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Oscar Lopez’s mountainous pursuits at 81

/ 12:27 AM June 26, 2011

When Lopez Group chair emeritus Oscar M. Lopez stepped down as chair and chief executive of the Filipino conglomerate in June 2010, he had his eyes set on more mountainous pursuits.

Lopez, at 81, is known in business circles as a health buff and fitness advocate. Wellness counts among seven values he is promoting internally as a guide to employees in making official and personal decisions, and in achieving work-life balance.

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Lopez had summited the islands’ highest peaks: Mount Pulag in Luzon (2007), Mt. Kanlaon in the Visayas (2010) and Mt. Apo in Mindanao (2008) which is also the highest in the Philippines at 10,311 feet. In semi-retirement, he put climbing Malaysia’s highest mountain as first in his to-do list.

He says “I am often asked why I climb mountains. No, it isn’t because it is there. It is more of a spiritual journey for me … it is something between me and Mother Nature… The mountain itself is incidental. It could just well be the stairs to my sixth floor office that I climb everyday. Patience, persistence, physical stamina is tested to the max each time. Meeting the challenge is what it is all about.”

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In the early ’90s, one of his doctors told him that he needed a heart bypass operation. He got another medical opinion who told him that what he needed was a strict regimen. He says “I was going on a diet of healthy food and physical exercise (an hour daily on the treadmill, stair climbing, a lot of walking) so that some fifteen years after I was told I needed a bypass, I have climbed the highest mountains in the Philippines. Apparently, my persistence and determination to do what was necessary to avoid a heart bypass enabled my body to develop enough new capillaries to create what could be called a natural bypass to feed blood to my heart. I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a single-minded determination to religiously do my routine and change my diet preferences.”

For Mt. Kinabalu, the planning took the better part of six months, with core supervision and guidance provided by the First Philippine Mount Everest team: Arturo Valdez, Fred Jamili, Dr. Ted Esguerra, Pastour Emata, Janet Belarmino and Carina Dayondon. Assisting them was University of the Philippines mountaineer Bernie Cavida.

Joining Lopez were seven of his eight children, two sons-in-law and fellow executives in First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPH). In the party were FPH chair Federico R. Lopez, FPH vice presidents Oscar R. Lopez Jr. and Benjamin R. Lopez, Pia Lopez Abello and husband Raffy, Bea Lopez Puno and husband Eric, Knowledge Channel Foundation president Rina Lopez Bautista, Angela Lopez Guingona of Lopez Group Foundation Inc. (LGFI), FPH director Arthur A. DeGuia and wife Vicky, FPH Business Excellence director Benjamin K. Liboro, LGFI president Rafael M. Alunan III, Lopez Lifelong Wellness team members Rico de Manzana, Larry Ruales and Ricardo Balido.

A total of 24 rose to the challenge of Mount Kinabalu, ominous at 13,435 feet above sea level.

Climbers are normally allowed two days and a night to do their climb. For this group, which included senior executives pushing 60 or over 60 years of age, Kinabalu Park authorities approved a climbing schedule of five days and four nights to allow for acclimatization and help the seniors cope with the altitude as well as the temperature of four to five degrees Celsius.

It was a most challenging ascent on steep paths and rocky slopes that required clinging on to ropes. They were either wet with sweat from the exertion or wet from the rain. They had to bundle up to guard against hypothermia, and take pre-medication to prevent altitude mountain sickness.

On May 20, fourth day, Lopez’s entire party of 24 reached the top of Kinabalu. No mean feat because Park statistics show that of groups that set out to make the summit together, only 60 percent are able to get everyone on the summit. Of the other 40 percent, many composed of young people, for one reason or other, one or more members of the group fail to make it all the way to the top.

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The descent was even more difficult, especially when it rained and Kinabalu’s granite wall turned out instant waterfalls that drenched those on their way down the slope. The journey would take another day before all would safely and without injury receive their certificates from Kinabalu Park, attesting to their successful climb.

For those who follow Lopez’s mountain climbing pursuits, especially within the Lopez Group, it was another demonstration of how determination and focus can get things done, and make one’s dreams come true.

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TAGS: mountain climbing, mountaineer, Mt. Kanlaon, Mt. Kinabalu, Oscar Lopez
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