“…I didn’t want it to dictate my decisions. I didn’t want it to run my life. I didn’t want to go down that spiral…” — Jeremy McGhee
A very serious motorcycle accident left Jeremy McGhee paralyzed from the waist down. He wasn’t willing to let that stop him, however, he’s still a surfer, skier and adaptive athlete. Recently, the documentary “Drop In” was produced about his ascent and skiing the “bloody couloir,” a challenge for anyone. He talks to Commander Divine about how he approaches life, his adventures and what the future holds for him. What will you be able to learn from Jeremy’s attitude and resilience? Find out by listening to this very special podcast.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks. Mark Divine here with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back, and thank you so much for joining us again today. Hey, before I get into today’s podcast, you know the deal, I’ve been asked to ask you to go to iTunes to rate this podcast. That’s so it can show up when other people search for similar topics and cool things that we talk about. And if you’re not on our email list, go to unbeatablemind.com/podcast, drop in your email so that we can keep you informed of all sorts of cool things that are going on here, at Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT in Encinitas, California where we are headquartered.
And today’s guest–I am super-stoked, I just met Jeremy McGhee. From San Diego, living now in Cardiff, right down the road from us, and we’re here to talk about all things to do with training and life, and you might notice if you’re watching the video that Jeremy has a leg propped up, ’cause he just had massive surgery on his knee. Broken femur in a surf accident, and I imagine the way he surfs is a little bit different than most.
Jeremy, thank you so much for being here. It’s super-neat to meet you.
Jeremy McGhee: Thanks for having me.
Mark: I gotta admit, I do a lot of podcasts… I’m starting to do a lot of podcasts, I should say, even though it’s kind of a new thing for me still. But when I went to your website and watched the little trailer you had there? I was just deeply inspired, I mean it was super-cool. And so, not knowing anything about you, basically coming away from that saying, “I really like this guy.” And I haven’t met you yet. It was really cool, that was a really cool feeling, so, you know… why don’t we just start a little bit early? What about you? Where did you start? What’s your life like in your early years? Who is Jeremy McGhee?
Jeremy: Well, I was born here in San Diego, born and raised, lived here my whole life. And started surfing, playing football when I was 12 years old. That was my life growing up. Football more than surfing. My focus was on football.
Mark: High school? Or middle school and high school?
Jeremy: Pop Warner. Started from when I was 12 all the way through to senior in high school. That was my focus. I wanted to play college football. I wanted to go that route. I was a lot bigger back then. It’s funny, I was bigger in high school than I am now. Always weight lifting, always working out constantly, trying to be bigger.
Mark: Where’d you go to high school?
Jeremy: Went to Mira Mesa high school.
Mark: Mira Mesa, okay. That’s a big school, huh?
Jeremy: It was a really big school. 4000 kids. Bigger than my college.
Mark: So the football program must have been pretty competitive there.
Jeremy: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. When I was there we were always… we always made the playoffs, but never to the big game. Always. Every year. We were always good but not great. But I really applied myself. I’m one of those people that has to work really hard at something to be really good at it. And with football, it was the same thing–I wasn’t great, but because I applied myself, I was good. 3rd down specialist, on defense. On outside linebacker, special teams. That was my role, and I loved it. I loved being the crazy guy, painting my face, slamming my head in the locker. The guy that everyone’s afraid to go up against in hitting drills. ‘Cause I was always screaming and being crazy. It’s real interesting, I was just talking with my girlfriend about this the other day, that I kinda feel like my path took an interesting turn in high school, because what I was really good at naturally was cross-country running.
Jeremy: And I decided to play football because that’s what was cool.
Mark: It was cool, yeah. And that’s what got all the girls and all the cool guys were doing that…
Mark: (laughing) Cross-country running was a lonely sport that no-one cares about.
Jeremy: (laughing) No-one knows who the heck you are in cross-country. You’re out there running by yourself and no one cares. But in football, your name’s getting announced on the… at the stadium, on the game and everybody knows who you are. It’s really interesting.
And the same thing with drama, as well. I was really into drama.
Mark: Were you? Okay.
Jeremy: There was one guy on the football team that was into drama and everybody made fun of him. So I decided not to. And I wonder what would have happened with my life. If I would have followed my natural talents.
Mark: If you’d run and gone into drama.
Jeremy: Instead of caring about what people thought.
Mark: Isn’t that an interesting lesson right there.
Jeremy: I love the path my life went on. There’s a lot of… grew up in an abusive home. There’s a lot of anger. So football is…
Mark: That intensity. You needed that outlet. You can also see how the kind of meditative aspect of long-distance running would have been a nice outlet for that as well.
Jeremy: 100%. I don’t think I understood that at that age, but looking back now, absolutely.
Mark: Interesting. So anything besides that path you took, and your love for football–anything else really momentous about those formative high school years that shaped you?
Love of the ocean[5:51]
Jeremy: Find surfing. That was… and developing a love for the ocean over time. Now…
Mark: What is like to… most of the people who watch this don’t live near the ocean, I think. I do, and my son and I love to go out and bodysurf, and to boogie board. There’s something really, really unique about being in the ocean isn’t there? What is that like for you? Why was that so profound?
Jeremy: Well, I mean, for me the second you step in the ocean you’re in the wilderness. You’re in an environment that you’re physically not designed for. So there’s always a level of adventure with it. Every time you step in the ocean, because of that. And just starting surfing so young. It’s just ingrained in me. When you grow up around something… I imagine it’d be the same if you grew up around the mountains. The mountains are going to always feel like home if that’s where you started. Lived the majority of your life.
But yeah, there’s something about being in the ocean, and for me paddling way out in the ocean. For miles, and being alone and feeling this big. No one can hear you, and no one knows you’re there.
