“I’m stronger than I’ve been since my twenties. I thought, ‘Man, I can grow older and stronger at the same time. And get better.’” — Robert Owens
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Preparing for the Spartan Race at Dodger Stadium Mark had a chance to talk with Robert Hamilton Owens (www.roberthamiltonowens.com). Robert is known as a speaker, athlete, Special Ops Pararescueman and adventurer. At the age of 65, he took on five endurance challenges, including on his 66th birthday completing SEALFIT’s Kokoro 50-hour challenge. He has completed 12 Ironman triathlons, the most recent being last year. He also loves being an inspiration and mentor for young people, helping candidates for the Air Force Pararescuemen or “PJs” with whom he served in Vietnam. He and Mark talk about the importance of mindset to overcome physical challenges.
Find out about:
- Robert’s achievements and lessons from being the oldest man ever to complete the Kokoro camp
- How in the most extreme endurance challenges, your physical strength is already exhausted, and it’s your mental strength that gets you to the finish
- The differences between endurance and strength and how Robert had to make some changes to train for Kokoro
Listen to this episode to get some insight into the importance of always staying relevant and “in the game” no matter what your age. He continues to take on challenges to help see what can be achieved to inspire others.
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Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Welcome back. I’m here at Dodger Stadium where I’m with the Spartan Race. And interviewed Joe De Sena, founder, earlier. And I’ve got now my good friend Robert Owens, here. Thank you for joining me Robert.
So Robert is an endurance athlete. Former Pararescueman. Trains a lot of elite warriors and kids to get into the Special Ops. Just all around amazing character.
Before I start jabbing with Robert, let me remind you real quickly, burpeesforvets.com. We are trying to really help raise awareness and money to help vets who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. And we’ve committed to doing 22 million burpees this year. And I need help, cause I can’t do those all alone. Even if I tried. Just not enough time.
Robert Owens: And you guys can help. It’s not hard to do and you’ll like it once you get into it.
Mark: Yeah, once you get into it. So I’ve committed to 300 a day, which puts me over 100,000 for the year. And I’m donating 10 cents a burpee. And so you can go to burpeesforvets.com to learn more. It’s all through the Courage Foundation, 501(c)(3). And we’re going to be setting up an actual program–an immersion program–to teach these vets how to heal themselves through breath, through movement, through meditation. Through team and a mission.
Robert: That’s great.
Mark: Cool. And we’re both vets and we know how…
Robert: And I got to watch you just do your 300…
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, we just cranked out 300. But it’s near and dear to both of us. And those who serve sacrifice greatly, and when you’re done with your service, it’s not done for a lot of these folks. I think I got off really lucky–even though I probably had some TBI or something going on–most of us do. But… yeah… they need some support…
Robert: Our crewer field is only 42% filled. Our guys are doing–like yours…
Mark: Pararescue, you mean…
Robert: Pararescue. Multiple tours, come home stressed, divorced, out of control. Need help. We can’t get enough kids in so we have to do these tours. And then it gets worse and worse. Divorces…
Mark: You need recovery time when you do a combat tour. You can’t just go right back out.
But the thing is, these guys are so tough they think they can do it. And they want to gut through it. And it’s a progressive dis-ease. Let’s put it that way. It builds and builds and builds.
Robert: Yeah, you just don’t know that you’re carrying all this baggage. And then one day it hits you.
Mark: It hits you hard.
Robert: And then all of a sudden, “Wow. What’s wrong with me?” Well you’re screwed up. Hooyah.
Mark: Hooyah. Exactly. Well, and the smart ones reach out for help. A lot of them still think they can gut through it. They turn to the bottle. They turn to opioids or drugs or anything…
Robert: If nothing else on this podcast, you’re not that tough. Nobody is. And you need to know when to say when, and when to ask for help. And it’s not going to take away your manhood.
Mark: Yeah, you know what? That’s one of the important things for me to learn as a guy. That it’s okay to ask for help. It’s actually a sign of strength. One of the things… I first heard this from Chris Smith. I don’t know if you ever met Chris. He was one of my SEALFIT coaches. He’s a former SEAL, runs Trident CrossFit. Great guy. Big into the CrossFit Games. And helping CrossFit organize that event.
