When David Goggins tried enlisting in the Navy SEALs, recruiters laughed at him over the phone. But the young man found motivation amid the rejection and transformed his life- at an almost deadly cost.
A Not-So-Bright Future
The man who would one day become an icon was born on February 17th, 1975, in Buffalo, New York. But David Goggins's childhood was far from legendary. He grew up in a tumultuous household with a rather aggressive father.
One day, Goggins saw his own father hurting his mother. "[There was] something in me saying, 'you got to go and do something,'" he recalled. What he did next changed the course of his family's life forever.
David couldn't stand to see his mom hurt by the hands of his father once more, so he went down the stairs and jumped on his dad's back. But that made him the target of the man's rage, and Goggins's father hit him instead. Seeing her child hurt was the last straw for David's mom.
After the incident, when David was about eight years old, his mom garnered the courage to leave his father. Along with David's brother, the trio moved over 500 miles away to Brazil, Indiana. Goggins thought this might be a chance for a new beginning, but he would soon face more suffering.
"That's When the Real War Started for Me."
When David moved to Indiana with his mother and brother, he longed for a fresh start. The young boy dreamed about a home where he felt safe. But Goggins did not foresee the aching he would experience outside of his house, at the hands of his classmates. When David began school, he was bullied for his distinctive appearance.
Goggins's peers tormented him for being different. The brave boy tried to hide how much their actions hurt him, but deep down he was breaking. "It was jacking me up... All the insecurities I had when I was a kid with my father, it just got worse," David recalled. His classmates' cruelty would soon affect him beyond repair.
A Discouraging Diagnosis
At the time, David's mom was working three different jobs. Goggins did not want to further worry her, so he kept the bullying a secret. "I felt like I was the man of the house," he said. "I didn't want her to know anything about my life." But David could not hide the news when he was diagnosed with a learning disability.
Goggins had begun skipping class to escape from his classmates, and he did not know how to read. But despite the diagnoses, the young boy was not ready to give up. "I wanted to feel something besides defeat. I wanted to just go the distance," David said. Yet he would soon face a challenge that could've knocked him down for good.
He Almost Flunked Out of School
Even after David was told he had a learning disability, the bullied child continued to skip school. When he did attend, Goggins was a dishonest student. "I cheated all through school, copied from the fourth grade to my junior year in high school, on every assignment," he explained.
The teen's actions caught up to him in his junior year of high school when a letter came for David's mom. "The letter says pretty much 'Your son's going to flunk out. He's missed 25% of school,'" Goggins said. "She read the letter to me, she put it on my bed, and I broke." David felt lost and had little hope for his future.
He Didn't Know What To Do
Receiving that dreadful letter and seeing his mom's disappointment made something click inside of David. Despite learning difficulties and cruel schoolmates, Goggins was able to get his life in order and graduate high school. But what should he do next?
The young man decided to join the United States Air Force. He wanted to join the Tactical Air Control Party, a unit whose job was in part to save downed pilots in water. But David was a weak swimmer who was terrified of open water, and his fears would soon get the best of him.
He Knew He Had Taken the Easy Way Out
Initially, Goggins defied his self-doubt and pushed through the fearsome training. But amid his new army career, he was once again given some dreadful news. David was diagnosed with "Sickle cell trait," which made low depths, high altitude, and harsh conditions extra dangerous for the young man. The army decided to send him home.
Goggins had the option to return after a week, but he chose not to. David used the diagnoses as an excuse, telling the instructors he feared the risk to his health. In reality, the young man had let his fears beat him, and he was taken out of training. At the time, Goggins couldn't have predicted what he would soon experience.
He Experienced Big Changes in His Life
Once David was removed from physical training, he began learning how to help his team navigate missions from land, instead of the water. The soldier-in-training no longer had to worry about facing his fears of the open water, but a new obstacle soon presented itself.