Mark: I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’ve spent a lot on the water. ‘Course in the SEALs we’re always on the water, and you can feel pretty small even on a big ship in the middle of the ocean.
But paddling out like several miles and just hanging out… what an incredible experience that must be. I wanna do that. I wanna kayak out.
Jeremy: (laughing) Let’s go!
Mark: Let’s do that. That’d be cool.
Jeremy: There’s a series of buoys off of Cardiff. There’s a 5 mile buoy, and 8 mile buoy and a 10 mile buoy. I’ve heard there’s a 20 mile buoy but I’ve never been out to it. And I like to paddle out to the 10 mile buoy.
Mark: Who placed these buoys out there? Were they surfers?
Jeremy: They’ve just been there forever. Probably the State of California. I don’t know.
Mark: So how do you navigate to a buoy in the middle of the ocean?
Jeremy: They’re big, bright….
Mark: Okay, so they’re monstrous…
Mark: They’re navigational buoys for shipping then. They’re not for…
Jeremy: I think they’re for paddlers, in small boats, small craft, yeah.
Mark: No kidding.
Jeremy: Yeah. Just to know how far out you are. And just to gauge… And it’s perfect for a paddler ’cause it gives you a turn-around point. You know where you are…
Mark: Right. So you go out there, and obviously you’re doing it for exercise but also just to get out…
Mark: Have an adventure. See all sorts of wildlife.
Jeremy: Getting close to whales is the number one. If you ever want to feel scared get close to a whale.
Mark: Yeah. I’ve been close to a whale out in Hawaii. They’re amazing.
Jeremy: They’re amazing, and they’re…
Mark: And then a few years ago there were a couple of humpbacks that were out front here that were close enough that we could paddle out.
Jeremy: Yeah, and humpbacks are normally really far out. And to have them close in is really special.
Whales versus sharks[8:39]
Jeremy: Yeah, I’m more afraid of whales than I am of sharks.
Jeremy: Well, sharks don’t care about us. They’re always there, and they don’t care.
Mark: So you’ve never been bothered by a shark? If you see a shark swimming around…
Jeremy: I’ve surfed my entire life and I’ve never seen one.
Mark: Yeah. But a whale worries you because it can breach right… it doesn’t care that you’re there, I see.
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean they’re very intelligent, very aware beings. Who knows if they’re just not paying attention, or taking a mouthful of something and one little move and you’re gone.
Mark (laughing) Right. You’re lunch. Or that tail would crush you…
Jeremy: That’s what… they’re so powerful, especially when you’re close to them out in the ocean. Yeah.
Mark: Have you ever had an encounter with a whale where you felt like there was some connection, like, communication going on?
Mark: What was that like?
Jeremy: I was actually surfing. I was on my surfboard. And my surfboard’s kind of like a kayak. So I can use it at as a paddleboard too. It’s not very efficient for paddling…
Mark: This is post-injury.
Jeremy: This is post-injury, yes. This was just…
Mark: By the way, for folks who are listening–Jeremy is paralyzed from the waist down?
Jeremy: Little bit above the waist.
Mark: Okay. Little bit above the waist. Okay. So we’ll get to that later. But most people who can’t see this, wouldn’t necessarily know that unless they read the shownotes.
Jeremy: Good point. I always forget to share. I forget.
Mark: People think you’re out there surfing the way that I would surf. You’re actually sitting on the board?
Jeremy: I’m sitting on a board. It looks like a kayak. You flip it over and look at the bottom, it’s a short-board, it’s a surfboard. Tons of rocker. Run a tri-fin in it. And I can paddle it, it’s just a really arduous workout because of the tons of rocker.
Mark: You’ve been given an actual oar. Or paddle, I mean.
Jeremy: I have a double bladed, kayak paddle. Whitewater paddle. Yeah.
Mark: Do you ever get on it and paddle out like a normal surfer would? On your stomach?
Jeremy: No. If you look at pictures of it, the seating is shaped into it. So to lay on it doesn’t work.
Mark: Okay, so you’re paddling out there, you’re sitting on your board.
Jeremy: Well, I was surfing and I saw all these spouts way outside. And usually you see spouts and then they’re gone. The whales are moving. Then I saw all the spouts again. And I saw ’em again. And I saw ’em again. For the 5th time, I told myself, “Okay, if they’re still in the same spot, I’m gonna paddle out to ’em.” So, of course, saw ’em again, and I paddled out to where I thought they were. And there was dead silence. Nothing. And I was like, “Oh my God, they’re gone.” But I still had that feeling… you know, when you’re watching a scary movie, the killer’s gonna jump out of the closet. That anticipation, like, “Oh my God, I’m about to be really startled.”
So it was just silent out there. I was just sitting, floating. And then, of course… well, actually, it wasn’t a spout that came up but a whale fully breached. Near me.
Mark: No kidding. How close?
Jeremy: I want to say 20 yards. Really close.
Mark: Holy cow.
Jeremy: And it was a juvenile. It was a juvenile humpback. And it breached. “Oh my God!” Scared the crap out of me. And then another one. And the another one. There was all these… couple of juveniles. Just breaching, having fun.
Mark: And you know mom’s not too far away.
Jeremy: I know mom’s not too far away, and I was like, “Where is the mom? Where is she?” Or where are the mom’s?
Jeremy: And after a while, I finally see this huge head just slowly come up, and she is 25 yards from me. And we get full eye contact. And she’s just watching me watch the juveniles breach around, and it was really intimate. Beautiful moment.
Mark: Wow. Unreal.
Jeremy: All by myself. This tiny little board.
