“Life is not designed to be perfect. Life is designed to be a big testing ground and all of us get tested in different ways,” said Ultra Athlete David Goggins. A retired Navy SEAL who celebrated his 46th birthday this month, he is the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to successfully complete SEAL training, including two Hell Weeks, the U.S. Army Ranger School, where he graduated as Enlisted Honor Man, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training.
An inspiring force of strength and dedication, Chief Petty Officer Goggins is also passionate about addressing racial issues in America.
Goggins was born on February 17, 1975 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. His mom left her abusive spouse to move to Indiana with David when he was 8. He had a learning disability, asthma, a stutter and countless fears. He struggled in school.
“I was never great at anything, so everything was impossible. How are you going to handle that?” he told The Today Show.
He recalled several instances of racism he experienced growing up on his youTube channel. One time in high school he went out to his car to find racial slurs spray painted all over the car. Another time the same slur was written with the words “we’re gonna kill you” in his Spanish class notebook. And once his friend’s father called him out in front of a Pizza Hut full of white people.
“A lot of white people acted like they forgot what happened to me. A lot of white people said it never did happen to me,” he said in his video. In reacting to the murder of George Floyd last summer, he said, “It brings back horrible memories for me when I was growing up.”
After a challenging childhood, Goggins looked to the military. His grandfather, Air Force Master Sgt. Jack Gardner, served in World War II, so there was a history of service in the family.
“Growing up with that foundation and to overcome that, I thought the military would be a good way to do that,” he said.
Goggins failed the entrance exam to the Air Force twice, but ended up serving in the United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party from 1994-1999. After his discharge, he took a job in pest control as an exterminator, but his health declined dramatically. He gained an enormous amount of weight and struggled to maintain his self-confidence.
Yet, one day, he decided he would try to join the most elite fighting force in the U.S. military, the Navy Seals. According to 2019 Navy data, only 1.3 percent of Navy SEALS are black. Very few are accepted into the program and only 20-30% successfully complete SEAL training. “You’re 290 pounds. Can you even swim?” Goggins recalled one of the recruiters asking him during that first office visit. “They pretty much laughed at me. Then I dropped 100 pounds in 59 days. The recruiter was floored.” Despite overwhelming odds, Goggins graduated from his 24-week BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), but only after completing Hell Week twice with 3 attempts — all in a span of a year. Rolled over from his previous two classes first due to illness and then to injury, he was given one last chance to complete SEAL training. He did so and graduated with Class 235 in 2001. He was assigned to SEAL Team FIVE and made combat deployments to Iraq, as well as serving as a training instructor for other SEALs. He then went on to graduate from Army Ranger School in 2004 with the distinction of achieving "Top Honor Man."
Since then, he has become an icon of athleticism and endurance. He has completed over 60 ultra-marathons, triathlons, and ultra-triathlons, setting new course records and regularly placing in the top five. He has held the 2013 Guinness World Record for most pull-ups in 24 hours, completing 4,030 in 17 hours.
Driven by the loss of several fellow SEALS in a helicopter crash in 2005 during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan, he now runs long distances to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. This nonprofit provides college scholarships and educational counseling to the surviving children of Special Operations personnel killed in the line of duty. He also does several motivational speaking events, and wrote a self-help memoir, Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds.
“He’s the number one recruiting tool naval special warfare has, in my opinion,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Torey, who instructed him during SEAL school. “He epitomizes what a SEAL is and he earns that trident every day.”
Image source: Amazon.com for David’s book, Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds.