The sky’s the limit: St. Louis man Todd Lewis living ‘epic’ life

Area man living ‘epic’ life

Vicki Bennington For The Telegraph Updated 12:38 pm CDT, Thursday, September 13, 2018

Todd Lewis climbing Mt. Hood in Washington.

ST. LOUIS — Sometimes, your life can be changed in an instant – just when you least expect it.

That’s what happened to St. Louis resident Todd Lewis at a sales conference in Dallas that he didn’t want to attend

That was 2000. Eighteen years later, the result of that conference and the keynote address by former Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz, is that Lewis has ran 40 marathons, climbed 12 mountains, and three years in a row, ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

“Lou wasn’t selling anything; he didn’t use note cards; he just spoke from the heart and talked about making a list of goals, keeping a positive attitude, and giving back to others,” Lewis said.

On the plane ride home, Lewis made a list of 75 goals – that later, grew to 134 – of things that he had always wanted to do, and he set out to do them.

“I knew I wanted to run a marathon, but I didn’t know how to prepare. I knew I wanted to climb a mountain, but didn’t know how to get started,” Lewis said.

But those obstacles didn’t stop him. He went to work part time for an outdoor recreational company and learned the “ropes,” while making extra income to fund his upcoming adventures. And he began to work out to prepare himself physically.

“There were places I had always wanted to see, people I wanted to meet, and things I wanted to accomplish,” Lewis said.

He has also set foot on all seven continents – even Antarctica, flying into Buenos Aires, Argentina, traveling by land to Ushuaia, where he boarded a ship with an expedition that took

them across tumultuous waters across Drake Passage. June marked his seventh and final continent, when he visited Australia and climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

He has reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Hood, Mount Shasta, Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney; hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

He also got the chance to meet his inspiration in person to thank him for basically, changing his life.

“With the help of an amazing person, I was able to meet Coach Holtz in Ohio. We have now been friends for 12 years, and I see him and his wife at least once a year. It’s really something when your hero becomes your friend.”

When asked what his favorite place has been, he said it’s probably Nepal because of the wonderful people. When asked what the most fun trip has been, he said it was taking his mother to Ireland when he ran the Dublin, Ireland Marathon.

“She was so happy, and when you see your mom happy – that’s everything,” Lewis said.

Has Lewis had some obstacles and injuries along the way?

“Oh yeah,” he said.

While running a 50-mile marathon he twisted his ankle and heard a “pop.” He kept going. In fact, he ran another marathon before he found out he had been running on a fractured ankle.

Has he ever been scared? “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Running with the bulls is actually horrifying; it’s probably the most intense thing I’ve done.”

As for mountain climbing, he approaches it alone, but once there, joins a group. But Mother Nature is not always on the climbers’ side.

“In February, I climbed Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and there was a storm surge,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that cold. You really can’t plan for (or control) storms on mountains. ”

But these experiences just add to his adrenalin rush. He said the experience of that “fear factor” can often make that next glass of water; that next beer or dinner the best you’ve ever had.

Not everyone’s list will include such physically challenging goals as Lewis’s did, and he said that’s OK. It doesn’t matter if you want to be the best uncle you can be, you want to take a trip, change jobs, lose weight, whatever it might be. The point is to do the things you want to do.

“There are no small goals,” he said. “My goals are not more important than someone else’s. It’s about being where you need to be to be happy and making your own goals. I didn’t start until I was 33. I wish I would have started when I was 16!”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Lewis’s list is ongoing. A couple of countries still up for grabs are Bhutan in the Himalayan Mountains and Iceland – Bhutan, because the people are said to be concerned most about living a happy life; Iceland, because there’s a mountain called Hvannadalshnúkur that needs to be climbed. And though he attended base camp at Mt. Everest, he has not been to the top, so, of course, that’s on his list.

And in-between his trips and climbs and marathons, Lewis stays in good physical shape by running and going to the gym.

Another project on his list was to write a book, which he is currently in the process of. It centers not as much about the actual adventures, which one might think, but the people surrounding those experiences that Lewis said he’s been lucky enough to meet along the way.

“Take Nepal for instance,” Lewis said. “The people there – though they basically, have nothing – they have everything. They are so giving.”

James Dunn, founder of the E.P.I.C. Living Social Club (the acronym stands for Education, Play, Inspiration and Community, the four basic principles the group is based around) in Edwardsville, said Lewis is a prime example of someone who is living his “epic” life.

