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Alternately fearful and fearless, Bill Bradley is a study in contradictions.

At 23, he started his own company, Bradley Video, on a credit card and home equity debt. He made a fortune in the video rental business and expanded his empire to ultimately include 11 stores, with three more under construction.

Then Netflix emerged and killed the video store.

Bradley, by then a millionaire with a big house overlooking Bennett Valley Golf Course, fancy cars and a six-figure income, lost everything, including his marriage.

“I was a mess. I was humiliated,” the now 56-year-old said in an interview last week. “My whole identity was wrapped up in those stores. I had the ‘more’ syndrome. I always wanted more, more, more.”

As he wallowed in his misfortune, his sister told him he should take the time to do something he’d always wanted to do. A buddy told him he should run that 50-mile race he’d talked about.

One morning, he woke up at 2 a.m. and decided to do it. He finished the race, despite poison oak on the most unfortunate areas for a runner.

From then on, Bradley said, he had a new identity: “I’m an ultra runner.”

“I’m really good at suffering,” he said, a hearty laugh filling the room. “I was trying to make a mark on people. I didn’t know what it was yet, but I knew that much.”

Since childhood Bradley felt he was destined for a grander purpose. Indeed, he believes everyone is.

He’s decided his purpose is to motivate others, to help them achieve their dreams. He — a middle-age, slightly paunchy, self-professed average athlete — wants to be their inspiration.

“It’s still the best 50-miler I’ve ever run,” he said.

Over the past several years, Bradley has pushed himself to the brink, seeking limits. He knows it makes him tougher. The frostbite, the trench foot, nearly dying on a frozen mountain peak or in ocean whitecaps. He believes he can help other people realize their dreams.

“Don’t quit. People let their subconscious fears rule,” he said.

Bradley had competed in one Ironman, at 36 years old, but his outsized passion to be an extreme endurance athlete didn’t truly start until later.

Now, it consumes his life. He trains multiple hours every day. He has events stacked up well into the future: Climb Mount Denali this summer, climb Mount Everest next year, complete a swim across the English Channel in 2019.

Later this month, Bradley will make his sixth attempt to finish one of the most difficult races in the world, the Arrowhead 135 Ultra marathon in Minnesota. That’s January. In Minnesota. Where temperatures reach minus-40 routinely in mid-winter.

This comes on the heels of his most recent feat: summiting two volcanoes in Mexico, Malinche (14,635 feet) and Iztaccihuatl (17,120 feet) over a period of four days in December.

Bradley climbed both volcanoes not as an end in themselves, but as training for Denali. His effort next year will be his third try at the storied Alaskan peak.

His first attempt came just six months after he tried to swim the English Channel. That target remains just out of Bradley’s reach as well.

In his most recent attempt two years ago, he completed 20 miles between England and France, just a mile short — although the rocky current had pushed him another few miles off course before his effort was stopped for safety precautions.

“For someone who didn’t really learn to swim until I was 35 years old, that’s not too bad,” he said. “I was afraid of swimming in lakes or in the ocean. Then to go in this ocean that sinks boats.”

When something scares him, Bradley generally runs toward it, tackling it with a zeal that overwhelms and smothers.

After five attempts at the channel, he switched gears. “If the universe doesn’t want me to swim, I’ll run.”

Also being afraid of heights, it made perfect sense to him to run up huge mountains.

“It’s just a hike,” he rationalized. “Just a hike in the snow.”

Mount Denali, in Alaska, is the tallest mountain peak in North America. Formerly called Mount McKinley, its peak is 20,310 feet in elevation. It’s also considered the coldest mountain in the world.

Bradley was ill during his first attempt and “overmatched” in his second last year — just months after his English Channel try.

“Mountain climbing is hard. It’s scary,” he jokes. “It was way harder than I thought it was going to be.”

He laughs at the macabre names climbers use for portions of the mountain: the No Fall Zone, where there is a sheer drop; the Orient Express, where a team of Asian climbers slid off; and the Autobahn, where a German team fell.

“When I was up there, two men died,” he said. “You know, though, if you’re afraid of death, it will get you.”

Bradley insists he’s not an adrenaline junkie, “just endurance.”

But his unceasing pursuit of more — money in his youth, physical challenges now — illustrates his drive to keep searching for meaning. Meaning for himself, but also for others.

He is convinced that this desire pushing him means he was put here to motivate others, and “not just for two hours watching a rented video.”

“Anything is possible. You can do it,” he repeats. “I’m willing to take on the world’s most deadly events. I have failed, but not enough to stop me.”

Bradly was cut from his ninth-grade baseball team. And the football team. He didn’t qualify for the eighth-grade track team. He joined the soccer team “because they didn’t cut people.”

Eventually, he said, he improved enough at running events to be one of the best half-milers at College of Marin.

Since those early days on the course, Bradley has competed in dozens of events regular people — even athletes — shake their heads at.

His list of accomplishments includes running rim-to-rim of the Grand Canyon multiple times, biking 3,000 miles cross-country in the 16-day Race Across America, becoming the 24th person to run a 292-mile Badwater Double in Death Valley with a Mount Whitney summit, completing Alaska’s Susitna 100-mile run in 54 hours dragging a 40-pound sled with survival gear, and completing the Hawaii ultimate triathlon that included a 10-mile swim from Lanai to Maui, 300-mile bike to Maui’s Haleakala volcano and a 120-mile run.

He has some sponsors, but funds most of his activities himself, he said. He still works part-time for his family’s contracting company, W. Bradley Electric of Novato.

Bradley, whose website calls him Epic Bill, said he’s been courted by a reality TV show and enjoys the self-promotion that comes with publicizing his activities.

“I really am supposed to motivate people by doing these events,” he said. “And you can’t be quiet about it. Like the UFC fighters, it’s half fighting and half promotion.”

Bradley hires himself out as a motivational speaker. He speaks freely of his use of daily affirmations and hypnotism to fight the still-intruding fears and self-doubts that creep out from his subconscious.

“My confidence has just gone higher and higher,” he said. “I’m back to that fearless guy with credit cards. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been and I don’t have anything. I live in a small house and I have a little dog.

“I know I’m supposed to inspire people. I just knew it when I ran that 50-miler.”

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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