Unbreakable Stories

by Rich O’Connell

“Live each day as if it is the only day you have.”

Rich O’Connell and Thom Shea after completing the Unbreakable 24 hr Challenge in April 2016

When I sat down to write about how my life is “unbreakable”, I was a little lost for words, and definitely required some introspection. Yes, I have had what many would consider successes in my 46 year old life. I started my first business at 23, built a consulting company from scratch to a self-running entity, founded a non-profit to support our veterans, married my high school sweet heart, and have two awesome kids. I try to test myself each week with 50 miles of elevation running and several rounds of plyometric strength work. I have also conquered some endurance events such as, Adamantine 24 Hour Challenge, Ragnar 200 mile race, Mt Washington Road Race (NH), Loon Mountain Race (NH), and the Hampshire 100 (50K).

Each of these events if viewed as individual “transactions” require some level of mental focus, training, drive, refusal to quit, and all those catch phrases you might find on any internet meme. Upon reflection, it is my conscious effort to keep my “ego” from invading my definition of success that allows me to live an unbreakable life. While our ego is a critical part of protecting us and getting us started on a life adventure, it is dangerous in that it needs to constantly feel important and will no doubt inspire fearful self judgement and fold at the first sense of fear, pain, and anxiety. I prefer to always associate my definition of success to the well-being or memory of others. This helps to build a firewall between the ego and its inevitable retreat to mental and physical failure. If you have read Unbreakable: A Navy SEAL’s Way of Life, this concept is on display during BUDS training and Hell Week. It’s not always the Olympic swimmer, world-class triathlete, or most muscular guy that are a sure thing to make it. It seems the men that make it are those that have truly defined their success as something bigger than themselves, as opposed to the need for self-promotion, endless accolades from friends or family, and exposure on social media, etc.

An experience where the value of building an ego “firewall” was essential includes my Hampshire 100 race. A 50K over 4000 feet of elevation sounded really cool, and appealed to the adventurous side of my ego. Based on my experience with other endurance events, deep down I knew this would be a tough race. Since my charity O’Connell Valor Fund, Inc. helps veterans, I decided to dedicate my race in honor of a current era United States Marine in need of transitional housing. I campaigned for people to pledge an amount for each of the 31.6 miles I completed. Once I raised the required $1,000 it was a done deal — it was no longer about me, I would complete this race for that Marine. I could not have asked for a more perfect first 18 miles. I was cruising at a great pace, crushing the ever present elevations, and thinking to myself, I might just finish my first 50K as a top seed. I was so driven to beat the competition, I skipped a few aid stations, failed to keep up with my water intake, and became very dehydrated at around 23 miles. At about mile 25, I was unable to hold down water or food. My ego folded fast. My mind and body resisted moving forward. This was no longer about me and my top seed finish. This was about honoring those donors that pledged for each mile I completed, and getting that Marine into transitional housing. For the next 9 miles, I found myself in a constant cycle of forcing water down, running as far as I could, and vomiting. Without a doubt, the constant vision in my mind of handing the Marine a check for his housing pushed me to the finish. There was a split personality at work. There was the side of me that was completely overwhelmed with the cycle of sipping water, running a half mile and vomiting, and a side that simply kept telling myself that “you got this, you made a promise to the Marine — this misery will pass, his housing will change his life. Heck, if I die maybe people will still give him his housing money out of sympathy.” While at the time those last 9 miles was nothing but misery, the joy of overcoming the fear and anxiety of failing is indescribable. I finished this race, got some rest, and handed that Marine a $1,000 check a week later. Mission accomplished, on to the next race!

Final note… I was honored to complete the 24 Hour Challenge with Thom Shea. I would highly recommend you perform this event with Thom, on your own, or ideally with a group of colleagues. Try training and completing this event in honor or in memory of someone for which failure is simply not an option. I will never forget the sunrise at the end of the 24 hour challenge. :)

Live each day as if it is the only day you have.

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