Rope Climbing Mt. Everest-Interview with Michael McCastle

There are some of us who find a 30-minute interval session to be enough to fill the daily exercise obligation. Others like 12 Labors Project founder and Navy Air Traffic Controller Michael McCastle like to add a little more to the regimen. A little more being tasks such as a 27-hour rope climb up Mt. Everest and a 13-mile journey completed while flipping a 200 lb. truck tire. For a better perspective, take your middle school gym class experience add 27 hours, 29,029 feet, and harsh freezing temperatures along one of the world’s tallest summits to get an understanding of McCastle’s most recent achievement. While these challenges may sound extreme and too most downright excessive, Michael’s purpose behind these challenges is where the true inspiration lies. These herculean tasks are all structured towards making a difference and directing the spotlight in a more dramatic way towards a cause worth fighting for from Parkinson’s disease to The Wounded Warrior Project.

For Michael this is just the beginning with 4 of the 12 labors completed, there is still more to achieve and awareness to promote. The story behind the 12 Labors Project is one of the unique ways to both personally and publically fight for a cause. McCastle’s focused perspective challenges all of us to consider what our own labors might be, and what causes truly matter on a personal level.

Most ordinary people struggle to commit the level of time and dedication required to achieve such enormous goals, but after hearing more from McCastle, we learn that it truly comes down to your willingness to achieve more than the average human to become extraordinary.

Whether you workout like a seasoned Olympic athlete or prefer a simply 15 minute at home routine, the mentalities and motivations expressed below are sure to apply in some aspect of life both on and off the training field.

A little background on yourself and how you arrived at where you are now?

-I’m nobody special. I’m just a guy who likes to tackle challenges and I refuse to quit. I’m currently serving in the U.S. Navy, which has instilled some guiding values behind the things I do, but what has always driven me is a belief that everyone is destined to be great at something and it is our inherent responsibility to be relentless in our pursuit of that greatness and to share it with the world. I have always been an intense guy. I have a do or die attitude. When I commit to something, I go all in or not at all. That mentality has driven through a lot of the grueling challenges I undergo. I want to prove to myself that nothing is impossible and there are no limits to what a human being can accomplish.

On a scale of 1 to flipping a truck tire for 13 miles how does rope climbing Mt. Everest rank?
-It’s tough to rank them in terms of difficulty. Every event I do challenges me differently and am a unique experience. I view them all equally because I always try my hardest and leave it all out there. If something isn’t worth 100% of my effort then it’s simply the wrong goal. Every challenge subjects me to a good amount of hurt and takes me out of my comfort zone, but by pushing my boundaries and overcoming pain I grow as a human being.

You have raised awareness for multiple charities. Can you tell me about any that are closest to your heart?
-The major driving forces behind the events I do are the charities I do them for.  I don’t choose the cause so much as they choose me. They are all close to my heart because they relate to my own life experiences. For example, the rope climb I did was for Parkinson’s awareness. My dad suffered from the disease and recently passed away from related complications. When things got bad in the later hours of the climb and every cell in my body was screaming for me to quit, It was easy for me to dig deep and draw strength from his struggle and will to fight to the end despite overwhelming odds and adversity.

How do you decide what the next challenge is?
-I have a few plans for future as far as challenges go but one thing I try to always ensure is to never get ahead of myself. After each challenge I go through a period of recovery and soul searching where I assess my current strengths, weaknesses and how much I have progressed. Only after that period of recovery, self-analysis and meditation do I choose a challenge and develop a specific plan of execution for the next one. Outside of that, I try to choose things that will challenge me and push the limits of my soul. The events I do aren’t about winning, competing with someone or breaking records. I do them to see what kind of man I am. I want to know what kind of decision I’ll make when I hit that wall and I feel like I can give no more. Usually, for me, that involves taking myself to places most people aren’t willing to go to and doing things that most people would label as impossible. Believe me when I say that NOTHING is impossible with the right mindset. The future definitely holds some pretty epic challenges for me.

What are the biggest goals you hope to reach through rope climbing Everest?
-It’s all about the awareness. Climbing a rope for the height of Mt. Everest is more than just a physical challenge. Just like I fought to hold on to that rope for over 26 hours, I eventually let go and now I am recovering. It was a small gesture in a pale comparison to the millions of people suffering from the disease and are holding on to hope for a cure- still holding on to that rope. The climb is representative of their daily battle. More than setting a world record and more than raising money, bringing a broad awareness to the disease and how it impacts people and their families is what is most important to me. Opening people’s eyes and hearts to the cause while inspiring them to take action was the main goal and is always one of the main things I hope to accomplish through my events.

Can you talk about a few other challenges/competitions you hope to achieve in your lifetime?
-I plan on doing total of 12 challenges that push the boundaries of human performance and the human soul if there are any boundaries. That’s why I started the ‘Twelve Labors Project’. Like the twelve increasingly difficult labors of Hercules that took him further and further away from his home, I plan to do twelve challenges that take me well away from my comfort zone with the ultimate goal of inspiring people to stand of something greater than themselves, conquer their inner demons and be legendary in their own way. The Rope Climb was my fourth labor.

What kind of focus does it take to reach the athletic level you maintain?
-Anything worth doing is worth over doing. Once I commit to a goal and create a plan to achieve it, I’m all in. Anything or anyone that is a negative distraction or not making me better or helping me progress toward my goal, I cut loose. When I am truly focused on something it becomes a state of being. I become intimately connected with my goal. There is no past or future, only a succession of present moments that are part of a detailed plan of execution that will enable me to achieve my goal with total clarity.

