From Everest to the Pacific: How Young Is Too Young To Set A World Record?

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Jessica Watson sails home to Australia

REUTERS / Daniel Munoz

How young is too young to chase after a world record? From the world’s deepest oceans to its biggest mountain, it’s a question that everyone’s now talking about.

Rewind to last weekend, and the arrival home of Australian Jessica Watson, who had become the youngest person to (unofficially) sail around the globe. Yes, she was welcomed home by throngs of fans in Sydney – many of whom had followed Watson’s blog as she circumnavigated the globe in her pink yacht – but her voyage also unleashed stinging criticism from those who said it was an unthinkable act, for a parent to allow a 16-year-old girl to embark on such a dangerous trek solo.

Now eyebrows are rising over the bid by 13-year-old Jordan Romero to summit Mount Everest. The same day as Watson was arriving home to Australia, Romero was leaving base camp for his climb – aiming to become the youngest person ever to not only scale Everest, but to climb (alongside his father) the tallest mountains on all seven continents.

He’s already climbed five of the seven, starting with Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. If he summits Everest, and then Vinson Massif in Antarctica, he will become the youngest member of a most exclusive club (only around 200 people have climbed all seven peaks).

Given that he’s already more than halfway there, it would appear that the 13-year-old has all the necessary skills to make history. But just because he can doesn’t necessarily mean he should.

Critics point to the unnecessary dangers that teens are being exposed to and the childhood innocence that is being lost in a bid for fame, not to mention the commercial implications of young people being sponsored and promoted to a global audience. And yet many young athletes and daredevils are the first to say that they are simply chasing their dreams, gaining life experience through confronting their challenges and chasing their dreams.

In the case of Romero, the biggest dangers appear to be the question marks surrounding extreme altitudes and younger bodies.   “The most decent statement about extreme altitude climbing for a 13-year-old would be we just don’t know what to expect,” Dr. Mikhail Kazachkov, pediatric pulmonology specialist, told the New York Times. One concern for climbers of all ages is acute mountain sickness, a potentially fatal condition that can set in at high altitudes. Will a 13-year-old be more susceptible to the sickness?

No one really knows, because a 13-year-old has never tried this before.