When motivational speaker Stephen Venables comes to Ogden on Thursday, there will be 10 high school students in the audience paying particularly close attention to his stories of mountaineering and overcoming challenges in his life.
The students are the essay winners in this year's Ogden School Foundation author event. Students throughout the district were invited to submit essays based on the theme of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The winners will be honored at the event, receive signed copies of Venables' books and have the opportunity to interact with the British mountaineer. Venables will also speak Friday in Mound Fort Junior High School's auditorium to an audience of about 800 Ogden City School District students.
Mike Vause, a literature professor at Weber State University and accomplished mountaineer in his own right, said the author event is an incredible opportunity for students to interact with someone of Venables' stature -- a man Vause describes as a "superstar." Vause also teaches courses in mountaineering at WSU.
"He's as good as you get in the mountaineering world," Vause said.
Venables' book "Himalaya Alpine Style" (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996) won the grand award at the Banff International Mountain Festival, and "Everest -- Summit of Achievement" (Bloomsbury/S. Schuster/Frederking & Thaler, 2003) won the King Albert Award. His first book, "Painted Mountain" (Hodder & Stoughton, 1986), won the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature.
The foundation's track record with its author events is impressive. It has brought in such top-notch authors as Ray Bradbury, Stephen Ambrose, Jon Krakauer, Ken Burns, Amy Tan, David McCullough and Alexander McCall Smith.
"We've had these amazing writers coming to our little community," Vause said. "All the kids have an opportunity to read these folks' writing and then hear them in person .AC/AC/.AC/AC/. and you just never know where that will lead."
Charlie Casperson, the current foundation president, said the fall author event serves as one of the foundation's primary fundraisers. Money raised is used to assist teachers, offer grants and help fill in the gaps in tight school budgets.
"But mostly it goes to the students," Casperson said. "We fund things like musical instruments, band uniforms, theater productions in the middle schools and high schools and anything that helps with the culture and the basic education of the student."
Casperson said the author event, which also includes a dinner and social hour, is usually a sellout and one of Ogden's premier social activities.
"It's just a fabulous event," he said.
Vause, who just returned from England where he spent some time with Venables, hopes the community will take advantage of this unique opportunity.
"The whole idea of human exploration is always exciting in motivational speaking," Vause said.
For his part, Venables is looking forward to his first trip to Utah and said he is "hugely honored to be invited to this event."
And of course, being the mountaineer he is, he hopes to do a little climbing while he is here as well.
"Mike Vause promised to take me up something," he said.
-- J. Michael Call