By Tom Demerly
It was a pleasant sunrise. I was sitting
on a log at the beach with a man I’d call a new friend.
The temperature was pleasant and the sun was warming. The sand
was very nice. The ocean lay still.
The man had strong eyes. Even though we had just
shook hands we chatted like we knew each other. That’s
why I call him a friend. He was powerfully built and full of
vitality. The sun was low in our eyes but he wore no sunglasses
so I took mine off too. He had that engaging manner of looking
you in the eyes so you understood what he was saying.
Each time he used the word I made a tick mark
in my little notebook. When I reached four tick marks I made
a line through them. Five. I made two more marks right after
that. He kept using that word.
The man I was chatting with is an endurance athlete
named Dave. Dave was second overall at the Ultraman Triathlon
in 2006. Ultraman is over twice the distance of Ironman, a 6.2
mile swim, 261.4 mile bike and 52.4 mile run. During the run
he averaged sub-8:30 miles- for all 52 miles. He did four 100
mile running races this month. Dave asked if I was racing this
weekend. I told him I was. He was leaving for another 100 miler.
I wanted to learn three things from Dave. I wanted
to learn about Dave, he’s a famous fellow we’ve
seen in magazines, websites and on TV. A likeness of Dave even
appears in a popular video game. I wanted to learn about why
he does what he does and I was hoping to learn something about
In answer to one of my questions, he used that
word again. Eight tick marks. I turned the page in my notebook
for the next set of questions. He used the word again. Nine.
Dave is SEAL Operator First Class David Goggins,
U.S. Navy. He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Basic Underwater
Demolition School (BUDS), SEAL Qualification Training (SQT),
the U.S. Army Ranger School, The U.S. Army Airborne School,
and The U.S. Air Force Special Tactics “P” School.
Because of challenges he faced during his Basic Underwater Demolition
School Goggins had to go through the most difficult phase of
BUDs, Hell Week, almost three times. He may be the only person
in history to have done so. Goggins’ Hell Week became
As SO1 (SEAL Operator 1st Class) Goggins and I
sat on a log in the obstacle course at the Naval Special Warfare
Center in Coronado, California I inspected his uniform. It looked
like the edges were tailored with a razor. On the left side
of his uniform was an eagle holding a cocked flintlock pistol,
a trident and straddling an anchor. The Navy Special Warfare
I got interested in meeting Dave Goggins after
reading about the SEALs and interacting with them in the military.
Dave Goggins is a new generation Navy SEAL, the fittest, best
trained, most versatile special operations soldiers in history.
Goggins is one of several point men in the current recruiting
effort to find qualified candidates for SEAL training. The Navy
is offering a $40,000 cash bonus to candidates who complete
SEAL training. Other cash bonuses available to qualified SEALs
run as high as $150,000. The Navy wants SEAL candidates who
have the fitness of triathletes. They sponsor their own athletes
like Dave Goggins and Superfrog Triathlon winner Mitch Hall,
sending them to high profile events like Ironman Hawaii to generate
publicity for the $40K SEAL Challenge. This year’s Ford
Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii started
with Navy SEALs parachuting into the swim course.
The SEALs need to increase their numbers by approximately
500 members before 2009. Construction on new buildings goes
on next to us at the Naval Special Warfare Center to house incoming
candidates and a rumored two new SEAL teams.
With the bonuses for SEALs at $40,000-$150,000
and first place prize money for the overall win at Ford Ironman
Hawaii at $110,000 I had to wonder: If you were a good male
triathlete in your early 20’s you understand winning Kona
against the top pros is a long shot. Earning that $40,000 SEAL
Challenge bonus is more of a sure thing that provides a steady
job in a growing industry, military special operations.
I wanted to find out just how much difference-
or similarity- there is between a SEAL and a triathlete. In
Goggins’ case there is little; like most SEALs, he is
My questions for Dave Goggins were likely the
ones he is always asked: “What is it like to be a Navy
SEAL?” “How do you endure the difficult training?”
The one word that continued to surface in Goggins’ answers
“It is an honor to be a Navy SEAL.”
How does he endure the hours in freezing water?
“You have to remember the man next to you, he is counting
on you. You have honor your commitment to him, to the Navy,
to your country.”
What is it like being a very public representative
for a military unit with mostly secret activities?
“I’m truly honored to represent the SEALs.”
During our conversation Dave Goggins spoke about
his family, about how challenging training is. Training for
a Navy SEAL never ends. It is a part of the SEAL ethos that
they earn their Trident, the Navy Special Warfare insignia,
every day. Goggins told me, “You remember that all difficult
things come to an end. You focus on the ending, and then you
can take anything.”
Goggins says he never gets tired of the relentless
operational tempo of the SEAL training and operations, “It’s
my job.” He’s been deployed to the Middle East on
classified operations, almost every SEAL has.
In talking with Dave Goggins I sense a character
and soul that burns like the core of a nuclear reactor. “If
you have a strong heart,” He tells me, “There are
no limits… no limits to the human soul.”