But one day we were talking about this at a Kokoro about what true strength is. And out of the blue, he goes to this candidate he says, “Would you rather in a big storm…? Would you rather be the mighty oak or the willow?”
And the guy’s like, “Well, I wanna be the oak.”
He goes, “No you don’t. Because the oak’s going to get blown over. But the willow’s just going to bend and…” or the reed. I don’t know if he said willow or reed. Whatever it was, it was really flexible and pliable.
So as human beings and as males we want to learn to be pliable and flexible. In order to do that you have to breathe. You have to move with things like yoga. And you have to also be able to surrender to things that you can’t control. And that means–oftentimes–asking for help.
You can’t control the oppressive weight of Post-Traumatic Stress. You can’t.
Robert: And where do you find a place that teaches men how to show vulnerability? You just don’t find very many places.
Mark: Not very many places. People don’t like that.
So you were a Pararescue. Tell the folks who are listening what that is. I’m not sure everyone really knows what an Air Force Pararescueman does.
Robert: Actually, you’re a Navy SEAL. Why don’t you introduce us as what we are?
Mark: (laughing) Okay, I will tell you.
Robert: (laughing) Cause it’s better if you…
Mark: We call you “PJs.” It’s very small, very elite group in the Air Force. And what I love about PJs is they want to… You’re medical professionals, right? Your service is to save. Whereas the Navy SEALs service is to go wreak havoc.
Robert: Everybody else is offence.
Mark: Yeah, we’re offence. We wanted to wreak havoc. You wanted to go save a life.
Robert: We wanted to save you.
Mark: You wanted to save me. From myself. (laughing)
Robert: When those guys are in trouble, we want to be there and say, “Okay, that’s our job now to get you out.”
Mark: So did you go in with an interest in medical stuff? Or were you just like, “I wanna be in the Air Force and the Pararescue’s the most elite unit. Cause a lot of guys that I talk to are like, “I’m either going to be a SEAL or a PJ.”
And I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. They’re very different.” You know what I mean?
Robert: You know what happened was I was a beach lifeguard. And I had my first kid die on me at 15 and a half, at the San Clement Pier in my arms.
At 16, I had a lady die on me at Aliso, and so I was a 3 year guard, and I had 2 people die in the first two years I was a guard.
And I liked the rush of the rescue. I liked being called on. I liked the responsibility. I liked performing under pressure.
And what happened–and it doesn’t happen much anymore–but the SEALs would come by and recruit. “Hey, we want watermen. And so you any of you guys want to do military? We need watermen. We need cross-country kind of guys. Long-distance. Stay in the game.”
And then others would say, “Don’t do anything. The pararescue guys are coming in.”
Everybody’d say, “Well who are they?”
And then the PJs would come in and they would sell. And they’d say, “You don’t want to be a SEAL. You want to be a PJ.” And then they’d explain the difference mentally. And I think 4 of my friends became SEALs, and 4 of us became PJs. Because we had different mindsets of… we wanted to watch you do the deal, but we wanted to be there to make a difference and bring people home.
And so that captured me. So when that happened these guys said, “You need to be a PJ.”
And I said, “I don’t want to go in the military.”
And they said, “Yeah, you do. We have way fun.” (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) We have a lot of fun. We’ll pay you to workout. We’ll send you around the world.
Robert: (laughing) They never showed us any uniforms at all. We take you to RAI and we get your stuff. We take you to the scuba shop, we get your stuff. And I went, “I’m in.”
And so I signed up…
Mark: (laughing) The next thing you’re standing at boot camp going, “What the heck is this?”
Robert: “Those guys lied to me.” But anyway, so I got in, but when I got to my station, that’s what they did. They took me to RAI, and they outfitted me in my beemers and my juvers, and all my boots, and my bags.
And then I went over to the scuba shop. Got all my suits and all my stuff. And it was like, “Wow. I’m getting paid to do this. Jumping out of planes.”
Mark: So tell us a little bit about the training pipeline for PJs. And then we’ll move on to some other things.
Robert: We go to jump school right away. Which is a really fun experience.
Mark: First you have to go through boot camp…
Robert: You go through your basic. And then we go what we call “Indoc,” which is your Indoctrination. Sort of like your BUD/S.
Mark: Is that more of a selection? If you don’t make it through that you don’t start the pipeline, right?
