How David Turned His Life Around?

Determination and perseverance are virtues that can help one achieve even the most difficult goals in life. To be able to live a life without making any excuses to give a 100% is not impossible, yet most of us struggle with staying true to even the most basic fitness regimen.

Can’t Hurt Me (2018) by David Goggins is an inspirational story of how Goggins turned his life around and achieved the near-impossible with focus and an unbreakable mind. An inspirational athlete and military man, Goggins trudged through a traumatic childhood, overweight twenties and faced numerous hardships, only to turn his life around.  

A Scarred Childhood

Goggins was born in New York in 1975. From the age of 6, Goggins suffered abuse at the hands of his father Trunnis. Trunnis was a roller-disco rink owner, a self-made businessman. Tyrannical as he was, he made his family, David, his older brother and his mother, work hard at the rink.

At the tender ages of 6 to 8 years, David was tasked with looking after the skating shoes at the rink, while his mother cooked food on a hot plate at the rink. Working hard until midnight, David and his brother would sleep in the office. However, the disco music made sleep impossible, and David would often fall asleep in school in the mornings. While the late nights and school routine were gruelling for the children, they also had to endure brutal Trunnis regularly beating up their mother. 

Trunnis never spent money on his family. Once, when David has a bad ear infection, his mother dared to take him to the hospital. When they came back, Trunnis beat up his wife badly. When David tried to save his mother, he was lashed by the belt, too. Often, David had to cover up the bruises he got from his father.

At the age of 8, his mother planned to escape from this tyranny. Sweet-talking her husband into getting her a credit card, she took the help of a neighbour and fled along with David to Brazil, Indiana. David’s elder brother chose to stay back with his father, and hence, David hardly met his brother after that.

Their life in Indiana was far from easy. In spite of being free from Trunnis’ tyranny, David and his mother had to face another harsh reality. They were dirt poor. Without any help from Trunnis, they had to live on a pittance. With the allowance from David’s mother’s part-time job and the $123 monthly welfare check, they lived in a public housing block, paying $7 a month rent.

Soon, David’s traumatic early life started showing its effects. David developed a nervous stutter, patches of his skin started losing colour and he started losing his hair. This happened due to long term changes in their brain chemistry, resulting in the permanent ‘fight or flight’ state his brain was in. He was suffering from toxic stress, a condition that affected children who suffered abuse. David’s brain was permanently under stress and on alert for danger. This condition, as David soon found out, also affected his memory. 

Struggling to memorize and remember what he was taught in school, David was soon labelled stupid. The only back child in his class, David endured ridicule and yelling, and was about to be kicked out of school. Placed in a ‘special needs’ facility, David resorted to the only thing he knew that could get him through school – cheating.

His cheating in tests and homework, allowed him to stay in school, but by the time David was a teenager, he could barely read, and his education suffered greatly, as he struggled with literacy.

In his late teens, David finally found something concrete to pursue – a career as an Air force pararescue. Cling on to his dream, David focussed on learning to read and was soon accepted into Air Force Training.

However, his hope was short-lived. In training, David needed to pass a swimming test, an ability he severely lacked.  Not being able to afford swimming classes, David had never seen a swimming pool till the age of 12. Due to his fear of the tough swimming challenges in training, he eventually quit, as routine medical examination showed that he was predisposed to sickle cell anaemia. His medical examination and fear got the better of his dreams.

By 1999, David was working as a night-shift pest exterminator. Losing hope of ever pursuing his dream, David took to comfort eating, and his weight shot to almost 300 pounds. David had turned to food to deal with his failure of being overweight, uneducated, and heading towards a dead-end future.

Cant Hurt Me (2018) by David Goggins
Cant Hurt Me (2018) by David Goggins

The Turning Point

 One morning, just as the author David Goggins was indulging in another heavy breakfast, he saw a documentary about Navy SEALS on TV. Seeing the toughest training he had ever seen, Goggins was transfixed. The determination, mental toughness and peak physical conditioning made him long to join the SEALS like nothing else mattered.

