Racing a Tough Mudder is hard enough: Between the 10- to 12-mile course, 20+ obstacles and, well, a hell of a lot of mud, it’s an event that requires strength, endurance, and tenacity.
Now just imagine doing it with two missing limbs.
That’s the reality for Noah Galloway, a 34-year-old Iraqi war veteran who lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee in 2005. Galloway was on his second tour of duty and, while driving in the middle of the night with no headlights and only night vision goggles to guide the way, hit a trip wire that triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and sent his 9,000-pound Humvee careening through the air.
He woke up five days later, on Christmas Eve, to find out he was a double amputee.
Going through an experience like that sent Galloway, who always kept health and fitness at the forefront of his daily routine, into a severe depression that revolved primarily around alcohol—and certainly no exercise. But after looking in the mirror one day—literally, he was looking in a full-length mirror when he spotted his three children, Colston, now 11, Jack, 8, and Rian, 6—the former athlete realized his mindset needed to change.
“I realized, for my boys, I was setting the example of what a man is and that’s what they were going to grow up to be,” he says. “And for my little girl, I was showing her how a man was supposed to act and that’s what she was going to look for one day. That terrified me. So I realized I had to make a change and make it quick. I needed to quit concentrating on what I’d lost and start focusing on what I had left.”
That realization got Galloway back into a healthy eating routine at the beginning of 2011, when he completely cut out alcohol, limited junk food and sugar, and stepped into a 24-hour gym late at night so he could start learning how to work with his new body.
“I was insecure with myself; I didn’t feel comfortable,” he says. “There was nothing I could find online or in magazines and books to tell me how to work out missing an arm and leg. So I had to figure it out.”
Four months after revamping his outlook, Galloway entered his first obstacle course race (OCR). Now with a third-place win on season 20 of Dancing with the Stars, a role on Fox’s American Grit, and 13 Tough Mudders under his belt—not to mention officially being named the brand’s Muddervator in May—it’s safe to say Galloway knows a thing or two about perseverance. Here are eight ways he approaches any obstacle, so you can steal his techniques and watch your own success skyrocket.
Go back to the beginning
It may seem intimidating, but accepting that you’re a newbie at something—whether it’s learning a whole new way of working out, like Galloway, or trying an OCR for the first time—ignites a fresh spark of excitement that tends to fade for those who work out regularly. Getting back in the gym after his injuries reminded Galloway of that. “It was kind of exciting to not know what I was doing,” he says. “I realized I could use an ankle strap and hook it to a cable machine to work out my chest, my shoulders, my back. I got a running leg and relearned how to run.” Rather than being pissed about a return to square one, that mindset change—one that went from “I’m scared I have to start all over” to “This is a new opportunity to get better”—leads to a major payoff.
Break sh*t down
Staring at obstacles like the Berlin Walls on a Tough Mudder course can be intimidating. But Galloway says remembering the basics is what keeps him from getting psyched out. “I know how to pull my bodyweight up; I know I’m capable of swinging my leg up,” he says. “So whatever the obstacle is, I’m weighing it out like that to see what makes sense and what individual movements I can make to get it to work.” If it doesn’t? “I’m going to get another opportunity to try again.”
Feed off others’ energy
“Out on that course, I stand out because I’m missing an arm and a leg,” says Galloway. “But when people see me dominate an obstacle, I feed off that and it gives me so much pride because I’m showing this side of what is humanly possible—that has been huge for me in my mental recovery and always keeps me going.” While your circumstances may not be the same, the mindset is. When doubt or exhaustion creeps in, take the time to acknowledge how high on life (okay, endorphins) everyone else is, and use their energy to propel you forward.
Clean up your eats
Not only is it going to help you physically, but researchers found that when rats were fed a diet low in fat but high in fructose, they were less motivated to move. Meaning the more sugar you load up on, the less willpower you’re harnessing. Galloway agrees, noting that his diet overhaul was the first step to recovery before he even thought about fitness. “I knew what I was eating was going to affect my performance, so I started looking at my body like a well-oiled machine,” he explains. “If junk goes in, then junk’s coming out.”
Well, for the most part
Cutting out booze, sugar and simple carbs sounds like a great plan but, hello, sometimes a guy just wants to enjoy a beer and bread basket. Galloway says that’s cool, too. “The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make is getting up one day and trying to eat on this really strict diet,” he says. “They crash and burn every time.” Instead, you can find him enjoying a protein-packed plate of chicken…alongside a container (or two) of ranch dressing. “It may not be a healthy condiment, but I love it. And I’ve seen too many people try to go to the extreme and fail.”
Consider it a solo mission
It sounds counterintuitive, given that OCRs like Tough Mudder are all about teamwork, but Galloway likes to attempt obstacles himself whenever possible. Being injured, he says it’s about seeing pride in someone’s eyes versus pity. “I have this arrogance out on the course that makes me want to see how far I can push and what I can accomplish without any assistance,” he explains. “And when I do, there’s a different energy that people have and I feed off that.” So going solo for your first obstacle attempt (but having your teammates nearby) can give you the mental stamina needed to push farther than you thought possible.
But accept help when you really need it
That said, when you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. “When I’m dragging my ass through the mud, yeah, I’m going to need some help,” says Galloway. “I’m not against that.” Knowing when you’ve reached your limit, and how others can help you push past it anyway, is key to getting up and over.
Determine your driving force
When everything hurts and giving up sounds like a mighty fine idea, there’s a mental place that everyone needs to visit in order to push through. “For me, there are two: I remind myself that, as a combat veteran, I have the ability to do things that are uncomfortable,” says Galloway. “And then it goes back to my kids. They love seeing pictures of me doing events like Tough Mudder, and it lets them know that anything’s possible. So I remember that my kids are learning from it; I’m learning from it.” Knowing your personal driving force will help get you to that finish line, too.