Robert: Right. Yeah. So in my class, I think we had 157 guys out of 6 Saturday mornings. You come on Saturday morning and test. And if you can do the test then they take you and stuff.
And anyway, then the whittling process began. And we did a 13 week prep from that point. You run from 4 in the morning, ’til 5 o’clock at night. You’re in the pool, and it’s the non-stop thing. And we whittled our class down to where we only had 7 of us graduate. We had 6 rollbacks. I think we graduated 16 with everybody in there. And it was a wild experience. They made me team leader at the end. And the sergeant… this shaper of young men. This guy’s name is TJ Bruce. Well known in the PJ community as a father figure to young kids.
He had a big wad of dip in his mouth, and he leans forward, put his nose on my nose. Talk about having your space invaded. Like I’m 23 and he just leans into me. He says, “Owens? Do I own you yet?”
And I just went, “Oh God.” I just started to cry. Just tears started… I go, “You own me sergeant. You own me.”
And he goes, “You know, cause you’re always hiding.” Cause I didn’t want to be a leader. I wanted to hide. I wanted to be at the back. Let somebody else do all the stuff, you know?
Pulled his nose off and said, “You’re my effing leader. Got it?”
And I went, “Yes, sir.”
“From now on these are your men, not my men.”
And I went, “Yes, sir.” and I grew up in a day. In one second it was like somebody had turned… I’d gone from a Master’s degree in irresponsibility to all of a sudden I’m in the game.
Mark: I’m in charge. Cause you felt the weight of responsibility now in front of those guys
Robert: And so then he said, “We’re taking off to jump school.” And he said, “If any of the schools, one of your guys gets in trouble, I’m going to get on a plane and I’m going to have your ass. Do you understand that?”
And I went, “Yes, sergeant. These are your men.” And I just… wow. So we went to jump school then we went to scuba school. Then we went to… I don’t know… Jump school in the trees. Like if a pilot parachuted into high trees with a broken pelvis, how are you going to get him out? So you jump in yourself with your medical stuff. And then you do your jumar and your ropes and stuff. Then you lower him out.
We went to Oregon. 300 foot trees. How to jump in, you know?
Then we went to SEARS–search and rescue stuff–and personal war school.
Mark: Not Sears the shopping mall? Not that Sears?
Robert: Not that one.
And that was a trip, you know? That whole experience was just growing up some more. And it was a year…
Mark: What about the medical training? WAs that laced throughout it, or was it a session?
Robert: Laced throughout. We went to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. And we did all of our cutting of all of our things and sewing and stuff. And then we went back to Kirkland at Albuquerque airport on the other side. And we finished off all of our medical there.
And today, the kids have to do about 6 months in the emergency room in a hospital…
Mark: Interesting. For trauma medicine…
Robert: you have to do it there before they put you in a plane and jump you in someplace. And that’s intense. A lot of guys get all the way through physically, and they bail out… they flunk in med school. Cause you’re in the game. You’re cutting, sewing, you’re giving drugs. You’re doing the whole thing.
24 hour shifts. And then they say, “Okay, you’re ready for the military again.”
So it’s an intense thing. It’s not for everybody. Some guys want offence, you know? And some guys liked that thing of “Call on me.”
Today, you know, with Delta and stuff, you’ll often time see the Ranger and you’ll see the SEAL guy. Then you’ll have a pararescue guy in the back, just in case something’s going to happen.
Mark: Yeah, I know there’s PJs assigned to DEVGRU, or to JSOC and DEVGRU and CAG…
Mark: So how many years did you serve in the actual force?
Robert: Just under 4. Yeah. It was a bad time.
It was the end of the war.
Mark: End of the Vietnam War.
Robert: And the guys were coming home sour. Bitter. And so all the guys that came to my unit were just mad at the government. Mad at the military. They’d been sold out. Their friends were dead. We didn’t have the win. And they leaked.
And a lot of us young guys just heard this crap all the time. Of this wasn’t worth it. We ruined our lives. We shouldn’t have done this. They sold us out.
And then all of sudden they had budget cuts. Like after every conflict. So they came to my unit and they said, “Hey, we need 20% of you out in a month. Who wants out?”