Mark: I’m getting tingles just thinking about what that felt like. And she, of course, was sizing you up.
Jeremy: Sizing me up. Seeing if I’m a threat or not I’m sure.
Mark: That’s amazing. What an amazing experience.
Jeremy: It was amazing.
Mark: I think experiences like that can change you forever. You just realize the majesty of nature, and all the other creatures. And it helps you feel connected to everything. That’s a very spiritual moment.
Jeremy: Very spiritual moment.
Mark: So tell us about what happened to the guy who played football? And what was your accident and how did you get where you are right now?
Jeremy: In 2001, I was in a motorcycle accident. Just running errands on my motorcycle.
Mark: So you weren’t racing, you weren’t…
Jeremy: Normally I was. Normally I was the showoff. I was in my 20s. I’m doing 90 mph wheelies down the highway, showoff for girls, and doing all that. Yes. Normally, yes.
Ironically this time I was not. I was riding with another buddy, he was on his bike. We were just running errands. I was 3, 4 blocks from my house. I totally fall into that statistic. And lady didn’t see me and turned left right in front of me.
My buddy went… he accelerated, took off. And I just stayed back on the throttle. If I would have took off and been doing what I was normally doing, and showing off, I probably would have slipped past her.
But it was interesting because I was very close to dying, I was losing a lot of blood. And there were paramedics at the taco shop across the street. They saw the whole thing happen, were on me in seconds. Had me in surgery within 22 minutes I was told, and totally saved my life.
Jeremy: And that was the first thing when I woke up, that was the first thing a doctor told me was that if they were not there, I would not be alive. So just thankful, from the very beginning.
Mark: Yeah, no kidding. So you woke up to the realization that you weren’t going to walk… or you might not walk again. And you’re feeling gratitude that you’re even alive.
Jeremy: Just alive. And I knew I was paralyzed already, because I was awake through everything. I was fully aware, fully awake.
Mark: You knew, by the way they were talking? Or by your inability to move?
Jeremy: Well, at the time I was a lifeguard, so I was very familiar with assessing injuries in emergency situations. So I basically applied my knowledge to the situation and the first thing I realized was, “Oh, I can’t move. I’ve injured my spine.” And knew immediately that this was a spinal injury.
Mark: And what was going through your mind and emotional state when that realization settled in?
Jeremy: You could probably relate with this, when you’re in an emergency situation, I kind of stayed objective. And I just continued to assess my injuries, as if I was the first responder to myself. And basically just going down the list assessing my injuries.
The number 2 thing I realized was that every breath was very painful, and I couldn’t breath really well. So I knew I’d broken some ribs, it turned out, several ribs. Tasted blood in my mouth, so I knew those ribs had probably punctured my lungs. And so the pulmonary bleeding. And then the 4th thing that I realized was that my hands and my face were getting cold very fast. And that’s when I realized that there was bleeding either internally, or I could no longer feel. And that’s when the realization set in that this was a serious moment, right here.
And honestly I just felt really tired. I was lying on the pavement. It was really, really warm. It felt really comfortable. And the desire to go to sleep was very, very strong. Very strong.
Mark: Did you fight that?
Jeremy: At first no.
Mark: ‘Cause that could have meant slipping off into…
Jeremy: That could have meant slipping off. Who knows? But no, I was letting myself fall asleep, and my thoughts were, “I just want my mom and my friends to know I’m totally fine. I’m at peace, this is okay.” And then the paramedics were on me. And then it was business time.
It was like, “Okay, I need to communicate what I’ve assessed of the situation. And it’s business time, it’s survival time now.”
Mark: Mmm-hmm. I see.
Jeremy: It was a real interesting moment.
Mark: It is. So there was an inflection point where you weren’t sure. And then when they showed up you said, “Okay, I gotta put all my energy into survival.”
Mark: That’s fascinating. So then as you started recovery and you went beyond life-threatening situation and you’re now in the hospital recovering, I imagine you had to go through a grieving process around the loss of your mobility and legs…?
Jeremy: 100%. And I still do today. It’s one thing I’ve realized, you know, it’s been 15 years and I still deal with anger, the desire to run…
Mark: I bet. Do you dream about that?
Jeremy: I do. I’ve never had a dream where I’m in wheelchair. And I have a lot of running dreams, where I’m just running through the jungle, wearing just my trunks. A lot of football dreams, a lot of snowboarding dreams, a lot of surfing dreams, and they’re completely real, I can feel my toes gripping my surfboard. I can feel everything. Yeah, tons of dreams.
And that’s… I feel like that is going to be a lifelong emotion that I’m just gonna face, constantly. It’s not like it’s gonna get easier, you know, day to day just performing tasks more efficiently, learning the tricks of the trade, make getting from point A to B not as difficult. But the emotional aspect of dealing with those things is probably always going to be there.
Mark: There’s no technology to help with that.
Jeremy: No. It’s not going to get easier, but it’s the matter of learning to operate with those emotions there. But, yeah, in the beginning there was definitely a grieving process.
And I remember, I had tons of friends. All my friends were always in the hospital. It was amazing. I was so loved.
Mark: You find out who your true friends are really quickly in a situation like that.
Jeremy: Yeah. But it was really cool how many people were always hanging out with me. And it was very validating. But my problem was is I felt like I needed to be strong for them. And so when it came to grieving, I didn’t really grieve in front of anybody. I wanted to. My biggest desire was just for someone to hold me and cry with me.
Mark: That’s what your mom or your dad for that…
Jeremy: Not really close with my family.
