Professional Climber, Guide, Comedian, Percussionist; Boulder, Colorado
With his irreverent antics, Philadelphia native Timmy O’Neill, 41, might be the climbing world’s best-known entertainer. And he’s no slouch on the rock, either. Along with difficult ascents from Patagonia to Pakistan, O’Neill excels at speed climbing—in 2001, he and Dean Potter blazed up the Nose of El Capitan in 3:24, then a record. He’s also a world-class slackliner, avid mountain biker, Class V paddler, BASE jumper, and backcountry skier. Beyond his manic exterior, O’Neill has an earnest side and an infectious, overwhelming positivity. He and his brother Sean, a T-12 paraplegic, have a tradition of climbing El Cap together, which led Timmy to partner with U.S. Army Captain Dennis “DJ” Skelton to co-found Paradox Sports, a nonprofit that helps disabled athletes participate in outdoor sports.
I’M ONE OF SEVEN siblings, and three houses in a row [on our block] had 21 children total. We got in trouble a lot.
I STARTED CLIMBING when I was 19, in Yellowstone, and went to Yosemite the next summer. As soon as I touched rock, that was it. I was like, “I’ll do this forever.”
MY LIFE REVOLVES around being very present in dangerous places. Whether it’s on the stage about to be slaughtered by my audience or ready to be taken out by a falling block, it’s real, it demands you to be right there, and I like that.
AS A KID, I used to always dance in front of the television when there was music on.
I DID MY FIRST show 10 years ago, at Neptune Mountaineering. There were probably 100 people, and everyone laughed a ton and said it was the best show they’d ever seen. A career was born.
MY PUBLIC PERSONA is different than myself, the way I am in my bedroom. I’m not amped up, making jokes to the plants—I’m just chillin’.
I RETIRED right away. I’m not going to spend my youth working my tail off so that I can get to be 65 and then retire and start to be active and travel.