He spent the next few weeks calling every Navy recruitment office in the country, pleading for an opportunity. Luckily, he stumbled across a program for former recruits, who wanted to get back in action. However, there were two challenges in front of him. First, the program was shutting down in three months, and second, the maximum weight for joining the program was 191 pounds. Sitting at 297 pounds, Goggins was more than overweight and needed to shed over 100 pounds if he was to get into the program, within three months.

Goggins, determined and undeterred, started following a punishing regime. He woke up at 4:30 am every morning and worked on an exercise bike for 2 hours. He would next drive to a nearby for another 2 hours. After his swim, he would hit the gym for circuit training, doing 5 sets of a minimum of 200 reps working out all the major muscle groups. He would then get back on the exercise bike for another two hours and get back on it after dinner.

He lost 25 pounds within 2 weeks and added a 4-mile run to his routine after a month. As the deadline drew closer, Goggins was fit as a fiddle. He got through the recruitment program and started gruelling training. He finally graduated and joined the Navy SEALS, fulfilling his dream.

After a few years as a Navy SEAL, Goggins was yearning for newer challenges. He wanted something that would test his abilities to the limit. He found his answer in extreme long-distance running, or ultra running.

When a few of his fellow SEALS died in a military operation in Afghanistan, Goggins decided to raise money for the families they left behind. He started running for a good cause and raise charity, all while fulfilling his quest to complete the most difficult race on earth.

The Badwater 135

Goggins chose to race in the Badwater 135, a 135-mile race that included the most challenging elevations in the toughest, sweltering weather conditions. The race begins in California’s Death Valley – below sea level – and ends at an elevation of 8374 feet. Always held in the month of July, the valley is the hottest place on earth. It is the ultramarathon to end all ultramarathons, and the top performers of the race incredibly finish it in 48 hours.

However, the organisers of the race required Goggins to qualify for the Badwater by running another 100-mile race called the San Diego One day, run in the heart of the city. Incredibly, Goggins completed the qualifier without any special training, and by doing only 20 minutes of cardio on a cross-trainer at his gym in the year leading up to the race.

During the qualifier, Goggins suffered a loss of bladder and bowel control due to sheer exhaustion. He, however, completed the run within 19 hours, running an extra mile just to ensure that he had completed the race.

He was accepted in the 2006 Badwater. This time around, he trained hard. He studied the terrain and trained in extreme heat, to imitate the extreme weather conditions he would experience during the race.

Goggins completed the 2006 Badwater in 30 hours, coming in 5th place.

Perseverance And Determination

Goggins’ story exhibits a penchant for determination, perseverance, and discipline. Without these, he would never have achieved being the only African-American SEAL in the US and a prolific ultra runner.

He is often asked, ‘ What is the secret of his success?’ to which his only answer is – work ethic.

He believes that there are no quick fixes, especially if one wants to harness their true potential and master anything. One might be talented and passionate, but without hard work and a disciplined work ethic, success is elusive. For Goggins, the willingness to work hard and putting everything else, but the goal in sight, at second place is a priority.

Goggins often hears people tell him that they do not have time for work or family. However, his most important belief is that there are no excuses for hard work. He always tells people that ‘what doubters need to do is win the morning’. Essentially, being an early bird, waking up early in the morning, is the first step towards achieving any fitness goal.

Goggins clear focus and discipline towards his fitness regime can be seen in his daily routine. Waking up at 4 am, he starts out for a 6-mile run. Back at 5:15, he showers and has breakfast. He then cycles 25 miles to work and is ready at his desk by 7:30 am. Additionally, he finds time for another 6-mile run and a gym session during his lunch break. He cycles back home by 7 pm and also finds time to add in another ten-minute run and a 50-mile cycling session. He achieves all of this with a 9 to 5 desk job.

Goggins invented the 40 per cent rule.  According to him, we tend to give up when we have expended only 40% of our efforts. The reason is that the mind has a natural tendency to protect the body from hardships, pain, and suffering, and it trich us into believing that we have given it everything we have got when there is about 60% more potential; left within. He says that to really achieve something, one has to ignore the voice in the head and push through the suffering.


Achieving the impossible is possible. Despite a traumatic childhood and a number of setbacks in his life, Goggins believed in his ability to do hard work. Beginning the day early is an essential step to achieving it.

There is nothing that one cannot achieve if one gets up early and starts pushing oneself. If Goggins could do it, anyone can!