And there was the GI Bill. Here’s some money. And so I looked around. I said, “These 25, 30 year-old guys are not the happiest guys in the world. I think probably I’ll go do something else.” Cause it’s not the way I was sold. And I went back to college.
Mark: That’s cool. So let’s fast-forward a little bit. You’ve spent a life both training yourself through intense endurance activities and also inspiring others. You have your own radio-show and TV-show and you continue to do that.
And you’re what, like, 85 years-old now?
Mark: 86. (laughing) I’m just kidding.
Robert: Just turned 66.
Mark: You’re claiming the mantle as the oldest man to go through Kokoro camp, and there is some debate on it. We have to go through the records…
Robert: I’m claiming it. That “why” held me.
Mark: (laughing) That was a pretty powerful “why.”
Robert: That thing was so… Dave Crandall and the others are like, this is it. I have one chance at life.
Mark: So this year… I want to talk about the lessons you learned in your SEALFIT experience, and then also how that helped you do this incredible journey you’ve been on this year, where you did these 5 serious challenge events. And any one of them is mind-boggling in and of themselves.
So let’s talk about the first one of those which is SEALFIT and Kokoro camp. And then how that played into some of the other ones. Or just give us a synopsis. I’ll stop talking.
Robert: I’ve done 11 Ironmans. And I was watching age groupers get weaker and weaker. And I looked at their muscles, and they looked like old muscles. So they could go all day, but they couldn’t pedal.
Mark: They had no functional strength…
Robert: No functional strength. Swimming just doesn’t pull anymore.
And I saw… I’m just turning 60 and I’m watching 65 to 70, 75 to 80, 80–oldest guys. And I thought, “Everybody’s fading out.”
So about 63 I knew that if you always do what you always done. And I just thought, “If I want to stay in the game for 20 more years, I have to change.”
I finally found a CrossFit, and I went in and I didn’t like the first two I went too. They were just meathead shops. Guys were all tatted out, cussing, yelling at you, you know? “If you don’t do this, you don’t know anything.” And I thought, “Wrong mindset.”
I finally found one in San Juan Capistrano where the guy said to me, “You want to be a competitor? Or health and wellness?”
I said, “Just health and wellness.”
He said, “We have a bunch of 60 year-olds over here. This guy’s a golfer. This guy’s a mountain biker. This guy’s blah-blah-blah. They’re health and wellness, but this helps them do everything else.”
And I went, “Whoa.” And all of a sudden I was captured and it changed. Then they said, “Go to SEALFIT.”
And I said, “Where’s that?”
“Encinitas” Pulled it up. Read about it. And then got the courage on one Saturday morning to drive down and see if I could function with this group, you know?
And so it kicked my butt, and I loved it. And I just went “I’m hooked.” And so for those of you who’ve never been in the old days, it was just a different culture. And it was great.
Then they started leaking, “You gotta go to the 3 day leadership thing. You gotta try these different things.”
And then they go, “There’s this thing called Kokoro.”
And I go, “What’s that? Kookaru?”
“No, it’s Kokoro.”
And I said…
Mark: It means heart/mind in action.
Robert: And they said, “Dude, you need to 50 straight.” And I go, “CrossFit kind games in the sand. 50 straight.” And being an old PJ it was like, “wow.” The challenge just…
Mark: Sparks the challenge…
Robert: The whys begin to get bigger and deeper, you know?
So functionally you don’t see guys that are aerobic guys be anaerobic. And you don’t see anaerobic guys do aerobic stuff. So I thought, “I wonder cause this stuff I’m doing at SEALFIT and CrossFit it’s helped me in everything that I do.”
Mental, emotional, relational… I’m stronger than I’ve been since my 20s. I thought, “Man, I can grow older and stronger at the same time.”
Mark: Stronger and better, yeah.
Robert: I remember having these breakthroughs at SEALFIT and Dave would say to me, after the 8 o’clock class, “You wanna do it again?”
(laughing) And I’d go “What?”
And he’d say, “Let’s do it again.” and he’d throw the gauntlet down in a real nice Dave way. Real quiet. “Wanna do it again?”
And so I’d do it again. And I felt better. I did it faster almost the second time. And I went… “My stamina’s better… I’m getting better.” And it was just one of those things where you had these lightbulbs pop off. “I can get older and get better.” And it was thrilling.
