I spent hours of my childhood outside, roaming the six acres of woods on our lot. I took my afternoons pretending to be Daniel Boone, a pint sized version of one of my favorite characters in history. As the CEO of RedZone Technologies, I found myself spending much of my time inside – inside cars, airports, and offices. Until one day as I was driving down the road and suddenly my heart began to race wildly. At 38 years old, I was scared. Was this a heart attack?
Test after test came back showing everything to be normal. Finally, my doctor sat me down and told me, in no uncertain terms, I needed more to my life. I needed to find something that I could do to mitigate the stress of owning and operating my own business. Over the next two years I looked for avenues I might take to improve my life. I thought about the things I had enjoyed as a kid and wondered how I could incorporate them into my life. I felt like I needed to spend just a little time outside of the world I had become accustomed to – something as different from my everyday life as I could find. Among the things I considered was survival school.
After researching several options on the internet, I came across Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS). I was impressed with the program’s forty year history. While I wanted an adventure and I felt like I wanted to put myself out there, I also wanted to know that I was in good hands and felt like BOSS would offer that. Unfortunately, when I called to book a week with the program I discovered it was completely booked. There was a waiting list but they were not optimistic about my chances of getting in. It looked like I would have to wait another year before I got to try my hand at playing Daniel Boone or Davey Crocket.
In the meantime, I had trained for and completed the 2010 Ironman Louisville and when the call came in saying that someone had dropped out leaving a spot open for me the following week, I was grateful for the fitness level I had achieved. I knew this was going to be a grueling experience. At least, I thought I knew.
After a fitness test in which our pulse was taken once before and twice after a run at altitude and it was shown that we were fit enough to have our pulse recover back to a normal heart rate range, all nine of us in my group were given the gear we were told to purchase ahead of time – a knife, a wool jacket, gloves, long underwear and a cap and with our 3 instructors we began the impact phase of the program. For two days we walked through the desert of Utah with only a small amount of water that was allotted before we began our hike and the water they taught us to find and purify along the way. We were given no food in those two days. Every couple of hours our instructors would stop for a short break and teach us about living off the earth, how to treat the vegetation and land around us with respect and even how to go to the bathroom in the middle of the desert. But they didn’t teach us how to sleep and until it was time to sleep, I hadn’t given it much thought. The first night there was not much sleep for any of our group. The ground was hard and cold and without a blanket we had no way of warming ourselves, the moon was so bright it was like a spotlight and we were all hungry from having gone an entire day with no food.
But you learn quickly in the desert. After our sleepless night, we learned to sleep closer together, getting past the natural inclination to avoid contact with people we had just met and to sleep in the duff, vegetation that has fallen off trees and plants in the desert that acts as insulation.
Over the course of the class, we walked between 7 and 20 miles a day. My Ironman training seemed to help me with processing water and I had no problems with dehydration but many of participants did and it was painful to watch them suffer. After the impact phase we were given our backpack with the critical blanket, poncho and food rations. I have never been so happy to hear the words 1500 calories in my life and though I have eaten at some wonderful restaurants in my life, I swear the soups we made with those rations tasted better than anything I have eaten in my life.
We learned many skills over the course of our time in the desert. We learned to turn our ponchos into tents. We learned to start fires using only the materials we made with our knives. We even learned how to take down a whole tree with that same knife. We learned to navigate with a compass and map. But when the last day came and we were told the class was over, except, not really over because we needed to head down this dirt road and keep going until we were told to stop, not knowing whether that would be in ten miles or thirty, that is when I realized the real lesson, the biggest lesson I would take away from the program – I didn’t want to be Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett or Sam Kenton, the legendary figures who even today loom large for me. I didn’t want to be outside of the world I created. I wanted to be with my family and I wanted to run my business. And still I wanted to have adventures.
After my visit to the hospital, I was scared. I felt stuck. How was I going to do what I wanted to do? How could I live in both worlds – the world of business and family and the world of adventures. Through my adventures in Ironman and BOSS, I have come to realize that if I can do these things, then I fear is nothing. It has taken me three years of steadily pushing against what I considered to be cultural norms and familial expectations to get to this point, but I can now see that it is possible to have both.
Since I have come home from BOSS, I feel a sense of balance. As crazy as my goals for myself over the next year are, there is a still a balance to my life. I know now that I can be the CEO of a successful technology company, the husband my wife needs me to be, a good and loving father and I can do things for myself as well. Having spent time on the other side of the fence, I know that I don’t have to have one or the other. If I work it right, I can have it all.
Watch the short summary of it all video below.