Jeremy: So that was a tough one. So when everybody was gone, when I was alone in the hospital room alone at night in the dark, that’s when I would kinda let it go. And my rule was I would let myself go for 15 minutes, before I’d call somebody. So I’d face it, I would deal with it for a few minutes, and then I would go, “Okay,” because I didn’t want it to dictate my decisions. I didn’t want it to run my life. I didn’t want to go down that spiral, because one decision and in a certain direction begets another. And I was ready to move forward, already.
Mark: And I can imagine as painful and transformative as the accident is, it holds such a profound opportunity for growth. And I imagine–I don’t want to put words in your mouth–but there’s part of you that thinks this had to happen, or this was… you wouldn’t be the man you are today. And I’ve heard people who have gone through some traumatic accidents like that, because it forces you to face the reality of your true self. Your essential self. Which is beyond your body. How’s that for quasi-spiritual?
Jeremy: No, I 100% agree with you. And I’ve got so many responses. The first one, the one that sits so starkly in my mind is a question. Can we ever really appreciate something unless we lose it?
Mark: Wow, yeah. Interesting
Jeremy: And the answer is no.
Mark: Probably not, right.
Jeremy: Not to a certain degree. Appreciation is always there, we can always have appreciation for things. But when we lose it, that’s when we… that takes the appreciation to another level. So it’s interesting to be out on the water, and the mountain, out adventuring, and not that I’m anything special or capable of being more appreciative than anybody else, but having lost the use of my legs and how much effort it takes to do those things. Just the essence of it, what it is generates more gratitude. For being out there. So it’s interesting.
Mark: So you’re not going to take the wave for granted, or the mountain. You have to work so hard just to be in that environment, in that experience. So you feel more present and more… the gratitude probably brings more presence and a large way.
Jeremy: *And losing something… the closer we get to that point, whatever you want to call it–the end of your rope. Rock bottom. Point where you wanna give up. The closer we get to that point where everything seems destitute, the greater the level of gratitude. So yeah, going through those things…
Mark: You know, it’s funny… not funny, because I can appreciate what you’re saying I think fairly well, because as a SEAL, I had a lot of people–lot of friends–face that moment and either end up in similar situation as you, or losing their life. And to have to face it over and over, and say, “There by the grace of God go I,” I mean, that’s… one second earlier it would have been me. Or the decision not to go on that op. And that other person going. I mean, there’s just a million variables, but it could be you. Any time. And it just makes you appreciate every day. Every moment.
Jeremy: Yeah. Could be you any time.
Mark: Any time. And so you met that in the moment when someone just turned in front of you on a motorcycle. And changed your life.
Going forward and resilience[24:51]
Mark: What though is really fascinating about your life, Jeremy, is you didn’t take it sitting down. You came out of it pretty much swinging. And wanting to dive back in and experience life fully. Was that the same fiery guy who used to bang his football helmet against the locker. I mean, where did that part of you come from? That’s awesome.
Jeremy: Yeah. Still the same guy. I mean, that’s what I tell people, “You gotta be you.” Still gotta be you. The alternative is to not be happy, and…
Mark: But don’t a lot of people choose unhappiness and misery when a circumstance like this befalls them?
Jeremy: The answer is yes. But a lot don’t choose that. A lot choose to still be fighters. And I think most do. I mean, the human will to survive is a powerful thing. It’s a very powerful thing that lives in all of us.
The entire power of God, universe is within us. We’re all one. We’re all the same, and we have complete access to that. We are fully expansive and capable of anything really. So understanding that is the first step to being able to tap into it, and to be able to overcome things like this. And choose survival.
I feel like survival is a natural instinct that’s going to come out. It’s there, it’s going to come out. For most people it does. For me it’s harder to deny it than it is to follow it.
Mark: But it’s… this goes beyond survival. I mean, it’s about thriving and so you’ve found ways to thrive. Tell us about some of the more interesting adventures and the challenges of going after those adventures without the use of your legs.
Jeremy: Well, just making my bed in the morning is an adventure. (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) I could see that.
Jeremy: I’ve got it down pretty good.
Mark: Do ya? 15 years…
Jeremy: Getting around with my leg in a cast right now.
Mark: That’s… the universe is saying, “Hey, you know, you got that down so now we’re going to throw another twist in here.” Break your leg.
Jeremy: This whole week… this week is one of those weeks where it’s just been interesting, dealing with a leg that’s casted. Just getting around in my car. Just getting around in my bathroom is a thing right now.
But, you know, the biggest adventure and the most popular one right now has to do with the DVD that’s in your lap, climbing that mountain.
Mark: The DVD is called “Drop In” and if you go to jeremymcghee.com and you can see a trailer. That’s what I was referencing earlier. It’s super-cool. So “Drop In” is about you skiing what’s called the “Bloody Couloir” Did I get it right?
Jeremy: Cool-warr. You did good. Nice. You’re ready to go to Paris and speak French now.
Mark: (laughing) Oh yeah. Uuh, no. So tell us about the Bloody Couloir.
Jeremy: It’s not really about skiing it. That’s a very small part. It’s not a ski movie, it’s a movie about life, and about overcoming obstacles and having a dream.
Mark: So it’s a feature-length? Like a docu-drama kind of thing?
Jeremy: Yup. It’s a feature-length documentary.
Jeremy: Yeah. And it’s more about life as the project evolved it became more about life than about the actual endeavor. It was real interesting….
Mark: The endeavor just gave you a focal point and some scenery. Something to go toward.
Jeremy: Exactly. That was just the goal, and whether we made it there or not was inconsequential. It was the journey along the way.
Mark: So this is a ski… a back-country ski route.
Jeremy: Yes. And I basically climbed up the mountain myself doing pullups up the mountain, then turned around and skied it.
Mark: No kidding.
Mark: Okay, so paint me a mental picture of how that worked.