“A lot of people talk about living an E.P.I.C. life. Todd does it,” Dunn said.

Lewis will share his experiences and how he went about making his list of goals come true at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 19 during the E.P.I.C. Living Social Club’s monthly personal development meeting at the Holiday Inn Express in Edwardsville. The event is open to the public, and first-time attendees get in free. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information on Lewis, visit

From the book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales

That invisible rope that holds us here can always break. We can live a life of bored caution and die of cancer. Better to take the adventure, minimize the risks, get the information, and then go forward in the knowledge that we have done everything we can. No, some people would rather not see it, but the bull is there all of us. Some of us choose to pass the cape in front of its horns. To live life is to risk it. And when you feel the rush of air and catch the stink of hot breath in your face, you enter the secret order of those who have seen their own death close up. It makes us live that much more intensely. So intense is it for some that it seals their fate; once they've tasted it, they just can't stop. And in their cases, perhaps we have to accept that the light that burns brightest burns half as long. But I believe that if you do it right, you can have it all. I adhere to what my daughter Amelia calls the Gutter Theory of Life. It goes like this: You don't want to be lying in the gutter, having been run down by a bus, the last bit of your life ebbing away, and be thinking, "I should have taken that rafting trip" or "I should have flown upside down with smoke"  : Pete Conrad was the third man to walk on the moon. He died in a motorcycle accident on an ordinary day. It took him a while to die as he went to the hospital. I wonder what he was thinking. I hope it was: I did it all.

Holtz’s message still an inspiration


Article Photos

On Friday, Todd Lewis (right) had the opportunity to meet Lou Holtz, the man who inspired him. (Photo by Wayne Maris) View additional photos of this event at

EAST LIVERPOOL — Nine years ago, Todd Lewis quit his job.
He blames — or credits — Lou Holtz.
“I was spinning my wheels in a sales job,” Lewis said. “I attended a mandatory meeting in Texas, and one night a motivational speaker was brought in at dinner. It was Lou Holtz.”
Holtz spoke that night about overcoming his own challenges and about how he accomplished so much despite those difficulties.
During the speech, Holtz also spoke about having a positive attitude, the importance of helping others and about a list he made out, full of goals that he wanted to accomplish. The list grew to contain 108 items.
On the flight back home, Lewis read a book by Holtz, decided to quit his job and made his own list of goals.
Included on that list was to run a marathon, write a poem, give a speech, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, watch a game at Wrigley Field, take his mother on a trip to Ireland and — a goal also mentioned by Holtz — to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Holtz never realized that goal, but Lewis did.
“I credit coach Holtz and his message that day for making me realize this life is short and every day is a blessing,” Lewis said.
Lewis had one more item on the list. He wanted to meet the man who inspired him.
Friday, Lewis got the opportunity.
Standing in the conference room at the Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame, Lewis shook the hand of Lou Holtz and thanked him.
“He comes across just as I expected,” Lewis said. “He’s a genuine, sincere man. He taught me that you can do great things if you set goals. The society today believes too much in instant everything.”
Holtz signed a few autographs and posed for a few pictures with Lewis and offered up some compliments.
“The trust and commitment and care you showed ... It’s not complicated to do the right thing,” Holtz told Lewis, “I’m proud of you.”
Robin Webster, director of the Hall of Fame, said she received an e-mail from Lewis in February and asked that she thank Holtz for him.
“I just thought that he could come here and do it for himself,” Webster said.
So on Friday, Lewis made the trip from St. Louis, Mo., to East Liverpool for the opportunity to thank Holtz.
After the introductions, Lewis handed Holtz a gift — a small bag of sand from Pamplona when Lewis ran with the bulls.
“This is probably the closest I’m ever going to get to doing it,” Holtz said with a smile.

"No one can tell me where my soul might be,
I searched for God but he eluded me,
I sought my brother out and found all three."


Poet Howard Crosby

"Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Viktor E. Frankl

"No king or prince has lived a better life,"

Evil Knievel

"I must pack my short life full of interesting events and creative activity.  Philosophy and aesthetic contemplation are not enough.  I intend to do everything possible to broaden my experiences and allow myself to reach the fullest development.  Then, and before physical deterioration obtrudes, I shall go on some last wilderness trip, to a place I have known and loved.  I shall not return."

Everett Ruess

I'd like to get away from earth awhile.
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me.
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return.
Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to get better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Robert Frost