Goggins was struggling to pass an aptitude test and finish training. One lucky day, he found a study method that worked for him. If David wrote things down over and over again, he eventually learned the information. This new trick helped the anxious trainee succeed. But during Goggin's time in the army, a lot changed for him.
An Unhealthy Lifestyle
The serviceman spent four years in the Air Force. During that time, David experienced big changes in his body. "I gained 125 pounds... I went from 175 to almost 300," he said. Despite warnings about his health and asthma, Goggins struggled to make a change. After the army, destructive habits followed him into civilian life.
David was making $1,000 a month as an exterminator, living meagerly, and working a gruesome night shift. After work, he had a routine. "I would... get a large... milkshake," Goggins said. "And then... a box of mini donuts... and pop donuts like Tic Tacs." An unhappy and unhealthy David had no idea what was about to come his way.
A Life-Changing Moment
After arriving home at around 8 in the morning, Goggins usually turned on the TV. He set the volume high and listened to a program while showering. One fateful day, David got out of the shower and saw something on his television that changed his life. "I saw these guys going into water. So I was terrified of it," he recalled.
Goggins was watching Navy SEALs enduring a strenuous training. "It made me reflect on my fears, my insecurities... I saw real men... who were staying [in the training]... overcoming adversity," David said. He felt inspired to be a better version of himself. But the hopeful man didn't foresee what he'd encounter next.
"No One's Going To Come Help Me... It's Me Against Me."
The images on the screen snapped something inside of a dejected David. "I got sick of being haunted by being nobody," he said. "No one's going to come to help me... It's me against me. Period." Goggins decided to become his own savior and wanted to confront "every fear" he had. At the top of his list was his dad.
"I haven't seen [my dad] in years... I needed to go back to the root of the problem," David said. He met his father and realized that someone in his dad's early life had inflicted pain upon him. Not having healed from this, the man continued the cycle of hurt with his own family. But David was going to do something about it.
They Laughed at Him
Goggins was determined to take control of his life. Influenced by the Navy SEALs program, he decided to join the prestigious unit. "I didn't want to sit back and continually watch these shows about great people doing amazing things," David said. "I wanted that feeling in my head that I believed they had: of true accomplishment."
The 24-year-old called Navy offices, asking to enlist in the elite unit. But similar to David's classmates who tormented him in school, the recruiters laughed at him. After continuous rejection, Goggins showed up in person and learned he needed to lose over 100 pounds to even qualify. David didn't know if he could do it.
He Was Motivated
David was driven and signed up at a gym. He wanted to run four miles on his first day but couldn't do more than a quarter of a mile. Feeling defeated, Goggins went home crying and again turned to food for emotional comfort. But this man was no longer the same person who ate donuts "like Tic Tacs," and he didn't give up.
Instead of running, the young man began cycling. David also started swimming using fins to help him float, confronting yet another one of his fears. "I went on this crazy, crazy, crazy routine, eating hardly nothing," he said. Goggins lost the weight within 3 months. But he couldn't imagine what the future had in store.
David had achieved the unthinkable. But now he had to pass SEAL training, which could take up to 30 months. The most difficult part of the program was considered to be "Hell Week," which involved 130 hours of nonstop training with hardly any sleep. Goggins worked hard and made it to that crucial training period of "Hell."
But his tired body contracted pneumonia and he had to drop out of the training. Still motivated by his goal and the progress the aspiring-SEAL had already made, David tried a second time. But a stress fracture once again forced him to quit. Goggins could only have one more chance, and it seemed doubtful that he would pass.
He Needed an "Indestructible" Mindset
The trainee realized that to succeed, his body and mind needed training. David started refuting the voices in his head that told him he couldn't do it. Instead, Goggins told himself "How awesome would it be if a fat, 290-pound loser could turn his life around and become one of the toughest men on the planet?"
"I had to develop a mindset. A mindset that was indestructible," David said. "I had to build calluses in my brain the same way I built calluses on my hands." Finally, it was third times the charm, and Goggins passed Hell Week. But his spirits would soon be dampened by a terrible tragedy.