Jeremy: I basically… and it took us months to figure out how we were going to do this. ‘Cause nothing like this had been done before.
Mark: Detailed route planning must have been…
Jeremy: There were a couple choice of routes, but not too detailed in that way. More detailed in trying to figure out the apparatus. Like physically how we were going to do this in the most efficient way possible.
Mark: How to pull yourself up?
Jeremy: And what we came up with was I was just going to lay on my stomach, prone, on a plastic kids sled, and then we attached a handlebar to a Jumar ascender and I just crank pullups on a Jumar up… static row.
Mark: Oh, no kidding. So someone would set the rope, and then you’d crank your way up it, and then they’d reset it.
Jeremy: Yup. And each rope length was…
Mark: How big was your team for this?
Jeremy: 15 people went up there with us. We didn’t need everybody, it was more of just kind of a fun group.
Mark: And how long did the ascent take you?
Jeremy: About 6 and a half hours, climbing.
Mark: (laughing) How many pullups did that equate to?
Jeremy: (laughing) I don’t know.
Mark: We could probably figure it out, right?
Jeremy: Yeah, I don’t know. A lot. A few thousand.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Jeremy: It was awesome. It was really difficult.
Mark: Yeah, I bet it was. So at what point did you want to quit that?
Jeremy: Plenty of times. And it actually did come to a point during the climb where I did quit. I gave up. I have this old nerve injury in my left arm from playing football so much, and that was coming into play. And I was totally dehydrated, I’d run out of water, and my left arm whenever I tried to use it would cramp up. And it was very, very painful. So basically my left arm wasn’t working. And I had to kinda finish using just my right arm. And I…yeah, there was point where I did give up. But we had a separate crew that had hiked up the ridgeline, a separate route. They were carrying my ski gear, my sit ski, food, supplies. And they had reached the top pretty much right about this point where I was giving up. It’s crazy… the timing is crazy. And they were hooting and hollering down the couloir from the peak. And we were close enough where we could hear them. And that gave me what I needed to reach past physical possibility. Well what my mind was telling me was physical possibility.
Mark: So you tapped into a whole other source of energy.
Jeremy: Whole other source of energy, yeah.
Mark: And that propelled you up… how many hours did it take you after that point still?
Jeremy: I don’t remember. It was still a couple hours longer. Hour and a half or so.
Mark: So you crawl yourself up to the top of this ridgeline. And then you have to transfer into your ski, which I imagine was a seated platform on top of a ski?
Jeremy: Yup. You’ve seen a sit-skier before?
Mark: Yeah, I have. I’ve seen guys go down a mountain on those. And you’ve got two little platforms, right, to balance yourself?
Jeremy: Yeah, I have poles with little skis on the end. And they’re not so much for balance, more for kind of a guide.M
Mark: So I’m definitely familiar with the term “dropping in” and I’ve done that many times, but for folks who haven’t or aren’t skiers, “dropping in” is when you’re on like a cornice and you literally have to fall into the skibowl. So can you… I can imagine you’re sitting at the edge of this cornice, and you can’t really see over the edge, ’cause you’re not like standing on a pair of skis. You’re sitting back. You don’t know what’s on the other side of that cornice.
Jeremy: No, you can’t see. It’s so steep you can’t see down the couloir.
Mark: Just give us an idea of how… what’s the angle, the vertical drop, what’s the stats for the couloir.
Jeremy: 50 degree average pitch. Which in the ski world is the steepest stuff you’ll see at a ski resort. Pretty much straight down.
Mark: Quadruple black diamond.
Jeremy: Yeah, something like that. But with rock formations, and rock walls, and variable conditions in the back country.
Mark: Was anyone else on your expedition going to ski down with you?
Mark: Yeah, I’d imagine. They’d have to, right? Just in case you had an issue.
Okay, so… (laughing) what was it like to push off and drop in? I can… you stomach must have been in your freakin’ throat.
Jeremy: It was all I could do to not let everybody know how nauseous I was.
Mark: I bet. It’s like my first parachute jump. That time I was, “Just go!”
Jeremy: “Just go!” That’s all you can do, and let your instincts take over. But let your kinesthethic knowledge and awareness take over.
So, yeah, not only was this thing haunting me in my dreams. I’d never skied anything like it before. My first time in the back-country. Not only was I scared out of my mind…
Mark: So you weren’t like accustomed to skiing these back-country, “drop in” type situations?
Jeremy: No. No, never. But yeah, if I were to take a fall. The fact that I’m strapped to a big metal thing and how deep it was…
Mark: It would just become an avalanche.
Jeremy: And then go forever. So we decided that I was going to ski on belay. On a safety rope.
Mark: Oh, that makes sense.
Jeremy: Because a successful back-country mission is one that everybody comes home from. The trouble with that… you know that first…
Mark: Get tangled up?
Jeremy: Well, no, but you know that first turn, is the hardest turn. Because of what you said. You basically have to project into the fall-line. You basically have to throw yourself downhill.
Mark: Right. And you have to know your line before you land.
Jeremy: Exactly. And so, I had to do that scary turn every turn. I had to turn and stop and so I didn’t have my momentum from the previous turn taking me into the next one. Because they could only dish out so much rope at a time.
Mark: Oh. I see. Interesting.
Jeremy: So it was tough.
Mark: It broke up your rhythm.
Jeremy: Yeah. And then not only that, but my friend always describes it with this analogy that this endeavor for me was like running a marathon and then going surfing Mavericks on a big day right after.
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, I could see that. You’re exhausted, you’ve just pulled… you’ve just done 5000 pullups and now you’re…
Jeremy: And my body was done already.
Mark: Right, so, it’s probably not responding quite the way you want it to. Because your arms are your primary method of steerage right?
