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Polar Explorer Ben Saunders Recounts Historic Journey at NECA 2017 Seattle

Oct 10, 2017

NECA 2017 Seattle ended on Tuesday with an inspiring speech from English polar explorer Ben Saunders, who talked about battling fear and self-doubt throughout his accomplished life.

Saunders is best known for making the first return journey on Shackleton and Scott’s route to the South Pole in 2013-14.

His endeavors tally 11 expeditions in the past 17 years. That’s 4,000 miles on foot.

“I have spent the majority of my life dragging heavy things around cold places,” he quipped at the Closing General Session at the Washington State Convention Center.

Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere didn’t have a support team when they made their trip to the South Pole and back. It didn’t take long for apprehension to set in.

“I suddenly felt very small and out of my depth,” he said. “It's mentally as tough as it is physically.”

Before they started, Saunders and his partner made plans to eat freeze-dried rations. They also worked with psychologists to get the right dynamic working together and found that being honest and blunt with each other was important.

One of their biggest challenges was a bout of extremely cold weather during the return trip.

“What interested me was these human limits of endurance,” he explained.

Toward the end, the only thing he could think of over the final stretch was “greasy cheeseburgers” at a local South American joint he had been to.

“Maybe that is the meaning of life,” he joked.

In many ways, Saunders said he felt finishing was the “ultimate anticlimax.” He spent too much time thinking in the future and how life would change. Look more at the journey, not the destination, he said.

Although his biggest obstacles were internal, Saunders said he gained a sense of self-belief.

“No one else is the authority on your potential,” he said.

Before Saunders’ spoke, National Electrical Contractors Association CEO John Grau provided members with an update on the association’s activities and much-needed efforts to recruit young people into the industry.

“There are a few tools NECA has developed to become more competitive,” he said, pointing to examples such as a new high school course curriculum now in use. “We need to make them more aware of management careers in our industry.”

Then, NECA’s national award winners for 2017 were recognized. They were:

  • Coggeshall Award (technical and training service) - Ron Cogburn; Cogburn Bros. Electric; Jacksonville, FL; North Florida Chapter, NECA
  • Comstock Award (labor relations) - Joe Tucci; Potelco, Inc.; Puyallup, WA; Western Line Constructors Chapter, NECA
  • McGraw Award (industry contributions) - I. Steve Diamond; Malko Communications Services, LLC; Skokie, IL; Chicago & Cook County Chapter, NECA
  • Association Executive Distinguished Service Award (NECA staff or chapter manager contributions) - Robert Rayburn; Wauwatosa, WI; Milwaukee Chapter, NECA

Next up was an ELECTRI International update. ELECTRI Council Chairman Jerry Hayes of United Electric Company in Marietta, GA, highlighted several new developments, including the establishment of the Russell J. Alessi Early Career Scholar Award. Starting in 2018, the award was named in honor of the outgoing president of ELECTRI, who has spent more than three decades with the organization and NECA. Alessi also received this year’s Wendt Award, ELECTRI’s highest honor.

Incoming NECA President Dennis Long outlined his plans and paid tribute to his predecessor, David Hardt, whose three-year term ends at the end of 2017.

“It’s hard to articulate all the things he did for NECA and the industry,” Long said.

Looking forward, Long said his goal is for NECA to be “sustainable, viable and imaginable.”

As the day concluded, electrical contractors, venders and NECA chapters alike had positive things to say about the convention. Rusty Gonzalez, owner of St. Andrews Construction Service in Eastlake, CO, a member of the Rocky Mountain Chapter, NECA, brought a group of five from his company to Seattle.

“The training is always great,” he said.

He said other high points included the course instructors – Alex Willis was a favorite – as well as the trade show. The trade show, one of the focal points of the convention ever year, continued to attract a variety of vendors from across the U.S. – as well as other countries.

Representatives of the Cable Ferret Company, which is based in New Zealand, decided to make their first trip to the convention to promote one of their products, a versatile inspection and cabling tool.

Therese McNaughten, the company’s director of marketing and brand strategy, said she was happy with NECA’s comprehensive approach.

“It’s so helpful to have everything in one place,” she said.

Jameson Schwetz of the Washington State LMCC agreed. He attends many conventions, and he said he had an opportunity to meet with a lot of members of the industry, a change from his experiences at even larger conventions. Plus, the speakers were “awesome.”

Melody Meyers, who owns S. Meyers Electric, a member of the Cascade Chapter, NECA, made the trip from Arlington, WA with her husband, who also works for the company. Steven Meyers said he loves having the chance to network.

“You get out of it what you put in,” he said.

And they’re definitely on board for NECA 2018 Philadelphia.

“The best part is getting to rub elbows with some of the bigger fish,” he said.

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