A Life-Altering Tragedy
Not only was David Goggins now a Navy SEAL, but he was also the only member of the US Armed Forced to have completed SEAL training, US Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller Training. The dedicated troop was on a tidal wave of success, until a devastating event.
In 2005, some of Goggins's friends and fellow soldiers passed away in a helicopter crash. Filled with sadness and despair, David wanted to honor them in some way. He decided to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. It was hard to believe what happened next.
Rejected Once Again... and Again
Goggins was inspired to raise funds for the Warrior Foundation, which gave college scholarships to children of fallen soldiers. He googled "toughest marathons in the world," and discovered the 135-mile high-risk endurance test that was the Badwater Ultramarathon. But the marathon organizers prohibited him from participating.
David was told he needed to enter another ultramarathon first, and only then would he be eligible to participate in Badwater. Not one to give up, the SEAL entered a 24-hour ultramarathon in San Diego, where he ran 101 miles in just over 19 hours. It was impressive for a first-timer, but Goggins was again rejected from Badwater.
David then ran in his first marathon in Las Vegas. The amateur's completion time qualified him for the Boston Marathon, which he finished with flying colors. But Goggins was yet to receive an invitation for Badwater. The runner persisted, set on raising money in honor of his fallen comrades.
Goggins went on to compete in an ultramarathon in Hawaii, considered one of the hardest in the world. In 2006, after competing in the Ultraman World Championships Triathlon and placing second in the three-day race, the army vet was finally welcomed to run in Badwater. What happened next was shocking to many.
He Raised Over $2 Million
The Badwater Ultramarathon was a 135-mile course that started 279 feet below sea level in California's Death Valley. The long-distance race ended 8,360 feet above ground at Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney. With about 20-40% of participants failing to reach the finish line, expectations were likely low for David.
Yet Goggins finished 5th overall, unheard of for a novice. David did the marathon two more times, raising over $2 million. The athlete went on to complete sixty marathon and ultramarathons, winning and placing highly in most. Feeling on top of the world, he would soon make world history.
The Hole in His Heart
The runner eventually had to give his legs a rest, but he didn't stop getting stronger. In 2013, Goggins broke the world record for most pull-ups in twenty-four hours. The strong man completed 4,030 pull-ups in seventeen hours and owned the record for two years. Yet before breaking that record, he had received some tough news.
During a routine medical checkup in 2010, David's doctor found a birth defect called atrial septal defect (AS). The athlete had a hole between the atrial chambers of his heart, which prevented the organ from functioning at more than 75% capacity. The concerns for Goggins's health were about to get even more frightful.
His Life Was at Stake
While the hole in Goggins heart had unknowingly been there since birth, his health was now deteriorating because of David's actions. Beginning when he lost over 100 pounds in just three months, the vet had put his body under constant and intense physical strain. His bodily transformation was extreme, and not advisable.
By his late thirties, David Goggins couldn't go for a short run without needing to duct-tape his ankles in place. The runner's hip muscle had also become tight from physical stress. The tough man's body was turning inward and shrinking from the inside. On top of that, David's organs were failing. Put simply, he was dying.
The news was devastating. Goggins asked fans, "If a doctor told you that you needed a minimum for 4+ years of physical therapy and 90% of it you would have to do on your own with no guarantee that you would return to even 50% of where you were, would you have the self-discipline to do it everyday?"
Desperate to save his life, Goggins began an intense routine. "I decided to take on the challenge of rehabilitating [myself]," he recalled. "I have spent a minimum of two hours a day and as much as 12 hours a day... stretching, etc., every single day." Only time could tell if David's dedication would pay off.
He Lived With a Multimillionaire
After stretching every day but 1 in 4.5 years, the injured man's body began to heal. The bones that jut out, a result of his body caving in on itself, got smaller. Goggins's body realigned itself and after five years, he bravely returned to running. David's zeal caught the attention of many, including millionaire Jesse Itzler.