Jeremy: Core. You know, if I’m skiing correctly, I’m skiing with my core.
Mark: Right, okay. So imagine you wiped out a few times.
Jeremy: Yes. And luckily I had that rope.
Mark: Right. Otherwise you would have just gone straight to the bottom, right?
Jeremy: Absolutely. Yeah, there were definitely several crashes.
Mark: But you didn’t get injured.
Jeremy: Nope. I was fine.
Jeremy: Yeah. Skiing in the back-country with my friends. So when you ask about any endeavors, that’s kind of the biggest one lately.
Mark: What do you have, after that? That was a couple years ago, right? What else is on your horizon? Any big doozies like that? Or…
Jeremy: I’m glad you asked that. Well, the surfboard is a brand new design and we’re taking adaptive surfing to a whole other level.
Mark: Oh, cool.
Jeremy: So just surfing and seeing what’s possible, is this crazy new adventure right now. I’m able to do things I never thought possible.
Mark: Because of this new design. Did you help design the surfboard?
Jeremy: Yes. Yeah. So that’s real exciting. And everything’s kind of on hold right now ’cause of my leg. So yeah, I have a few adventures…
Mark: What kind of waves can you surf with this board? Like what kind of height?
Jeremy: I feel like I could surf anything. It’s just in my mind.
Mark: Really? Could you go out to Hawaii and surf the big waves with it, do you think?
Jeremy: I feel like if I work hard, I can work up to some powerful surf.
Mark: Something that you could get towed into? Can you get towed into stuff?
Jeremy: We’re working on designing that, so we can tow into some stuff.
Jeremy: It’ll be interesting…
Mark: And is there a company around this that you’re partnering with? Or do you have a company?
Jeremy: We’re starting to work with Cobian on going on some surf adventures, and figuring out the gear–figuring out the boards and how to make ’em better. But like I said, everything’s on hold right now though because of the leg.
Mark: Sure. Well that’ll heal up.
Jeremy: And the ultimate goal is to get into some large, turquoise barrels.
Mark: Mm-hmm. Are there any tournaments for disabled athletes in the surf world?
Jeremy: There are. There is competitive adaptive surfing, but I’m just not a competitive guy in that way. I’d rather be off doing my own thing. Going on adventures and so I don’t… I’m more into the goals that nature has already set out for us, rather than creating man-made goals.That’s more my style.
Mark: Can’t remember the guy’s name, but I just watched a short documentary who likes to surf in the coldest places on the planet. Do you know who I’m talking about?
Jeremy: No. It’s crazy.
Mark: I gotta have like a Google assistant when I can’t remember something like that, you know? Like Siri, what’s his name? In the back of my head.
It was fascinating, but I was just thinking that would be cool to partner with someone like that and say like, “Hey let’s go to Alaska.” Or Antarctica and surf some wickedly inaccessible cool place like that.
Jeremy: I’m in. I wanna go. That’s the beauty of my life is I get to basically choose… it’s choose your own adventure. I get to choose my own adventure and bring it to sponsors and make it happen and share it with people and inspire people with it. It’s a beautiful life and I’m so thankful for… so yeah, that sounds like a great adventure. I’m in.
Mark: Doesn’t that sound cool? I’ll have to research that.
Mark: And what about any water training, like along the lines of what Laird Hamilton does. Do you do any underwater kettle bell training, for when you get trapped underneath a wave?
Jeremy: I do… you know, I don’t really surf big surf. That big of surf where breath hold training is necessary. I do some, though. I get in the pool a couple times a week and I make sure to do some breath-hold training just in case. You know, you never know. But yeah, that guy’s another level to me.
Mark: (laughing) He’s a whole ‘nother level, I know. I haven’t met Laird yet, but I wanna do a podcast with him. I love the way he trains. It’s pretty intense as well.
Jeremy: The reality, when I… I’ve never been held down longer than a few seconds anyways. Rarely are we…
Mark: So before we started, you were describing the injury when you broke your leg. Talk me through that, because that’s pretty interesting. Most people would get the pucker factor even thinking about being strapped to a board and going down in a wave.
Jeremy: It’s totally my fault. It’s laziness that gave me this injury.
Mark: You got complacent?
Jeremy: I got complacent, ’cause I knew my feet would get stuck once in a while, and I knew why. And I basically had to readjust my straps… my footstraps on my board. And for some reason–I don’t know what my problem was–I just didn’t do it. And here we are.
Mark: That was a reminder for ya.
Jeremy: Here we are. Bone-head, non-decision.
Mark: So you said that… okay, so you’re strapped in but you’ve got a quick release around your waist.
Mark: Okay. So you’re sitting on the board. You go every time you surf, you wipe out. I mean, that’s basically what surfing is.
Jeremy: Yeah. Wipeouts happen.
Mark: You get up, ride the wave and then the wipeout happens. Or you ride the wave until it’s natural conclusion, but probably fifty-fifty.
Jeremy: Hopefully before that so I’m not washing up on the sand. Breaking my fins…
Mark: Right, that too. And so in the likely event that you’re wiping out, you have to pull this quick release, and then you naturally slide off the board.
Jeremy: Yup. And I kind of push it away from me and…
Mark: In this case, your foot got stuck.
Jeremy: Foot was stuck. Because it was a pretty big day, and it was all I could do… I couldn’t even reach my arm to the belt against the power of the water. And I eventually got to it and that was all I could to just pull the belt. And there was no being able to push my way away from the board, or even knowing the difference between up and down.
Mark: And this is all happening while you’re tumbling?
Jeremy: Yeah. I don’t even know up from down, anything. I’m just getting thrashed. And I come up and my foot is stuck in my board and twisted…
Mark: And the board’s continuing to tumble?
