MN man climbs Mount Everest for Mental Health Awareness Month

Ryan Rivard lives life on the edge and his latest adventure is taking him to the edge of the world.

"I would say it’s immensely fulfilling," said Rivard about his journey that’s much more than scaling a mountain summit. It’s why, since the beginning of the year, he’s spent several days a week putting himself through an excruciating training regime at Life Time Fitness in St. Louis Park.

"It’s rigorous, many hours a day," said Rivard of his daily intensive workout where he trains wearing a specialized mask that restricts his breathing to consume just 30% oxygen.

"It helps the lungs to be able to function on a lower amount of oxygen intake," said Rivard of the mask that mimics breathing at high altitude and closely resembles the headgear of a Star Wars stormtrooper. "But it also helps with mental strength, too."

He’ll need both. Where he’s going, he’ll need lungs of steel and a highly focused mind.

"I’m training for a lot of reasons," said Rivard after a break from his workout in late March. "The first reason, of course, is to climb and summit successfully Mount Everest."

At 29,031 feet, Mount Everest is Earth’s tallest mountain. Many adventurers attempt to climb Everest to check off a box. But what Rivard is attempting to summit cannot be contained in any simple square on a page.

"This one has a pretty significant impact on me," said Rivard with a moment of reflection.

Ryan Rivards next challenge: Climbing Mount Everest. (Photos from Ryan Rivard + Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

In many respects, he’s done this before. During two previous expeditions to Nepal in 2022, Rivard summited both Lobuche and Amadablan. Both mountains were personal peaks that only come from surviving the deepest of valleys.

"So, when I was 19 years old, I overdosed in my front yard and almost lost my life," he revealed.

Hooked on heroin, his last injection outside his parents’ suburban Chicago home nearly cost him his last breath. It was a friend who was with him who started the CPR, and in many respects restarted his life.

"I think that was the light finally clicking, a God moment, and saying, ‘Hey, I think this is enough and I need to get some help,’" said Rivard.

He got his help at what was then the Hazelden Center for Teens, Adults and Families in Plymouth, Minnesota. It’s now known as Hazelden Betty Ford, and its teen and young adult addiction center is still a successful and thriving recovery program.

"Yes, we have a lot of success stories," said Tim Helmeke, the program’s clinical manager. "I think part of it is the simplicity of the program."

It’s one that focuses on behaviors, mental health, and family. The holistic approach made an immediate connection with its newest patient at the time.

"There were other young kids going through sobriety and learning how to live a different life that was meaningful and productive and contributing to society," recalled Rivard. "And that all started for me at Hazelden."

"They get to think and feel differently," said Helmeke about what makes the recovery program work. "They start to have fun in recovery, which is kind of amazing because a lot of them don’t think they’ll ever have fun again."

For Rivard, not only did it work, but he also just celebrated a milestone anniversary.

"November 1st, I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety," he said with a smile on his face at the accomplishment.

Sobriety has rewarded him with a wife and four children, and a successful marketing business. It’s also given him the focus to keep climbing.

"For me, Everest is the pinnacle of human endeavors," said Rivard about the symbolism of his summit attempt. "I feel like if I can show what I was before, and then climbing up as I go, then reaching the highest point, it’s a metaphor. It’s a symbol of that kind of hope and resilience."

Rivard is dedicating his climb to Mental Health Awareness Month, which is in May. Not only is he raising awareness about mental health and recovery, he’s also raising funds to assist youth in their own recovery journeys.  He’s accepting donations at

As for Tim Helmeke at Hazelden Betty Ford, Ryan’s journey is a testimonial to the power of recovery.

"It’s a great message to send to anyone out there that feels hopeless about recovery because there is hope," he said. "And this is one example of that."

Ultimately, the message is that peaks can rise from valleys.

"I think it’s an opportunity for others to see that, again, maybe accomplish their own Everest, so to speak," said Rivard.