The owner of the Atlanta Hawks paid the man from humble beginnings to move into his luxurious NYC apartment. Itzler wanted to learn from Goggins's mentality. Jesse shared some of the takeaways he got from David: do something hard every day and be accountable to yourself. But not everyone approved and admired the "toughest man."
Too Good To Be True
David Goggins's story spread far and wide, and he gained many fans. A lot of people admired his dedication and hard work. People also found inspiration in the athlete's life story, a different kind of rags-to-riches experience. Goggins became a motivational speaker, helping others find the inner strength to change their lives.
But some speculated that the toughest man exaggerated the obstacles he had faced throughout his life. Others doubted the truth behind David's radical physical transformation or said he was out of his mind, born with an inhuman work ethic. It wasn't long before intimate parts of Goggins's life were called into question...
"He Either Lied or..."
As David Goggins's fame expanded, some found his medical history suspicious. "What he did seems to me like it should be physically impossible with asthma," One doubter expressed. "How would you be able to overcome asthma to such an extent?" Others wondered about his military career.
"I wonder how he [got] into the military with a history of asthma," said one user. Another said, "He either lied or had outgrown it...." Some reflected on their own experiences, "I tried to join the military and was told it didn't matter if you had outgrown your asthma." Would the haters bring him down?
A Sturdy Net Worth
The ultramarathon competitor did not let the negative voices hold him back. Goggins also negated the idea that he had an unattainable work ethic you can only be born with. David believed anyone can do what he did. Why was the runner so confident about this?
Because David's evidence was himself. Goggins took the life lessons he learned and put them into a book, Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds. The author became a New York Times Best Seller, and sources speculated his net worth to be between $1 to $2.5 million. But his growing fame was not all fun and games.
People Said He Was Lying
As Goggins became more open and well-known, his past came back to haunt him. Former peers denied David's allegations of severe bullying, and some old classmates took to social media to say none of it was true. But the Navy vet had two very important people on his team.
The writer's friend, as well as his old principal both, affirmed the stories and years of harassment. Readers also showed their support. "I believe his stories, and though I can't prove them you can tell he's not the type of person to lie," said a fan. But people soon found problems in Goggins's story that were harder to dispute.
Some Thought He Was Reckless
The bestselling author was quickly criticized for promoting what some thought was a reckless lifestyle. "It was not motivational but rather the story of an arrogant person who showed little respect for his body," expressed a reader. Observers condemned David for entering races unprepared and said his work ethic was problematic.
"Running with a pair of broken legs... is not 'hard,' it is outright foolish," said one book reviewer. "Your body is trying to tell you something." Another said, "I cannot draw any inspiration from someone who abuses himself like this." But the backlash to Goggins's book didn't end there.
Haters Were His Motivators
Still, other readers found the language of the memoir to be disturbing. “I won’t be encouraging anyone to read this book simply because the language... [is] vulgar," said one person. Some thought Goggins was a "narcissist," and called him "an arrogant individual." David's response may have surprised many.
The athlete, army vet, and author had spent much of his life being told he wasn't good enough. From a young age, he had been hurt and abused by many and had experienced countless rejections. All of those experiences had made him tough, not only physically but mentally. David Goggins paid little mind to the haters.
"I Feel Guilty if I Haven't Achieved Every Day."
At 45 years old, Goggins had an impressive resume and a reportedly solid net worth. Some might call it quits at that point, ready to retire and relax. But not him- no matter how many triumphs the toughest man experienced, he was not done growing. "Everybody has these bars... and once you get there, you've made it," he said.
"There’s a party... a big celebration... Who knows what... but it’s a completion of something," he continued. "There’s a laundry list of things that we could still accomplish… I feel guilty if I haven’t achieved every day.” If nothing else, it's hard to doubt David Goggins's admirable self-motivation.