Jeremy: No, this was after the wave has ended, and I’m floating in the water, recovering. And I notice that my leg is twisted, and I had to kinda go back underwater and hold my breath to untwist my leg to get it out. It was that wedged in there. And, you know, I can’t feel so I didn’t know.
Mark: You have no feeling…
Jeremy: No feeling, so I didn’t know anything had happened. I surfed for another hour and a half.
Mark: (laughing) I wasn’t expecting to hear that.
Jeremy: There’s no pain receptors, there’s nothing. I even went out to eat afterwards. And then finally when I got home, I getting out of the car…
Mark: Something doesn’t look right.
Jeremy: “Oh, wait a second. My leg is a balloon. Oh-oh. Something’s wrong here.” And so I was thinking, “Oh, we’ll see how it goes.” You’re probably the same way.
Mark: Of course. I don’t need to go to the doctor.
Jeremy: I’m fine. It’ll go away. And I woke up in the middle of the night nauseous. And my girlfriend was like “You’re going to the Emergency Room right now.” Like, “Okay. I’ll go.”
And then the other thing that’s really cool that’s happening right now is I just got this amazing new mountain bike.
Mark: Oh, no kidding.
Jeremy: She’s beautiful.
Mark: Does she have a name?
Jeremy: Well, actually I just named her… I don’t name my stuff. Isn’t that a funny thing? I think it’s a thing that girls do, like, they name their cars and stuff like that. And I’ve never named anything. And my girlfriend…
Mark: I named my first car, by the way.
Jeremy: Did you?
Mark: Yeah, Brutus.
Jeremy: Brutus. What kind of car was it?
Mark: It was a ’69 Mercury Monterey.
Jeremy: Perfect name for that car.
Mark: (laughing) Anyways, back to your bike.
Jeremy: (laughing) Yeah, back to my bike. I mean, it’s kind of masculine name, but I always say “she,” but “Axel” is the bike’s name.
Mark: Axel could be a she.
Jeremy: (serious sounding) Axel.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Jeremy: But it’s this crazy machine. It can go anywhere, and it just arrived from Poland two days ago. It’s been this whole…
Mark: Of course, you pedal this with your hands, right? And draw me a mental picture of a mountain bike. What does it look like for you?
Jeremy: Okay, it’s got 2 front wheels, and one rear wheel. The rear wheel is the drive wheel. Full-suspension. Full a-arm suspension. Imagine like the front of an ATV.
Mark: Oh cool.
Jeremy: It’s crazy, but really like…
Mark: How wide are they? Like what’s the width between the front wheels?
Jeremy: It’s like 36 inches. So three feet wide.
Mark: So you can get down most trails, or most good-sized trails.
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s crazy how… what it can get down with that amount of suspension. And the way I sit on it is really interesting. I’m kind of on my knees.
Jeremy: And I’m in a forward position. Kind of kneeling. I’ll have to show you photos.
Mark: Yeah, right, I’m kinda…
Jeremy: There’s photos on my website.
Mark: Is that uncomfortable for you to be on your knees?
Jeremy: No, it’s very comfortable. I really like being in that position, ’cause I’m forward…
Mark: It gives you a whole new perspective I bet.
Jeremy: Oh yeah, I can project into the fall line, when I’m downhilling, and really unweight and use my arms as suspension. Rather than in a recumbent position, where I’m just kind of sitting, letting the suspension take everything.
Mark: I think it’d be a little scary to mountain bike in a recumbent position. I mean, you don’t have much control over where you’re going at all.
Jeremy: I like that you said that, because most people think the opposite. Most people think like, “Oh, I wanna be away from gravity.”
Mark: No, you wanna be into it.
Jeremy: You wanna project into gravity, yeah, and you have way more control. And I can lean way more, being in that body position.
Mark: Did you help design this bike?
Jeremy: I helped with some modifications that have been made to it, but no, I wasn’t involved in the design process. It’s something that’s made, that people can get.
Mark: So it’s on the market.
Jeremy: Yeah. And it’s been this whole two year ordeal trying to get one. Trying to raise the money for it, ’cause they’re not cheap… I mean, it costs more than my car.
Mark: No kidding.
Jeremy: Yeah. And just got her.
Mark: You know, that’s interesting you say that. A lot of folks who are watching this know that my administrative and finance officer, his name is Jon Atwater. He’s a quadriplegic, no no, he’s paralyzed from the neck down, but he has the use of his hands. Not complete.
Jeremy: Right, yeah. He’s quadriplegic.
Mark: Okay. And one of the big challenges is the financial aspect. You know, just buying… I remember him going through the rigmarole of what insurance would cover and not cover for a wheelchair. And believe it or not, they don’t cover the good ones, because they’re expensive.
Jeremy: It’s crazy, yeah.
Mark: And so… and also you need a new vehicle if you’re going to drive, and that costs another hundred thousand dollars or so. All of a sudden you have all these other issues. So I imagine if you want to go out and play, or adventure, you need sponsors. Or you need to figure out how to do this.
Jeremy: Yup. And it’s been everything comes together. Sponsors, friends, my own efforts. Charity organizations, it all kinda comes together to make something like this happen, for me to get a bike like this.
Jeremy: So that’s the other adventures that are happening is I get this bike, but I’m leaving her in the crate right now.
Mark: Because of your knee.
Jeremy: Yeah. (laughing) ‘Cause I know if I get her together and assemble her, I’m gonna want to ride her, and it’s going to be even tougher. So I’m just leaving her in the crate for right now.
Mark: (laughing) Axel you just gotta stay in there. Don’t get too anxious.