Mark: Yeah, that is thrilling.
Robert: So I went there for 2 and a half years. Hurt this shoulder, had surgery, came back. But as soon as I heard about Kokoro, that was my goal. And I knew–since I could only do 3 pullups… cause I’m a swim/bike/run kind of guy. “How in the world am I gonna get strong?”
And it took me 2 and a half years. Of 5 days a week. Going there on Saturday mornings.
Mark: And that’s supplemental pull training in addition to your other training. Cause you had to get specific on that one thing.
Robert: That’s right.
Mark: Pulling… most of humanity is so weak when it comes to pulling. They can’t pull themselves up over a wall. They wouldn’t be able to pull themselves over a wall if they were being chased by a bad guy. Or in a burning building.
Pullup is one of the grand-daddy exercises…
Robert: It’s a humbler.
Mark: It’s very humbling, yeah.
Robert: It’s a thing that…
Mark: Pullups, squats and burpees. If you don’t have any weight to move, then those 3 things.
Robert: You hear about body weight stuff. And you don’t have any idea about body weight stuff, do you do body weight stuff? Do burpees. Do air squats. Do pull-ups and push-ups. And that’s what you got us on…
Let me say that when I went to the 3 day academy I didn’t know what to expect. So I bought my boots and my fatigues and I showed up, you know? And got hosed down at midnight and stuff.
But you would take us into the rooms and explain things to us. And there were things that I knew that I didn’t know that I knew that you talked about. And one was Box Breathing and about emotional control. And all of a sudden it clicked to me that all of my life, breathing has been everything. When I’m out of control, I lose everything. And we practiced Box Breathing. And we practiced it maybe 3 different times before we laid on the floor with that guy.
Robert: And so since that time I’ve Box Breathed every single day.
Robert: To the point that in the 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents, I ran the thing with my mouth closed, and I inhaled and did my breathing so that I could stay in the game emotionally. And in mind control.
Not physically. So I could be that meditative monk and just lock everything out and plow through miles.
And it worked.
Mark: That’s awesome.
Robert: All from that 3 day leadership academy.
And so anyway, SEALFIT changed me. Encouraged me. Built me. Gave me a great set of friends. And I’m now 66 and I’m just grateful.
Mark: Yeah, you look really healthy. That’s cool.
So what is the…? So that was one of the 5 challenges you hit…
Robert: The first one was Greece.
Mark: The Greece ruck. That was how many miles did you guys go?
Mark: 238 miles over 8 days. That was a gut-check for sure.
Robert: The guy… you probably know him… James Lawrence. Iron Cowboy?
He said, “Everyone needs a stupid one on their resume.”
Mark: (laughing) That’s it…
Robert: (laughing) This was the worst thing. It was miserable. Boring, miserable, hot. Blew up your feet. And again, equipment’s everything, and we made 238 miles in 8 days. And those Spartans, that’s a bunch of crap. They didn’t do it in 8 days.
We said, “They didn’t do this in 8 days. This is just stupid.” They had goats and cattle and cows and stuff. Swords, shields. Naah.
But anyway, it was a wild experience.
Mark: (laughing) That’s the legend though.
Robert: (laughing) It’s the legend. And it’s the stupidest, blown out legend… I mean, there’s a reason why the cops come and wave to you and the bands… hoopa-hoopa bands wave you through town. They said, “Nobody’s ever done this. A bunch of Americans showing up to do this.”
And I go, “Wonder why nobody’d ever done this before?” It was stupid. Legendary, epic stupid.
Mark: (laughing) But you did it.
Robert: (laughing) Well we did it. Those guys raised money for the foundations.
Anyway, I thought if I could do 7, 238, then I could do 7 in a row, at 26. So this would be a great tune up. That if I could do Greece, I could maybe do 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. Cause you got to sleep, maybe.
So this was sort of a tune-up. And it warmed up that “If I could do this…” And then I ran into this thing called “The Quest,” which is lifeguard memorial run. And that’s for all the guards that have died while rescuing swimmers in Orange County.
And, of course, it was all kids again. And it’s only for lifeguards. If you haven’t been a lifeguard, you’re not allowed to do it. So 1960s, I was a lifeguard. So they said, “Owens, why don’t you show up? I hear you’re doing stuff.”
