Special Operations Profile: David Goggins Navy SEAL

Petty Officer 1st Class David Goggins, special warfare operator, stands at attention with members of the U.S. Naval Academy's triathlon team
Petty Officer 1st Class David Goggins, special warfare operator, stands at attention with members of the U.S. Naval Academy's triathlon team as they are recognized as Collegiate National Champions at the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium during a football game. The team named Goggins an honorary team member during the event. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michelle Kapica)

Who Is David Goggins?

David Goggins, a triathlete, ultramarathoner and retired Navy SEAL, is often nicknamed "the toughest man alive" or "the world's toughest man" for his extreme athletic feats.

Born in 1975 in Buffalo, New York, David was the son of Trunnis Goggins and his much younger companion Jacqueline, or "Jackie." David's father, who died in 2013, was a handsome, gregarious and successful businessman who owned a skating rink and bar in Buffalo that often drew celebrity customers.

But behind closed doors, David revealed in his memoir, his father was a cruel tyrant who brutally beat his children and their mother on a regular basis. When David was 8 years old, his mother left her abuser and took David and his older brother to her parents' house in rural Indiana.

"For the first time in my life, we were free from the Devil himself," Goggins wrote in his memoir.

But their new life in Brazil, Indiana, was a struggle. On top of the family's poverty, Goggins experienced academic and social problems in school. He was bullied and admitted cheating his way through his classes. Then, in another tragic milestone of his young life, his mother's new love interest -- a kind man who could have been a stable, loving stepfather to David -- was shot and killed in front of his home.

On top of that loss, as a teenager, Goggins, who is Black, became the target of hate-filled racism from classmates, from the father of a white girl he liked and from random local bigots.

David Goggins Military Career

Still, Goggins had hope for his future and dreamed of joining the Air Force, following in his grandfather's footsteps. He signed up for a weeklong parachuting course one summer. While still in high school, he later took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) and failed, earning only a 20.

The failure was a wake-up call for the young man. To try to turn his life around, Goggins began cleaning up his personal grooming, paying attention in school and rising early to run and lift weights.

"From then on, I brainwashed myself into craving discomfort. ... As a result, I became tougher. And being tough and resilient helped me meet my goals," he wrote in his memoir.

Goggins was finally accepted into training with the Air Force Pararescue Team, but after he enrolled, he was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia and had to drop out. He could have returned to training later but decided not to, mostly because he so disliked the swimming aspect of it.

However, he did complete training for the Air Force Tactical Air Control Party and served as a member of the TACP from 1994 to 1999.

David Goggins, Navy SEAL

Goggins' Navy SEAL training is legendary.

After his Air Force stint, it took him two years to reach his next goal of becoming a Navy SEAL. His weight had ballooned, and he was 297 pounds when this dream took root. Plus, he was getting older, and at the beginning, he had a hard time even getting a recruiter to talk to him.

Yet eventually, he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training with Class 235 in 2001 and was assigned to SEAL Team 5. But he had to endure three Hell Weeks before getting there.

At the time of his first Hell Week, he suffered a stress fracture and came down with pneumonia. He wanted to try again, but his second Hell Week was scrapped for him because he fractured his kneecap. Yet he tried again two weeks later and made it through.

After completing BUD/S, Goggins and his SEAL team deployed to Iraq just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"In 2004, he was the only SEAL in his class to graduate from Army Ranger School," according to the VA. The part of the Ranger creed that says "my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier" seems custom-made for Goggins.

David Goggins and Operation Red Wings

By the mid-2000s, Goggins still had not gotten into long-distance running. It was a tragic event that threw him into this world.

Goggins vowed to compete in the Badwater 135 without fully realizing it's one of the toughest races in the world: a nonstop,135-mile run in the mountains in brutal heat. It's a feat to even qualify for the event.

His motivation was to earn money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which pays for the college tuition of children whose parents were special operators killed in combat.

Goggins was searching for a way to make a difference after the tragedy of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005. Twelve Navy SEALs were killed, and Goggins knew each of them personally.

"I wanted to find a way that I could raise money for their families," he told the U.S. Navy's All Hands publication.

In July 2006, he finished the Badwater 135 in Death Valley, California, in fifth place.

He has raised more than $2 million for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

David Goggins Athletic Accomplishments

Goggins has completed more than 70 ultra-distance races -- many of them more than 100 miles -- and has often finished in the top five.

In one of the more notable of these events, he took first place in 2016 in the Infinitus 88k, one of the world's toughest races.

Other athletic accomplishments include:

  • First place in the Music City Ultra 50k in 2016
  • First place in the McNaughton 150 Miler in 2008
  • Second place in the Ultraman World Championship in 2006
  • Ranked in the top 97th percentile in the Moab 240 Endurance Run in 2020, at age 45

Setting a Guinness World Record

David Goggins' pull-up record is often cited. He's a former Guinness World Record holder for completing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours in 2013. He tore up his hands in the process.

In November 2022 in Australia, Jaxon Italiano claimed this record, achieving 8,008 pull-ups within a 24-hour period.

David Goggins Public Speaking

Goggins began putting himself out there as an inspirational and motivational speaker who covers such topics as achievement, performance, personal growth and overcoming adversity.

He charges about $150,000 per event, according to his profile on Speaking.com.

"His 'no excuses; suck it up' approach has made him a favorite of the talking circuit, and he's regularly invited to speak at college campuses and business forums and address top sports teams like the Seattle Seahawks," his Speaking.com profile reads.

He also gives lectures to high school students, professional athletes and employees of Fortune 500 companies.

Among the most cited David Goggins quotes are, "You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft that you will die without ever realizing your true potential," and "It's a lot more than mind over matter. It takes relentless self-discipline to schedule suffering into your day, every day."

In April 2023, Goggins was honored at the statehouse in Indianapolis for his military service and charitable contributions.

"During his time in the Navy, David risked his life to protect the freedoms we hold dear," state Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, said in a statement. "This honor given to him by the Indiana Senate is just a small token of appreciation on behalf of all Hoosiers for his dedication to his fellow Americans. He has certainly made the people of Brazil and Indiana extremely proud."

David Goggins' Book 'Can't Hurt Me'

Goggins' book, "Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds," was published in 2018. It details his journey to heal from his traumatized childhood through the self-discipline of athleticism and his other accomplishments.

In the New York Times best-selling memoir, Goggins details his viewpoint that most humans use only 40% of their potential and shares his opinions about how to overcome fear and limitations.

"Can't Hurt Me" has 4.36 out of 5 stars among nearly 180,000 ratings on Goodreads, a social media site for books. Many readers said they appreciated Goggins' determination, drive and willpower. But some were turned off by what they saw as his extremism, machismo and seemingly ego-fueled need to dominate and to always prove himself.

"This book should be called 'How I got famous for making really stupid decisions that ruined my relationships, body, and mental health,'" one reviewer summarized.

In 2022, Goggins' follow-up book, "Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within" was released. In it, he reveals more about his strategies for success.

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