This amputee and Paralympic medalist is a case study in what it takes to achieve your goals
He specialized in explosives and detecting buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Rob first deployed to Habbaniya, Iraq in 2008, then in 2010 was sent to Sangin, Afghanistan, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds in the war.
During that latter deployment, he was part of an operation that pushed deep into Taliban territory.
One day Rob was sent to clear an area the Marines believed might be filled with improvised explosives. It was. As he worked, one tripped. The blast took both of Rob’s legs just above his knee.
After emergency surgery in Afghanistan, Rob was flown back to the U.S. to be fitted for prosthetics and to begin rehabilitation.
The nurses told him that he had to learn to walk again, an especially hard task when your amputation is above the knee joint.
It wasn’t easy, but Rob zoned in on his goal and was soon putting one foot in front of the other.
Once he did that, he set another pivotal goal: to bring home a medal in the mixed double scull rowing event in the 2012 Paralympics in London.
The U.S. had never medaled in that event before.
Rob was well aware that extreme goals take extreme measures.
But designing a training regimen is one thing I know how to do—I create dozens of programs as the training director of Gym Jones in Salt Lake City and for my Men’s Health book Maximus Body. So I designed him a program and he began training with vigor.
He and his rowing partner, Oksana Masters, moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, and trained together twice daily every single day of the week.
Some sessions they might row for two hours straight to build their aerobic capacity, other sessions they’d do 90-minute weight circuits.
When he wasn’t in the boat or at the gym, he was eating healthy to fuel his training, or he was sleeping or doing other recovery practices to stay refreshed and injury free.
This went on for months and months until Rob and Oksana landed in London for the Games.
They performed strong in the initial heats.
Once they hit the finals, their hard work paid off: Rob and Oksana landed on the podium by beating out a British boat by less than a second.
You might think this is the end of the story. It’s not.
Once Rob had his medal, he decided to set another goal: to ride his bike across the country to raise more than $125,000 for military veteran charities.
His journey took him 181 days, and 5,180 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Camp Pendleton, California.
It surely wasn’t easy—because he had prosthetics from the thigh down he had less muscle to put into each pedal stroke—but he focused on the goal, and made it.
Each of Rob’s journeys changed his life for the better, and, more importantly, allowed him to inspire other people, especially wounded veterans.
Rob didn’t have an advantage over anyone else. He wasn’t lucky. In fact, you could argue he was at a disadvantage and was unlucky. But he was able to do great things because he set a firm goal, and then let that goal guide every single thing he did thereafter.
At Gym Jones, I’ve trained everyone from pro athletes and actors, to special forces soldiers and average guys looking to get in the greatest shape of their lives.
I use Rob to illustrate a key point: To reach real fitness and have your training create a deep physical and psychological change, you need to start with a goal.
Your goals don’t have to be as grand as Rob’s, of course, but clear goals are necessary for progress.
The benefit of goal setting is twofold. First, you’ll see more benefits from your training.
You’ll no longer be able to just pick exercises and workouts at random. You’ll need to follow a structured plan, which helps you make more significant improvements. It also puts you on a deadline. That makes each workout critical, so you’ll consistently exercise, which is the key to progress.
Second, having a goal gives meaning to your training. Along the way you’ll have setbacks, you’ll rise above them, and become mentally and physically stronger compared to how you were on day one.
That greater meaning is what will keep you going when you’d otherwise give up. It’s the foundation of fitness—and any real achievement.
That’s why Section 1 in my new Men’s Health book Maximus Body—a fitness book—is all about psychology.
The book also contains 100 workouts and a 6-month training plan, but none of that will be useful to you if you don’t have mental fortitude.
My friend Rob is proof that your mind is your most important muscle—and that your excuses are bullsh*t.