up bankrupt and living in his car. There was a time when Tom himself didn’t think he would make it to age 21. In all his wisdom, Tom often reflects back on his own trials and tribulations when now parenting his own son.
“The only things I wanted to do were drink, party, smoke dope, and chase girls. And get into bar fights, we were actually going out looking for trouble. Gang fights, organized gang fights!” – Tom Fabbri
Tom was very fortunate to have people come into his life during that time and help him to turn things around. He joined the Navy at age 18, and it was there that he found himself working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.
“(The pilots) were just out of college, 24-25 years old, and they’re flying F-4 Phantoms, and I’m some 18 year-old punk kid with no direction.”
During his time spent working on the flight deck, Tom would often wonder what it would be like to be one of those pilots.
After leaving the Navy, Tom got a job at an airport, cleaning jets and helicopters and fueling them, and that’s when it occurred to him that that’s what he wanted to do. He would become a pilot!
He eventually got up the courage one day to ask “What do I have to do to learn to fly that helicopter?” And he was told (by his supervisor) that at 28, “he was probably too old to get into flying and to forget about it because he never went to college”. According to Tom, that put a chip on his shoulder.
A few weeks later, the company hired a 28 year-old co-pilot whom Tom became friends with. Tom shared his story (of how he was told he couldn’t do it). The co-pilot told Tom, “This is how I did it: go take a demo flight at another airport. You don’t need the college.” And that’s exactly what Tom did.
“If you have a question, just start asking. That’s the first step. Get the courage up to ask. So that’s what I did, and all these doors started to open.” – Tom Fabbri
Tom not only became an airline pilot, he became a dual-rated ATP (Airline Transport Pilot). That is something that only 2,000 or so pilots out of over 800,000 have achieved. For Tom, this was a major turning point in that it proved to him that his dreams could be reached despite the opinion of anyone else. It was this accomplishment that would inspire Tom to set even higher expectations for himself and strive to accomplish even greater goals.
“Believe. You really have to believe in yourself. But to have that belief comes from a place of finding your purpose in life. That is a difficult thing to do these days, and it was even difficult for me, because you’re told ‘NO’ by so many people; from your parents, to your teachers, to the people you’re hanging out with.” – Tom Fabbri
Tom’s ambition didn’t stop there. He went on to climb the ranks from Flight Engineer, to First Officer, to Captain. Tom has even been a pilot for an NFL football team as well as various celebrities.
It was one night while flying from LAX to Cincinnati at three in the morning, while looking around the cockpit that Tom had an epiphany. Having realized all that he had achieved, this very moment would be the first confirmation to himself that it was him who controls his destiny and not what anyone else believed he was statistically capable of.
“Go back to what you wanted to be as a child, because then you can be anything you want. And you can Superman.” – Tom Fabbri
Becoming a pilot has not been Tom’s only success. Tom has gone on to achieve fame in the world of bodybuilding, achieving the title of Mr. Natural Universe at the age of 52. When asked about his ambition to achieve the title, Tom explained “The reason I started bodybuilding was when I was 15, I got beat up and came home crying, and my father told my older brother “you get him lifting weights or something!” So I started lifting, joined the wrestling team, and learned how to defend myself.”
While that seemed to solve Tom’s problem with being bullied, it had created another unexpected problem. As Tom went on to explain, he became the bully and his aggression just started coming out.
“We all have this billion-dollar irreplaceable body, and I just want to take care of it. And because of that, I’m able to do these things like climbing mountains.” – Tom Fabbri
In the beginning, Tom had been lifting to please his father. Building a shell around himself, but in the process he realized that we all, as individuals, already have value. “We all have this billion-dollar irreplaceable body, and I just want to take care of it. And because of that, I’m able to do these things like climbing mountains.” Tom would continue lifting, but not to please anyone else, not to hide within a shell. His outlook changed and he began bodybuilding for himself. Because he did find a love for it along the way, and it was time to do it for those right reasons.
He began training with Frank Zane, one of the top bodybuilding champions, and Tom began competing. What he realized is that when he began focusing and doing it for himself, he began to win. Whereas in the past, he would always come in 2nd, or 4th, or 5th. In realizing that he had missed the big picture, Tom came to the conclusion that everything you do has to be with self-love. And it is in realizing that, which drove him to achieve the title of Mr. Natural Universe.
