Climbing a Mountain of Challenges

By Amanda Cleary Eastep
Rob Besecker

Rob Besecker (BA ’96) had already returned to the town of Lukla after his trek to Mount Everest Base Camp when the earthquake hit.

Reaching Everest’s base camp was no small feat for a man with muscular dystrophy and outfitted with not only his trekking gear but also a defibrillator implant to keep his heart on course, too.

Besecker was celebrating his achievement inside a tiny tea shop when the earth began to shake. The 7.8-magnitude quake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015, triggering the deadliest day in the history of Mt. Everest and killing nearly 9,000 people in Nepal.

Besecker is no stranger to the world crumbling beneath his feet. Yet, he possesses a proclivity for gaining a foothold and overcoming obstacles.

In 1992 Besecker enrolled at Illinois Tech’s Stuart School of Business on a baseball scholarship, majored in marketing, and embraced leadership roles on campus. He was not, however, prepared for the diagnosis of a chronic heart issue in 2000 or the implant of a defibrillator three years later.

Rob Besecker

Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding Besecker’s age and medical conditions, his doctors suggested that he write a book. Besecker began filling the pages with his survivor’s story all the while searching for a “happy ending.” That proved increasingly difficult with his brother’s sudden death in 2004, his father’s diagnosis of muscular dystrophy in 2005, and his mother’s massive stroke and his own diagnosis of the muscle disease in 2006. Besecker continued to persevere, achieving goals that included running on the Great Wall of China and visiting all seven continents.

In 2011 life-threatening health issues further besieged Besecker, including three cardiac ablation procedures, an emergency surgery to replace a faulty defibrillator, a major operation to remedy the failed ablations and address his severe atrial fibrillation, and a collapsed lung. While recovering in early 2012, he was invited to trek Everest Base Camp in 2013 with his sister Chris Griffin.

“The doctors thought I was crazy,” Besecker says, “and wouldn’t consider giving me approval until I survived a year with no issues and began a rigorous training program.”

Besecker not only survived—he achieved his goal of climbing Everest Base Camp in 2015.

Besecker says he has the happy ending for his soon-to-be-published memoir, which he titled ForEver Strong.

“‘For’ because I completed the expedition when I was 40, ‘Ever’ in memory of hiking Everest, and ‘Strong’ because I stayed strong throughout,” he says. “The happy ending is living my life.”

Today, Besecker is employed in hospice care at Advocate Health Care and spends much of his time as a real-life advocate for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. More of Besecker’s story and his upcoming book are available at his website