Showed up with these kids. It was tough. It was a long marathon. 25 miles of running and swimming.
Mark: Oh cool. Down the coast?
Robert: yeah. Oldest guy to ever do that. And oldest guy in Greece. Just a little bit in front of Dave.
But that was all a tune-up then to get to Kokoro. And so then the training intensified to the point that I drove down to your shop, every morning at 6. I stopped going to my CrossFit and just focused on hanging with your guys–the guys–because it was a different kind of intensity and they understood me.
Mark: And there were a few guys you were training with who were going through the same class, right? Dave Crandall…
Robert: Dave went through before me.
Mark: Oh, he was before you?
Robert: He went twice, remember? He hurt his back the first time, then came back and did it again.
But yeah, and then Kokoro came along and… It crushed me. (laughing) if you remember. I called Dave afterwards, I said, “Dave, you didn’t tell me…” He goes, “you can’t really talk about it.”
Mark: (laughing) Some things are best left unsaid.
Robert: So Trey calls me and says, “Hey you made it. Congratulations.” I go, “You didn’t tell me either.” he goes, “You just don’t talk about it. Some things are unspoken. Just show up dude. Bring your A game. Best of luck.”
So all the training that I did… I mean, I was doing weight-vest runs of 20 miles. I was doing 5 20 miles weight-vest runs in a row. 5 days in a row.
I was doing my burpees with my weight-vest on. My push-ups. All my stuff. I got there and “Oh my God. I haven’t trained enough.”
And it was just one of those experiences…
Mark: The reality was you had. It’s just it’s not physical. I mean, it is, but it’s not. At some point after 12 hours it not.
Robert: It’s not. And I Box Breathed my way through it.
Mark: What was the most profound moment or insight from Kokoro? Beyond that it really was hard and that you could do it?
Robert: I think you said at the very end when you’re congratulating us, you said something like, “How many of you would like to do another day? How many of you could do another day of this?”
And we looked around and most of us felt that we could do another day. And that was profound. It wasn’t the physical thing. That happened a long time ago. You were exhausted and miserable a long time ago.
It was mentally… like the kids in Hell Week, you can go a lot more. That 20X principle is alive in everybody watching us today. As you say, we just don’t get tested to know how much is really in us, or what we’re really capable of.
And when time became irrelevant, that’s just sort of a wake-up call. Time is irrelevant.
Mark: All you got is now.
Robert: All you got’s now. And you can do now for a long time.
Mark: Yeah, you can do it forever.
Robert: I had… we were talking about guys being vulnerable. I had–you had mentioned “dark times”. Not here, but… you know, “okay, but there are dark times. You’re going to have some of these dark times. Don’t quit at night.”
And so that first night we’d just got done with the Murph. And I was thrilled that I got through the Murph with a good time. And then I got going on the ruck going up and I couldn’t keep up. And I was falling behind. And I was really working… I was sweating and I was just… I just didn’t have it.
And so there was a high school kid and he was laughing and joking. These two high school kids were laughing and joking the whole time. “What’s the problem, dude?” Their just having a great time. They’re going backwards, just talking.
So I said to this high school kid, “Do you mind if I just hold on?” And he looked at me and said, “No, Mr. Owens. You need to hold on?”
I go “Yeah.” So I just grabbed his arm and he said, “Let’s go.” And he just pulled me up the mountain. And I went “Wow.” And he said, “Are you good?” I said, “Yeah” and I let go.
And then another guy comes along and says, “Mr. Owens, do you need help?”
And I just held on to him. And then got through to a level spot. Let go, you know. And then the kid came back, and he said, “You ready Mr. Owens?”
And I went, “Thanks.” And that humility was so hard for me to say, “I need help.” It was one of those moments, if you’re a macho kind of a “I can do this.” Don’t do that now. Be vulnerable. Be open. And they wanted to help me.
Later on in the week, I could help them.
Mark: Right. There’s a concept that I’ve been toying with… and this is really profound, but… I’ve seen so many people deny offers of help. Like, “Hey, can I help you with that?” “No, no. I got it.” And I’m thinking nowadays, you know what? That’s actually kind of arrogant. You just denied someone else’s offer to help. They saw that you could possibly use their help. So instead of being so egotistical and thinking, “Oh, I don’t need your help. I got this.” Which is very self-centered, actually.
