A couple of days after I conceived of the title of this post, Rob Jones was on an episode of Jocko Willink's podcast titled I can't vs. I won't, so of course the whole thought process for the post changed.
Goggins' dad was a sex trafficker, moving prostitutes across the border from Canada to Buffalo. He didn't believe in sending his kids to school — instead, they worked at a roller rink at night, then slept while their mom worked a bar until 3 a.m. Dad beat the kids and mom, and mom finally left when Goggins was 8, moving the kids to a small town in Indiana where racism was rampant.
He wanted to be an Air Force special operations agent. He failed the test twice, but got a tutor and managed to pass it the third time. He was also afraid of the water and after six weeks of toughing out a training program, the military tested him for sickle cell and found he had a trait for it, so they sat him out for a week.
Goggins had quit everything he'd ever done, so until he was sidelined, he wanted to prove he had changed. After he sat out his week, he figured he could push through the final three weeks, but his commanding officer (CO) told him he had to start the training from the beginning. He couldn't imagine going back through that, so he told his CO the sickle cell discovery scared him and he got a medical excuse out of the special ops unit.
He had quit again.
He went on to do a job that didn't require any work in the water, and put on 120 pounds, then left the Air Force and went to work for an exterminator. Eventually he saw a show on Discovery Channel that struck a chord with him and he decided he wanted to be a Navy SEAL.
He finally found a recruiter who would sign him up for the path. His prior stint in the Air Force helped him, but at 6'1" and 297 pounds, he had 90 days to lose 106 pounds to meet the weight requirement for the SEAL teams.
The next night he went back to work at the exterminator, and decided that wasn't going to be his life. He walked off the job and, as he puts it, became "a guy who didn't exist." He went hard. He sought discomfort. He lost the weight, got into the class and went through 3 SEAL hell weeks in a year. He didn't make it through the first, but he did through the other two.
Rob Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve during his junior year in college as a combat engineer. He and his team would be responsible for using explosives and detecting buried IEDs. After graduation, he would be deployed to Iraq in 2008 and later Afghanistan in 2010.
After a landmine exploded near him in Afghanistan, he had both legs amputated just above the knee.
It took over a year for him to heal, and eventually he left the Marines with an honorable discharge.
What's a wounded Marine with no legs to do?
Row his way into the Paralympics and win a bronze medal, of course. And then cycle across the US. And then run 31 marathons in 31 days.
Misty Diaz is called Li'l Misty because she is about 4'4" and weighs 78 pounds. No, she's not 9 years old. She's an adult with Myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida, a condition described as "a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth." She walks with the aid of two pink crutches, or sometimes a walker.
Diaz' bio says she started entering races when she was 7, but in talking to Fussman, she says at one point she found herself broke, divorced and wondering what to do, so she signed up for a 5K and started off walking to the mailbox and back so that she'd be able to complete it (which she did, in around an hour).
Now she does 15-mile Spartan races. You know, the ones with the obstacles in them. She also holds some weightlifting records in her weight class.
I conceived this post while I was in the midst of what was then my longest-distance run and still remains my longest-duration run. A few weeks after this run, I went a mile farther, but did it about six minutes faster.
But let's talk about me for a bit, and about Goggins, specifically, because most of us are not ever going to have to deal with losing both our legs above the knee, nor are we likely to suddenly find ourselves with a birth defect we weren't born with.
There are three basic body types: ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic. Ectomorphs are long and lean. They tend to have problems putting on muscle or fat. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mesomorphs tend to put on muscle very easily, and are often rectangular and lean. Think Dwayne Johnson. Endomorphs tend to put on both muscle and fat easily, and are often pear-shaped. Think Danny DeVito.
Elite distance runners tend to be ectomorphs; elite sprinters more often are mesomorphs. Endomorphs? We're likely to be elite post-run beer drinkers.
Yep, me and Mr. DeVito both, though to be honest, I don't know anything about Danny DeVito's drinking habits. Or his running habits, as far as that goes.
What I'm getting at is that running doesn't come naturally to me. It's actually very difficult. I don't start enjoying a run until I've been going for 45 minutes or so. At that point, I can finally zone out and not think about how awful it feels.
Of course, in order to run two or three hours at a time, you have to take a few 30- and 40-minute runs a week. [As I prepare for my first full marathon in November, I hope to just make my "shorter" runs over an hour and mostly cut out the annoying ones.] That means I enjoy one or two of my five or six runs a week.
Really, I do it because I'd probably weigh close to 250 pounds if I didn't. Not exactly an ideal weight for someone who is 5'2".
I got started because when I was going to get married, my future sister-in-law (my wife's brother's wife) said we should do a 5K every month until the wedding. We signed up for the Chilly Chili 5K, a mid-January run in Cazenovia, New York. It was 12 degrees at race time.
That was the last one she ran with me.
I did a couple of others, and when we moved to Savannah at the end of the year, I needed a new challenge, so I signed up for a half marathon and trained hard for it.
It wasn't easy. Easy would be sitting on the couch.
When I signed up for the race, if you had told me I had to run it the next day, I would have said, "i can't." I'm no Bert Kreischer, who barely trained for the LA Marathon.
But the fact is, I could have. Running is just one foot in front of the other until you're at the finish line.
Goggins found this out, as well. He could go in the water. He could go through SEAL hell week three times. He could run a 205-mile race, even though the first time he ran he weighed 297 pounds and only eked out a quarter mile.
What are you telling yourself you can't do? Have you proven you can't do it? Have you tried? I mean, really tried? "It's too hard" is not the same as "can't." You (most likely) can't flap your arms fast enough to fly. You (most likely) can't pick up a tractor-trailer and carry it to the nearest port.
You (most likely) can do basically anything you can conceive. Thomas Edison famously took thousands of tries to come up with a filament for the light bulb. When asked about all those failures, he is quoted as saying, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
If you're going to say you can't do something. You'd better be able to prove it. Think about Edison. And Rob Jones. And Misty Diaz. And David Goggins. And then try harder.
I suggest removing the phrase, “I can’t,” from your lexicon and replacing it with, “I can’t YET.” Do this, so that you don’t risk being on your death bed saying, “I didn’t.”
Oh, and in case you need more proof that you can, meet Kyle Maynard, a congenital quad amputee (that means he was born without arms or legs) who went on to become a high school wrestling champion and a mountain climber.