“It’s not really the summit that’s the goal, that summit, like the Summit of Mt. Vinson Massif, or Everest, that’s a moment in time; it’s really the journey that I should have documented.” – Tom Fabbri
On 9/11 Tom had been piloting a helicopter flight from Farmingdale, NY to New Jersey at 7am. Tom made his round trip as expected, passing the World Trade Center in each direction. He was to fly another flight to Wall Street right after that, but his passenger was running late. It was during this time that both WTC towers had been hit. They departed, but had to return to Farmingdale because JFK airspace had been closed. They could see the towers in the distance as they returned back to Farmingdale. In a solemn moment, it was then that Tom “began to question the whole aviation thing.”
That’s when he decided to delve into his second favorite thing to do… Culinary! Tom again dove right in and enrolled at The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. It was there that he became a chef. He didn’t do it just to become a chef though. He wanted to learn about healthy eating and possibly start his own business and take the culinary arts to another level.
Tom has since written several books on his philosophy of living a healthy lifestyle. The first book Tom wrote is titled “Ageless You“, which utilizes a series of tools that offer an ageless style covering mind, body and soul.
Toms second book is for anyone who can still dream and remember what it is like to dream. It is titled “Ageless You Adventure” in which he bridges the relationship between health and adventure.
“So many people are so caught up in the counting of calories, etc., when it’s so many more things. It’s the people you are with, the foods you eat, the stress in your life, there is so much more to a healthy lifestyle.” – Tom Fabbri
Tom has since then taken on the roles of personal trainer, mentor, wellness coach, inspirational speaker and more with the goal of helping other’s to realize their abilities and find their passion to accomplish their own dreams.
Reaching the summit of Vinson Massif
It is all of his life experiences that contribute to the passion and determination that Tom has to complete the Adventure Grand Slam. Tom’s latest climb offered it’s own many unique challenges to reach the summit. After just the first day of climbing, Tom had began to cramp up due to dehydration and the change in elevation. It took several hours of rest to overcome that initial obstacle, but Tom was ready to continue on the next day.
During the second part of the climb, a team member’s backpack had fallen and strewn his gear all down the mountainside. This was a devastating setback for the entire team, as they would have to climb back down to the base camp to restock and begin again the next day.
On the third day, a huge storm came through which halted the climb. During the storm, Tom suffered a pulled muscle in his back as a result of the tension from the storm pounding down on the camp.
When the storm passed, the team pressed on and with a little patience and a lot of perseverance, they reached the summit of Vinson Massif. With tears freezing as they rolled down his face, both exhausted yet exhilarated to have reached the summit, Tom phoned home to share the joy of his accomplishment.
We asked Tom what the view was like from the top of Vinson Massif and he explained that they were just over the cloud layer so they could not really see the landscape below.
However, in describing the view from the summit of Mt. McKinley, Tom says “I remember being up there and thinking this is like the hand of God came down and just created this. It was so magnificent, I thought, “How could this be?”
There is a saying: “Getting to the Summit is optional; getting back down is mandatory,” and that is true for life, too. – Tom Fabbri
What lies ahead for Tom Fabbri?
If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to check out each of Tom’s social pages where you can follow all of his adventures, including several that we haven’t mentioned here. Tom has also clued us in on where his future adventures may take us, and it’s no surprise that his aspirations reach for even new limits.
“I am very comfortable under water, so there’s going to be diving to the Titanic. Seven Summits and Seven Seas. And years ago, I met the team working with Richard Branson for going into space. I want to be in space. I don’t want to GO to space, I want to DRIVE the ship to space! It’s always been a vision of mine, so I contacted these people, who invited me to the desert, and they put me in their spaceship! And I said, “I could do this!”
What would be the best piece of advice you could offer someone?
In closing, we asked Tom…. Regardless of where they are on their life’s journey, be it a high point or a low point… What would be the best piece of advice you could offer someone?
“I tell a lot of people this, if they are at a high point or a low point, find your purpose. When you find that, you’ll be passionate about it. Follow your heart, not your head. Society tells us what we can and can’t do. But just surround yourself with good people. And once your find your purpose, if you do it with love, and integrity, and passion, you’ll be fine.” – Tom Fabbri
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Contributing Author and Interviewer: Patrick Devaney
Contributing Author: James M. | Antarctica Journal