I’ve met a lot of tough people in my life: war veterans, athletes, adventurers, business leaders, and survivors of horrifying experiences. I’m constantly upgrading my own idea of what it means to be tough and how we build mental and physical prowess. The entire Spartan brand is about building better humans, so I’m on the lookout constantly for those that embody toughness. What I’ve learned, however, is that tough people aren’t necessarily the loudest, they don’t always accumulate the most followers on social media, and many haven’t written a book that highlights their resilience. Some aren’t even over the age of 10.
A few people in particular have obliterated my own concept of toughness and carved out a life that is so well-lived that it’s inspiring. Here they are.
The Toughest People That Spartan's CEO Has Encountered
1. (and 2.) My Mom and Dad
My parents were tough, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure, they didn’t go easy on me. But more than that, they didn’t go easy on themselves. My mother was always pushing herself to go beyond the status quo. When others zigged, she zagged. She saw the writing on the wall that our society was headed towards comforts that would kill us (queue processed foods and sedentary days) and she stepped out of line to ensure that she was healthy. It’s not easy to say no when so many others are saying yes. It’s tough to find your flow when the current is pushing in the opposite direction and yet, she did. Her yogi, plant-based lifestyle and no-bullshit attitude showed me that staying about the fray required a thick skin but man, was it necessary.
My father was tough for other reasons. He was always hustling. It wasn’t in his blood to stop moving and it took a lot of wit to navigate our neighborhood. The thing about my dad was that he always had a plan, even if it was a shit plan. We ebbed and flowed in and out of money, but he was always working a plan to get things straight. It taught me first, that you can never just coast and second, that the floor will fall out from under you the minute you sit down (queue the pandemic), so don’t ever sit down.
3. Sir Ranulph Fiennes
The first to cross Antarctica on foot, Sir Fiennes is your classic badass. Just google him and you’ll see that he’s got a serious adventurer resumé. His toughness isn’t built from where he goes or what he does, but instead from the mere fact that he doesn’t stop. In 2009, he climbed Everest at the ripe age of 65 after (already climbing it twice before in 2005 and 2008). Sir Fiennes crushes the idea that we can only do cool shit when we are young, and he blazes trails for anyone over the age of 40 looking to push themselves.
Sir Fiennes also talks a lot about the importance of picking your team. He never pays the individuals that accompany him on his expeditions. He believes that you have to choose people who have the same values and principles at the forefront. This may not seem like it’s connected to toughness but let me tell you, building a strong, resilient, trustworthy team is not easy. It’s hard to make the best selection for the good of the mission. Being thoughtful and careful in the approach takes a lot more effort than just selecting who feels comfortable. For him, it could literally be a life or death decision.
4. Amy Palmiero-Winters
When Amy Palmiero-Winters was just 22 years old, she was in a motorcycle accident that crushed her left leg. The doctors tried to save it, but after three years of multiple surgeries the leg was eventually amputated. To her, this was an obstacle, but not a life sentence. Since that time she has broken two records in both the Chicago and New York Marathons for below-knee amputees and completed various ultramarathons, including the Western States Endurance Race in 2010 and the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2011. The accomplishments are insane!
But what makes Amy tough in my mind isn’t shown by the medals that she holds, but instead by the mindset that she lives by. When asked if she wished she had never been in that accident that caused her to eventually lose her leg, Amy often tells interviewers that if she were given a choice, she wouldn’t want her leg back. Amy didn’t just embrace the suck, she used it as fuel and created a life that is filled with hard work, adventure, and a can-do attitude. Her mental fortitude is incredible, and maybe the toughest I know.
5. My Youngest Daughter, Alex
Alex was born a fighter. She actually spent the first few weeks of her life in the hospital with a viral infection and fought her little tiny heart out to come home to us. But in this family, when you’re the youngest and the smallest, your fight never stops. Many of the trips and adventures that my wife and I plan for the family are geared towards the most capable — the grown ups. So we ski down big mountains, hike up even bigger ones, and constantly push ourselves. We expect the kids to keep up. Our youngest, Alex, obviously has the biggest hurdle in front of her. But she never quits.
I shared a wild story about Alex in my new book, 10 Rules for Resilience: Mental Toughness for Families, and as I wrote it, I was reminded of how her size and age don’t hold her back from anything. She just pushes on, sharing her big toothy grin with the world. Her tenacity and willingness to try anything that her older siblings are trying demonstrates just how tough she can be. Typically it’s the youngest child that embodies that “baby” mentality and squeezes every juice from that lemon when they can. Alex is just the opposite. She wants nothing to do with being treated like the little one and constantly reminds me that limitations are all in the mind.