What does a typical training day look like for you?
-I am not a paid athlete so everything I do, from my training to taking on these challenges revolves around my ever-changing work schedule. I’m currently on active duty in the Navy working as an Air Traffic Controller. I am also a personal trainer and mental toughness coach. When I’m training for a challenge, I typically get up at about 4am for various types of types of endurance training. I’ll either go run anywhere from 8-12 miles or swim a couple thousand meters in the pool. I prefer swimming to running but sometimes starting the day off with something I don’t really care for makes the rest of the day seem easier to conquer. This is usually followed by 30-40 minutes of high-rep, full body calisthenics or event specific training (i.e. rope climbs, tire flips, pull-ups). I have to be at work by 6:45am so three hours give me enough time to work out, shower and eat breakfast. After I get off of work, which is usually about 3:00pm, and finish training my clients, I’ll go to the gym and do about two hours of high volume strength training that targets event specific muscle groups and movements followed by another run, usually 3 or 4 miles on the beach. I get home at about 8:30pm; prep my food for the next couple of days, shower then hit the sack by about 10:30pm. The next day I do it all over again. There’s 24 hours in a day

Least favorite workouts?
-The ones I don’t do.

Best workouts?
-Some days I wake up and I’m so sore or in so much pain that I consider just staying in bed and taking a day off. Then, I remember why I put my body through this pain to begin with. There’s people right now out there suffering and would give anything for a fraction of the physical abilities I have and I’m thinking about sleeping in, eating like crap or watching Netflix all day? Thoughts like that usually get me moving regardless of how I physically feel. I usually have my hardest training sessions and the best workouts on those days and my internal dialogue plays big role in that. Those who constantly say and believe that they will succeed are usually the ones who do. I am my biggest adversary and the only person that can keep me from my goals. I believe that God has given everyone a unique gift to discover and share with the world throughout his or her lifetime…I don’t intend on wasting mine away. It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Any dieting advice?
-You have to have structure. Your meals should be planned and you must have a basic understanding of the human body and what each food group does for it. If you don’t plan your meals ahead of time then it becomes easy to give in to junk food or the more convenient meal, which is usually not the healthiest choice. Pulling into McDonald’s becomes the easy way out when you fail to plan. Everything you eat has a positive or negative consequence on your body and your goals. At the end of the day that choice is yours.

What is the best advice you can give someone struggling to find motivation?
-The road to success is lonely at times, but your purpose must remain clear. Whatever it is that you want to do in life, work for it. It has to become a part of your daily life. Until then, it will just remain a desire, or a goal. Since I’ve started doing these challenges, people have come and gone out of my life. I’ve lost friends and relationships. You have to be upfront with your friends/family. Let them know what you are expecting to do and what you need from them. If they don’t understand or support it, so the hell what?!? It is your goal! Do what you have to do to get there. When you do, I promise it will be the best moment in your life. Some of you don’t know where to start when it comes to a better body, better you, better life. You wake up everyday, you look in the mirror, and you say to yourself “I can’t, I’m not good enough, I’ll never get there.” When you have that mindset, you’ve already lost. It starts by winning the battle between your ears. Rome wasn’t built in a day but part of it was. Take the good with the bad and find the value in the small daily victories like hitting a PR or going a full week without eating crap. This is a lifestyle, it’s not for the lazy, it’s for the dedicated. Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Keep it simple, don’t over think the process, and don’t doubt your capabilities. I got to where I am because I was organized, disciplined, and won the battle with myself.

What motivates you most?
-The answer has always been the same and it’s simple: I want to win, I want to improve and I want to inspire others to be great. I’m willing to put in the work to achieve my goals. I am motivated by the people who live each day with various diseases, disabilities or wounds of war. Their will to fight on everyday with a smile on their face despite the cards life has dealt them motivates me on a level deeper than my own desire to just tackle a challenge or break some record. Because of them, my thoughts going into an event isn’t  “I must succeed”, my thoughts are “I cannot fail.” There is a difference.

Can you describe any parallels you take from your experiences with training for the navy that apply to training in your personal life?
-The Navy taught me discipline and structure. Without those two things I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have the discipline to get up at 4am every morning to train and say no to foods that won’t fuel or benefit my purpose. I have the structure in my life that allows me to stay on course and consistent in my plan of action toward my goals.

Worst fitness advice you have ever received?
-Someone once said that lifting weights and working out was a fool’s investment. That person is now a diabetic and suffers from chronic arthritis from chronic arthritis. I don’t know if it’s from the 30 lbs. he’s put on or if it’s purely from the weight of irony on his back.

Any fitness myths you would like to debunk?
-One myth I hear often (more of an excuse) is “I don’t have the genetics for a great body.” Granted there are certain things which will determine how a person looks that can’t be changed like our height and bone structure, but the amount of muscle we gain and the amount of fat we have are to a greater extent controllable factors. Hard work, consistency and discipline in your diet and workout regimen will override genetics any day of the week. It’s not about what you’re born with. Life is about what you do with the cards you’re dealt.

In one interview you discussed the Everest rope challenge as an opportunity to conquer inner demons. How can someone begin to channel any inner demons, insecurities, and fears towards a more productive outlet?
– Fear and insecurity make us human. Embrace it. The greatest battle you will ever encounter in life is with your inner demons. Insecurity, fear, low confidence and self-doubt are delusions at best, yet we often allow them to control our actions. Conquering these demons will turn your dreams and ambitions into reality. Embrace your humanity and use your failures and weaknesses as motivation. Everything that’s ever been accomplished was done by a human. And what are you? That’s right, a human being. You can achieve anything you want so long as you have the determination and the tenacity to get off your butt and do what it takes to accomplish it. It starts with changing your mindset.  At the end of the day your life is up to YOU, understand that anything is possible as long as you want it bad enough.


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