What I learned about Navy SEALs and their relationship
with endurance sports is a matter of motive and depth. Dave
Goggins is motivated by a pervasive sense of duty and honor.
In a different way than you and I are beckoned to the finish
of an Ironman Dave Goggins feels a higher purpose to swimming
four miles in cold, dark water in the middle of the night or
running 100 miles across an open desert. For a man like Dave
Goggins there is a sacred trust to being an endurance athlete
and a SEAL, a trust that must be honored. That sense of honor
runs deep. Most of us do endurance sport for selfish reasons.
Goggins does them out of a sense of stewardship for the insignia
on his uniform and to honor the boundless depth of the human
This thing that David Goggins honors is the inner
strength that all humans possess, but few harness. Goggins believes
we have an obligation to go deep into ourselves to explore our
strength, our soul. Goggins sees endurance sports as an insight
into himself as well as the extent of human capabilities well
beyond the physical.
“You can push yourself past physical limits.”
He told me.
Another thing that pushes Dave Goggins is the
legacy of the Navy SEAL. A relatively young military unit the
SEALs were born from the World War II Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance
Teams popularly referred to as “frogmen” because
of their black wetsuits and swim fins. The frogmen evolved,
as amphibians do, into the Underwater Demolition Teams or UDTs.
In 1962 they became the United States Navy SEa, Air and Land
forces, the SEALs. These were the men who rescued the astronauts
after splashing down during the Apollo space missions. Because
of concern over a mysterious “moon virus” the Apollo
astronauts were quarantined after returning to earth. The SEALs
who pulled them from their capsule were the only ones to risk
contact with them before they passed quarantine. I can remember
watching the return of the astronauts from the moon in grade
school. The other kids thought the astronauts were heroes- they
were. But I thought the Navy SEALs who jumped from a helicopter
into the ocean risking the unknown and pulling the astronauts
to safety were the real heroes.
SEAL history is filled with acts of unbelievable
heroism, bravery and valor. This history is part of what Dave
Goggins and other Navy SEALs honor today with their service.
Goggins is soft spoken and humble. Outside of his uniform he
does not advertise that he is one of the most highly qualified
special operations soldiers and endurance athletes in the world.
Instead he directs the accolades to men who have given their
lives for their country, honoring their commitment to team members,
the Navy, their families, their Country and their God.
The list of names every SEAL honors with his service
is long. The depth of stories is unbelievable; stories of Men
who have done incredible things to save others, sacrificing
themselves in the process. They’ve demonstrated endurance
and toughness that transcends any Ironman.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy is one of those men. This
year he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of
Honor. Lt. Murphy was part of a four man reconnaissance patrol
inserted by helicopter into the Afghan mountains to locate a
high ranking enemy official. Their covert mission, Operation
Redwing, was compromised when they were discovered by a civilian
goat herder. The team did not harm the goat herder, but the
herdsman reported sighting the SEALs to Afghan insurgents. The
four SEALs were pursued and attacked by a vastly superior force.
After inflicting numerous casualties during their attempts to
evade contact the team members were out of ammunition and wounded.
Lt. Murphy was attempting to establish communications via radio
and satellite phone to request an emergency extraction. He had
to use a radio that required a clear line of sight to the sky.
Lt. Murphy calmly stepped away from cover into the hail of fire
from the Afghan insurgents and called for extraction of his
team. He was hit twice while he made the call. After he finished
the call he calmly replaced the radio handset, and fell dead.
Two other SEALs died in the incident and another 16 were killed
when a rescue helicopter en route to the scene was shot down.
Army Rangers rescued the only surviving SEAL, Petty Officer
1st Class Marcus Luttrell. Luttrell’s book, “Lone
Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the
Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” is Luttrell’s account
of the tragedy. Luttrell’s incredible escape, during which
he drank his own urine and crawled half naked in freezing temperatures
for miles, makes our Ironman dramas trivial.
There are many more SEAL names that inspire Dave
Goggins and other SEALs to endure their day-to-day training,
racing in endurance events like Ironman, a double Ironman and
100 mile ultra-marathons and to conduct their dangerous operations
around the world: Neil Roberts, Michael Monsoor, Dan Dietz,
Matt Axelson... I could just as easily be sitting on a log at
the beach in California chatting with one of them, except they
gave their lives in defense of the ideals we hold near and dear.
So part of what drives an endurance athlete like Dave Goggins
is honoring the memory of those men and continuing their legacy
of selflessness, courage, sacrifice and honor.
I learned a great deal chatting with Dave Goggins
at the Naval Special Warfare Center. What makes a man reach
so deep? How can a person be so brave? How can a man stay so
motivated and focused?
The answer I came away with is one I have suspected
for some time; that these things come from something bigger
than us. These motives to endure, survive and excel are carried
within ourselves but come from outside. They must be internalized
before they can be harnessed. It is the word that Dave Goggins
kept using, “honor” that drives him.
If we all had something like honor driving us
then perhaps we could dig as deep. Perhaps…