Michael Guggenheim: A Quest for Adventure

Prudential Award Pic 2.0As the group gathered around the dining hall table, spring break plans quickly became the topic of discussion, as our much-needed break from schoolwork was quickly approaching. Seeing friends, relaxing, and spending time with family were common plans, until Michael volunteered his plans to go scuba diving in Belize with his family. The group was simultaneously shocked and intrigued, as they had no idea Michael even possessed the proper scuba certification to embark on such an adventure.

“Guggz has a story for everything” says Jenna Holtz with an incredulous smile on her face, and the rest of the group nods in agreement. Michael Guggenheim, endearingly refered to as “Guggz” by friends, is not only a wonderful storyteller, but derives his stories from a young life filled with adventure. At only 19 years of age, Michael’s stories of exploration are unparalleled by his peers, and many lightheartedly refer to him as “the most interesting man in the world”. Not only does Michael lead such an adventurous life, he has overcome many obstacles, showing strength perseverance, and determination to live life to the fullest.

Yet, perhaps Guggz’s best quality is not his arsenal of experiences, but that he genuinely cares about his friends and their stories as well. Upon returning from spring break, Michael did not brag about his worldly experiences, and made sure to ask about everyone else’s spring break. As floormates, Michael and I have grown to be close friends, and although my spring break stories paled in comparison to his, he remained attentive and intrigued. I have had the pleasure of learning not about not only his travels and successes, but also the adversity he has overcome.

In his academic career, Michael has overcome many obstacles, but has proved to be an intelligent, hardworking individual. At a young age, Michael struggled with very bad handwriting, which many teachers wrote off as laziness, much to Michael’s dismay. In reality, fine motor movements were very painful for Michael; eventually he was diagnosed with dysgraphia, a rare condition making it almost impossible to write by hand. A therapist even told Michael’s mother that he would probably have to be homeschooled, and would not attend high school, let alone college. But Michael is proudly here, a freshman at Santa Clara University, defying all odds.

Michael has taken his diagnosis in stride, saying it has “put a chip on his shoulder,” a constant reminder of what he says has been the “greatest challenge of his life to date.” His increased competitiveness in overcoming obstacles has contributed to his love of adventure, engaging in many dangerous activities. At the age of four, Michael began to ski, and at seven he learned to drive an ATV. Soon thereafter, snowboarding, scuba diving, and river rafting were added to his favorite activities. Just this past spring break Michael traveled to Belize with his family and went scuba diving, both at night and during the day, coming in close contact with sting rays, sharks, and eels, among much other aquatic life.

A passion for adventure originated not only from the obstacles Michael has overcome, but also from his father, who, according to Michael, is infinitely more adventurous than his son. Michael’s mother cites the life she saw in her husband’s eyes as one of the primary reasons why she fell in love with him, and has grown to be more adventurous throughout their marriage.

His father has been known to push Michael to overcome his fears, often saying If you’re falling, you’re doing something right. It means you’re pushing yourself. It only becomes a problem when you get too scared to do something again”.

After falling off a cliff while dirt biking, Michael’s father enacted such a lesson. Although Michael was stricken with fear, his father made him return and bike through the same location the next week, saying that if he waited longer he would never get over the fear.

Although one cannot quantify Michael’s stories, his motivation to live life to the fullest has certainly contributed to lively discussions amongst friends, and incredulous reactions to his crazy experiences. However scared we may be to engage in risky behavior like Michael does, he still challenges all of us to truly live.

— Kirsten Andersen

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