Robert: All about self-image. Control.
Mark: Yeah. “Sure.” Even if you can get through it without the help, why deny the person who wants to help you?
Robert: Great thought.
Mark: Isn’t that interesting? It’s just completely flips the whole equation. You’re like, “Wait a minute. Of course you can help me. Because it’s really not about me, it’s about us.”
Robert: That light sort of turned on for me at about 60. Like, “I’m going to need help.” I helped my dad. I lived with my dad the last ten years of his life from 90 to 100.
Mark: Wow. What a powerful experience that must have been.
Robert: he needed help. I had an elder class–elder living every day–and helping him…
Mark: My wife is going through that with her father right now.
Robert: Learning to ask for help and not have it shatter your self-worth or your image is a healthy thing.
Mark: I agree. Agree.
So what’s next for you on the horizon? What’s your big “Why” now? Is it continuing to be physical challenges? Or helping kids? Or what’s really firing you up these days.
Robert: You know, as you remember, Commandant Josh Smith showed up at Kokoro. And he gave me a high-five at the end and said, “Hey, thanks for representing Pararescue.”
Mark: That’s cool. This is the Commandant of the PJ program.
Robert: He flew up from Texas. But we reconnected and I’ve been now flying to San Antonio monthly to work with the kids in Indoc.
Mark: As a mentor?
Robert: As a mentor.
Robert: And teaching Box Breathing.
Robert: And taking the stuff that I’ve learned and trying to get them to not quit. We have the fittest quitters in the world, right? (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) Right.
Robert: I mean they start a class 170 kids, and we graduated I think this last one, 13. And all of them self-eliminated. They not couldn’t make it. They just said, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
And look, don’t do this. Don’t pull the plug on yourself.
But they mentally of this generation again, skateboarding and video games, just were not able to stay in the game.
So I’m having a great time in that. Working as a father…grandfather figure to all these young men. 50% of these young men did not have a father in the home. And when you push on them, they just are a little soft. If they didn’t have a wrestling coach or football coach or somebody get in their space…
Mark: They haven’t learned any resiliency yet.
Robert: So mental toughness, resiliency… that’s been a great thing.
I’ve also been speaking a lot. I’m a corporate business coach, and so I’ll go places and I’ll talk to executives. And try to say, “You know, where’s your stuff? And what do you want to do? What’s your ‘Why’?” And does your wife know your ‘Why’?” Has she bought in to your ‘Why’?”
As you’re doing your goals and conquering the world. Leadership stuff. It’s been fun again to just be out there with this in my background this time. Cause you have your 20s, and then your 30s, your 40s. When you get to your 60s, everything sort of changes again. It’s a recalibration and people listen to you differently in your 60s than your 50s. And 60s you’re supposed to have gray hair. And you’re supposed to have something to say. And it’s supposed to be worth something, versus just talk.
And so it’s been fun to just be back out doing this stuff again, and especially work with kids.
Mark: Nice. Well that’s certainly an incredible mission and very necessary. Our kids need inspiration. They need the wise elders to be out there, you know? We don’t have a culture for wise elders, so I’m glad to see you taking a lead. And bringing that back.
Robert: I’m sure that you though, when you have your leadership things, talk to them as “You need to grow into role models and wise leaders. Take this out and impact people.”
Mark: Our culture needs wise leaders.
Robert: We do.
Mark: And not just shunting them aside or disregarding them or… the flip side of that is the millennial generation… reading a book, having one experience and then learning a little bit of internet marketing and then all of a sudden putting themselves out there as a guru or as an expert. And they don’t have the depth. And people can be really led into these things and not get anywhere.
And so then people try the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. Because it didn’t really have the depth. And so like I say, once you find an authentic teacher or path… and I like to think that SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind is one of those… there’s a lifetime of opportunity to learn and grow and just dive in and go deep instead of stay shallow and flit across the surface. And it’s the wise elder… That’s how you become a wise elder. You don’t have to be seen as a subject matter expert–guru when you’re 25. That’s your time to go out and stub your toe. And to fail.
Robert: Make all those mistakes.
Mark: Make mistakes. And to learn.
Robert: Know what you’re not.
