Noah Galloway has completed many Tough Mudder races, more than one marathon, led his team to victory on Fox’s American Grit and lasted to third place on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.
“That’s more than most people with all of their limbs can handle!” says the Iraq veteran, who lost his leg below the knee and his arm below the elbow in a 2005 explosion.
Galloway uses statements like that to remind himself and others that very little is impossible if you’re willing to work for it. Here, he talks about his experience and his new memoir, Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier.
On living with no excuses:
My life has been an odyssey, and there is no one moment when I can say I got things right. My children are a reminder every day that if I make a mistake, I have to improve on what I’m doing. When I hear someone constantly making excuses, it frustrates me. I was on the phone with someone for an hour and a half talking about getting in shape, and I finally said, “You have all of the resources to do what you want to do. I don’t believe you’re going to do anything about it.” I mean, I’m missing two limbs and I got back into shape. You have to leave the excuses behind. This applies to much more than fitness, of course.
On what mistakes teach you:
If you don’t have mistakes in your life, you’ll never improve. Who I am today would not exist if I hadn’t made the mistakes I have. I will make more mistakes; I know that. I learn from them. I have real conversations with my kids about mistakes. When I blow up and yell at them? I say I’m sorry. I’m trying to improve every day on who I am and the decisions I make. The best thing you can do with your own failures is to use the lessons you learn to help others. But mistakes also mean that you are experiencing life and taking risks. For example, both of my boys have dirt bikes. I’m not crazy—they wear helmets! But I don’t want to keep them locked up in a padded room, either. I want them to challenge life and sometimes make mistakes.
On what the military taught him:
In the military we all have injuries, we all have things going on in personal lives, we all complain—but we get the job done. My mother grew up in a military family. Her father served 30 years, her brother just retired as a full colonel, she moved around a lot. When I was 12, I got a bad cut from some hijinks, and I was crying. My mother said, “I guess some people handle pain better than others.” Her outlook set the stage for who I was going to be. Trust me, I’m not a saint, but military service allowed me to do for others. Wearing the uniform, being deployed, it was all part of being something bigger than myself, and it was very powerful. A few months ago, I took a service trip to Honduras and witnessed unbelievable poverty and illness. When I went on vacation to a resort in the Turks and Caicos shortly afterwards, it felt wrong. There was no sense of accomplishment or helping.
On Dancing With the Stars:
I did not want to be on that show. When I finally agreed, I realized that you learn a lot by stepping out of your comfort zone. I cannot imagine anything more terrifying than being on that stage in front of that many people! I didn’t dance before the show, and I haven’t danced since. But over the season my partner, Sharna Burgess, was able to tell my story through movement. We heard from hundreds of people saying that I was inspiring them every week. We started off just showing what was possible with my injuries, but as it went on, the story progressed. The paso doble number was about my struggle to survive. The final dance was in honor of my friends and family standing by me—and then everyone went away and we showed just me: All I had accomplished, and who I am today.
On physical challenges:
I tell my friends that I make missing an arm and leg look easy! It’s a joke, but I’m determined to do as much as I can. The downside to that joke is people forget I still have challenges. For example, at a new hotel, it can be really tough to get into the tub just to take a shower. Most of the time, if I find something I really can’t do I figure out a way around it—or avoid it. For example: My daughter Rian loves pickles, but you try opening a pickle jar with one hand! I told her to plan on eating pickles at her mama’s house.
Little kids want to know how I can drive. A while back, I used my uncle’s VW Jetta with manual transmission. I had to place my foot on the clutch with my hand each time I wanted to shift. I loved it! Even right now I would love to have woken up intact, but it’s not going to happen. I remember that I wouldn’t have the experiences that I do today if nothing had ever happened to me, and right now, I have a lot of excitement about accomplished things. It’s motivating to realize what I’m doing with these losses. But I wouldn’t have the experiences I have today.
On addiction and depression:
I’m very hardheaded, and that helped me to pull myself out of drinking too much, and falling into despair. One thing I realized was that birds of a feather flock together. You get to decide who you’re going to spend time with. Today, I keep a tight circle of friends that don’t have time to party and drink and get into trouble. They’re people who impress me, who do things I aspire to do, too.
In combat you we see each other at our best and worst, and afterwards we can be open and honest with each other. One of the challenges in treating veterans is teaching them not to hide their problems. I tell them that we fight as a team; we should go through our struggles as a team. Soldiers need to understand that if no one knows what you’re going through, no one can help you.
On what’s next:
I love the fact that I’ve been given this platform to share my story. I’m a big advocate for hearing more positive stories from veterans, because we’re strong and powerful and can do amazing work. I want to motivate veterans to show civilians what we’re capable of, to remember that you can start a new chapter in your life no matter what your service. I had a question the other day from a person who asked if I believe depression is real, if it’s an injury like mine. Yes. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been in combat. Depression is an illness that can be resolved—but it has to be addressed. Why do we not address and treat brain illness properly? Those are the kinds of things I want to push.