Jeremy: (laughing) We’re gonna get together, but…
Mark: (laughing) Not just yet.
Jeremy: (laughing) Just gotta sleep for now. So that’s pretty exciting. So I can’t imagine my life right now. I’m gonna be 100% someday, you know, and being 100% with this board and this bike, and opportunities that are in front of me, it’s… it’s really exciting.
Mark: Do you have a vision that you’ll be able to walk again, with the way technology is going? Even if it’s an exo-skeleton, or nanobots or something like that?
Jeremy: Well, I have walked in one those exo-skeletons. Those robotic exo-skeletons. It’s cool, ’cause I’m standing and watching my legs move. That’s really cool. But, walking really slowly around a hospital, is not… it’s boring.
Mark: (laughing) Not your idea of adventure.
Jeremy: I’d rather be out bombing mountains on my mountain bike. That sounds like a lot more fun. I don’t really think about walking again in that respect. I live such a fun, cool life.
Mark: Not a loss anymore.
Jeremy: It is, because I still do face that emotion. But it’s not like I’m paying attention to the research, or anything like that. My take is, “You know, if we do figure things out and it’s 100% sure or close to it, then I’ll switch my focus.” But as for now, I’m living such a fun life, that I don’t really put energy into it.
But there is a lot of cool stuff out there right now, especially with the robotics stuff is really cool. Now the robotics are becoming internal, and they’re putting like robotic spines inside people. The research is amazing.
Mark: You could become a cyborg.
Jeremy: I kind of already am. I have a lot of metal in my body.
Mark: Do you? That used to be my nickname in the SEALs. I don’t think I got metal, though. I haven’t checked, actually.
Jeremy: I’m gonna have a lot more after last week.
Mark: So do you support any charitable organizations, or do you have anything that’s important to you?
Jeremy: Yeah, you know, really cool organization–local organization–is the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I’ve never come in contact with another organization that gives more money directly to people than that organization.
Mark: So do you help raise money for them through your efforts?
Jeremy: Been able to raise a little bit for them with some things. Not a lot. But I just support them. They have a great cause. They help… talk about equipment being expensive… they help people like me get bikes, and adaptive equipment and things like that.
Mark: I’m kind of interested in this… I’m launching a foundation called the Courage Foundation. And it’s… I’m doing it because there’s so many people that email me or are somehow tangentially aware of what we’re doing with Unbeatable Mind and SEALfit and our resiliency and mental toughness training. And want to access it–but they either can’t afford it, or they need a special application for it because they’re disadvantage or adaptive athlete, or in prison. Seriously, there’s all sorts of applications that I’ve stumbled across. Yeah, I’d love to be able to help this population with their mental strength, right? ‘Cause that’s really my thing. Learning how to think clearly and focus and using skills from the SEALs to really create more confidence and power in their lives. And so we’re just launching this foundation, we’ve filed documents and we’re going to be up and running by the end of the year. And one of my first projects if to distribute Unbeatable Mind books to the prison libraries. And this just happened through my association with a prison warden group called The Prison Fellowship. And then looking at veterans who are disabled, both through PTSD or through a physical limitation. And the adaptive athletes, it hadn’t occurred to me, but that would be a really interesting partnership as well.
Jeremy: Whatever you need. I’m in.
Mark: I’d like to follow up and just think through that, how I could help that community, you know what I mean?
Mark: Through the Courage Foundation.
Mark: So we’ve got some follow-up, you know, on that.
Jeremy: Yes sir. And we’re gonna go paddling.
Mark: And we’re gonna go paddling. I can’t wait.
Jeremy: Once I’m ready.
Mark: All right, well this has been fascinating. Super-cool. But we gotta wrap this up though. So people can find about you and your projects and what you’re up to at your website? Is that the main place? Or do you have a social media channel or anything like that?
Jeremy: Yeah, you know, kinda the website’s homebase, that has all the links to social media on there. And to the “Drop In” film project. Everything can be found there.
Mark: So jeremymcghee.com. Check out “Drop In.” Can you buy a copy of the DVD, or how do people actually watch the movie?
Jeremy: We do it by donation. ‘Cause I don’t want someone to not get a DVD because they don’t have ten dollars or whatever. So we do it by donation, so anyone can go online and make a donation of any size. They can donate a dollar, they can donate a million dollars.
Mark: (laughing) Just sayin’.
Jeremy: And we’ll send them a DVD and that’s how it works.
Mark: So go to jeremymcghee.com and donate a million dollars. At least ten dollars, okay, ’cause it probably costs 3 or 4 dollars to make this thing. And a lot of energy went into producing this. Have you recouped your expenses from it?
Jeremy: We’ve broke even.
Mark: You’ve broke even, okay.
Jeremy: Yeah. But we’re not in this to make money.
Mark: Of course not. It’s to inspire and motivate and…
Jeremy: And hopefully this is the first of many. That’s the goal with the Drop In film project.
Mark: Okay. Awesome. So you’ll be… you’re next film project will be around Axel and mountain biking.
Jeremy: It’s either going to be around Axel, or around surfing.
Mark: Or both.
Jeremy: That’s funny. We’ve been talking about that. It’s funny that you mention that.
Mark: Well let me know how I can be involved in helping. That’d be awesome. And thank you very much for coming over today. It’s super-cool to meet you.
Jeremy: You too.
Mark: We’ll follow up on some things.
Jeremy: Sounds good.
Mark: Go see if we can meet some whales.
Jeremy: (laughing) Yeah.
Mark: All right folks. Jeremy McGhee. Go to his website, check out his docu-drama, and let’s figure out how we can support his efforts and other adaptive athletes.
Stay focused on your own training, do the work every day, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. And stay present.
‘Til next time.