Mark: And to have fun. And travel the world. And right, learn what you’re not. So you can fail your way to what you are.
Robert: That’s right.
Mark: Interesting. Back to your father… I didn’t mean to cut you off earlier. You were saying something about your father.
Robert: I just think that what you said is just so true. On my dad’s side… My dad was a presiding judge of Orange County. So he was Stanford undergrad, Stanford grad. 4.0. FBI. Chasing Germans around the United States. War crimes trials.
“Dad, what did you do with them?”
“We hung them.”
And when my dad died, I opened all these papers, and I said, “What are these papers?” And they were all Japanese prisoners of war were giving their testimony asking not to be hung. And some of them were in Japanese versus the American translators translating these things.
This stack of yellow papers in Japanese–guys begging for their life.
So when he came back to Orange County, he grew up with the Irvines–the 55 highway–McFaddens, the Dwyers, the Edingers. All those old Santa Anna families.
So then he becomes a judge, and then he becomes the superior court judge, and then he becomes the presiding judge. So he does 40 years on the bench. He’s the man in Orange County.
He said to me about ’65, he said, “Son, if you want to learn something it’s that they’ll put you on the shelf as soon as possible. You’ll become irrelevant.”
He said, “Fight to stay relevant. Because if you’re not careful, by 65 to 70 they don’t ask you any questions anymore. They just put you on the shelf. And the next generation knows everything.”
And he said, “The saddest part about my life is that I have so much to share and no one will ask. I want to give back so much, and no one even considers me in the game anymore.” He said, “Fight to stay relevant, because you don’t want to be put on the shelf any sooner that they let you do that.”
So part of this doing 5 extreme endurance things is I wanna stay relevant. I don’t want to tell old stories. OI wanna be in the game as long as I can, cause the moment that an athlete tells old stories, “Yeah, we’ve heard those before.”
Mark: “yeah, we’ve heard it.” Yeah, I know.
Robert: So for all of us, it’s like, how are you going to stay relevant? And then my kids would say, “Dad, you’re sort of irrelevant. Don’t you know how to do this computer stuff?”
And no I don’t… I paid a secretary to do that. “You need to do this dad.”
So the struggle of staying in the game every decade as the world changes, it’s a challenge that I want to see if I can do to the end. And a lot of folks just pull the plug, play golf, and say “I’m done.” And I don’t want to do that.
Mark: Hooyah! To that.
Robert: Hooyah. And that’s the same with you and all the people who come to your leadership thing, you inspire them to keep growing. But you don’t take them with you…
Mark: Day by day, in every way, get better and better. Hooyah, hey.
Robert: Hooyah. And we hope you’ll all think on that because we want to do that.
Mark: If someone wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do that? Without sending you an email, or calling your phone number, because I don’t want to burden you with that.
Robert: No. My email is robertowenss, but I have 2 “S”s on the end. Why? Because I went to get robertowens, it was gone. So I stuck an extra “S” on the end.
Mark: There can’t be another Robert Owens.
Robert: I had one with 3 “S”s one time. But it’s [email protected].
Mark: And do you have a website?
Robert: I have a website. It’s my name. roberthamiltonownens.com. And all my stuff’s on there. Robert Hamilton Owens. But thanks for the time, and again, thank you for mentoring me.
And you didn’t know all that you were mentoring when you were mentoring. All this stuff was in my brain, and I’m listening…
Mark: I provided you a couple keys…
Robert: And I’m just another guy sitting out there, you know? Going, “Okay, okay. PJ, hunh? What’s he doing here?”
But it worked.
Mark: It’s been an honor to work with you. A real pleasure. We don’t have the old training center anymore, so I don’t get to see you on Saturday mornings, but maybe someday…
Robert: You get something, I’ll be back.
Mark: Yeah. Hooyah Robert. Thanks very much.
That’s it folks. Thanks very much for your time. Thanks for listening to the Unbeatable Mind Podcast. Stay focused. Train hard. Do the work. And be unbeatable. Hooyah.
Join the discussion One Comment
I have a new hero! Robert is amazing. He is still young, but I don’t hold that against him. He makes me want to shoot for Kokoro Camp. Let’s see. I turn 73 in July. Maybe I could shoot to do it when I turn 75. I agree with him about getting stronger as you age. That has been my experience.