Cant Hurt Me - Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
David Goggins
Contributed by Eleanor Sherer
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Chapter 3

By the time he was in the Air Force training program, David was in excellent physical shape and passed most of his physical tests, but the training regime exposed his mental weaknesses. These weaknesses started to affect his belief in himself, which gravely affected his performance in certain physical exercises that he dreaded, such as water confidence training. During one of the Pararescue training seesions, David he got on the wrong side of his drill sergeant, who decided to punish him by making him the "latrine queen” of the boot camp. In other words, David was expected to clean the latrines to impeccable standards of cleanliness. Despite doing his best, his drill sergeant punished David again by making him start the boot camp training all over again.

Being forced to restart trying turned out to be a blessing in disguise for David. He took the disciplinary measure very positively and he was the star student in his new flight. In fact, his speed and strength helped his unit in becoming the best flight in the entire boot camp. His impressive performance ensured that he was only one point behind graduate honor when his weakness was exposed. David, from childhood, was a poor swimmer and was facing his hardest challenge in the training in the “water confidence” training. This was David’s greatest weakness at the boot camp as he was very uncomfortable under the water.

As a child, David avoided pools as his mother could not afford swimming lessons. The first time he was confronted with swimming was at the Boy Scout Camp when he was twelve years old. To qualify for the swimming merit badge, David and other boys were expected to swim for a mile in the lake, which was marked by buoys. David could not swim freestyle without swallowing gallons of water, so he improvised and swam the entire mile with the backstroke. Even though the other boys finished way ahead of him, he was able to get the swimming merit badge for finishing the entire course. However, the military swimming training course was different as it was strict and did not allow for improvisation. In the swim test to join the Pararescue, recruits were expected to swim freestyle for five hundred meters and they would be timed. David bought a “Swimming for Dummies” book and keenly studied the diagrams and practiced in the pool daily to help him in the preparation for this test. Soon he improved his swimming just enough to pass the entry course but was still not as buoyant as the other recruits.

Despite passing the swim test, David’s weakness in swimming took a mental toll on him as he started thinking that the instructors were unfairly targeting him for being the only black recruit in the unit. This gave him sleepless nights as he was filled with rage and anger. During the sixth week of the “water confidence” program, David was pulled out of the training on medical grounds. The military medics had found out that he had Sickle Cell Trait, which was believed at the time to increase the risk of sudden, exercise-related death due to cardiac arrest. The military did not want him to die during the evaluation and he was pulled out of training on medical grounds for further analysis. This was a relief to David but he pretended to be upset nonetheless. When David was cleared to go back to training, David learned he’d have to do the “water confidence” program all over again. The idea of starting over was too torturous for David and he decided to quit, using the Sickle Cell trait as an excuse to get out of the program.

After quitting the boot camp, David moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky where he lied to his friends and family claiming he was forced to leave the program on medical grounds. At Fort Campbell, he served out his four years in the Tactical Air Control Party (TAC-P) but he did not like the work, as deep inside he knew he was a quitter who had let fear determine his destiny. Buried in shame, he started to eat massively and got into powerlifting. This significantly increased his body weight from 255 pounds, where he was when he left the Air Force, to nearly 300 pounds. This was a pale shadow of the fit 175-pound recruit that joined the military full with determination and hope. David notes that his huge figure was just a way of escaping from himself and the realities that he faced. He also grew a burly moustache to appear intimidating yet deep inside he knew that he was weak.

Upon leaving the military, David bounced from one low-pay job to the next. In a job at Ecolab, he cleaned a dozen restaurants at night as he exterminated rats, cockroaches, and other bugs. To deal with the poisonous gases required on the job, he wore a mask that not only kept him “safe” from the poisons but also hid him from himself. He became ashamed of who he was.               

It was a documentary about the SEALS that jolted David back into reality. The SEALS represented the opposite of what David had become. They were driven and did not cower at challenges but faced them head on. So David called many recruitment stations in the country but was turned down by all of them, as most of them did not like the fact that he had previously undergone military training. They were looking for fresh recruits. One of the recruitment stations requested to see him in person and when he arrived, the officials there just laughed, as he was about 300 pounds and knew that he could not make it. David’s last hope was a recruiter named Schaljo who didn’t seem bothered by David’s weight but told him nonetheless to lose 100 pounds in two months.

Per Schalio’s direction, David quit his job at Ecolab and started an intensive physical exercise regime. It was a painful process as he had to get out of his comfort zone and challenge himself daily. He pushed on and on and lost a lot of weight. With each passing day, he was becoming fitter and soon, David was within the acceptable weight standard. Nevertheless, he went further than that as he wanted to be the best recruit. He watched the drills that the SEAL recruits were expected to do and doubled the minimum requirements expected. He also started working on his weaknesses, especially on his swimming, and soon he was more comfortable in water.

David also had to pass a knowledge test, the ASVAB, for which he studied daily. Unfortunately, he did not meet the threshold required for SEALS in mechanical comprehension. But he did not lose hope and decided to take the test again. He studied harder and avoided taking short cuts and after much preparation, he aced the exams on his second attempt. He had qualified to join the military and turned a new chapter in his life.


The first step on a journey of change is stepping out of your comfort zone. This is particularly evident in David’s story where he had to repeatedly challenge himself to be successful in his endeavors. David notes that he had to realize that he had wasted his opportunity in life to make a comeback. He cowered at the face of challenge and watched in the sidelines as his dream of being a Pararescue-man went down the drains. Even worse, he kneww it was by his own making as he was a quitter who could not fathom the thought of redoing the “water confidence” training, which was his main weakness at training.

Despite all these self-brought mishaps in his life, when Schaljo came along and believed in him, David grabbed the opportunity with two hands and worked hard to realize his goal of become a SEAL. He studied and trained much harder than ever before. This time around, he decided that he was not going to quit and did everything that he could to regain his fitness and pass the ASVAB. He had to take one step at a time towards realizing his goals and started focusing on his weaknesses. David realized that the more uncomfortable he was, the more productive he became.

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