David Goggins, the remarkable Navy SEAL who conquered the Ultraman Triathlon, the Badwater 135 ultra endurance run, Ironman Hawaii and more than fourteen 100 mile-plus runs to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, is apparently human after all.
Goggins, who trimmed from a 290-pound power lifter to a sleek and powerful 195-pounds while taking on some of the world’s toughest endurance challenges – all the while participating in multiple military missions in the Middle East, revealed yesterday that he had surgery May 14 to repair a potentially fatal heart defect.
According to a release posted on his blog and authored by his family, Goggins underwent surgery May 14 for a congenital heart condition known as ASD -- atrial septum defect. “To explain it briefly, this means he has a hole in his heart,” noted the release. “He has had it since birth and no one was able to detect it on routine checkups. It is very dangerous in scuba diving, high altitude and extreme athletics, and can cause the person to go into heart failure without warning.”
The family release said the operation was successful: “They were able to repair the hole and he is now in the process of recovering. It will be a long six months back road back to his normal self. But trust me when we say he will be back to his normal self.”
Goggins’ ‘normal’ self is anything but. In 2001, he graduated from Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL (BUD/S) training. In 2004, Goggins graduated from Army Ranger School with the distinction of enlisted "Top Honor Man." His life as a SEAL included multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. In November 2005, Goggins received the tragic news of a helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed six of his fellow SEALs. In response, Goggins began to participate in extreme ultra endurance events and has thus far raised over $200,000 for the families of his fallen comrades. In his quest, Goggins has completed in fourteen 100-plus-mile races. His first complete triathlon was the Ultraman World Championships in 2006 where he finished second overall, just 10 minutes back of winner Jeff Landauer. In 2007, in his second attempt at the blazing hot Badwater 135-mile running race, Goggins finished third overall in 25:49:40.
In reference to Goggins’ oft-quoted trademark comment on his ultra endurance proclivities – “I hate to run. I only do it to raise money for the families of my fellow my fellow Special Forces soldiers who have died in combat” –the release stated: “Now we know why he hates what he does so much. He really is suffering out there.”
The release added that Goggins’ mind-boggling endurance exploits were actually tougher than they seemed. “For 34 years, David has been working with about ¾ of his heart. The right side of his heart was receiving too much oxygenated blood and the blood wasn’t going to the rest of his body as it should.”
According to the Medical Encyclopedia on Medline Plus, ASD is a congenital heart defect in which the wall that separates the atria (upper heart chambers) does not close completely. The Medical Encyclopedia states: “In fetal circulation, there is normally an opening between the two atria (the upper chambers of the heart) to allow blood to bypass the lungs. This opening usually closes around the time the baby is born. If the ASD persists, blood continues to flow from the left to the right atria. This is called a shunt. If too much blood moves to the right side of the heart, pressures in the lungs build up. Many problems can occur if the shunt is large. ASD is uncommon and symptoms may be absent or may begin any time after birth. Individuals with ASD are at an increased risk for developing atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and stroke. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, palpitations in adults and shortness of breath with activity.”
As if the endurance sports community needed any other reminders that even the strongest among us have a fragile grip on life, Goggins’ news comes in the tragic aftermath of the heart attack death of cycling and triathlon superstar Steve Larsen at age 39.
By all accounts, Goggins, as was Larsen, is an incredibly gifted athlete whose strength, speed and endurance mark him as an exceptional physical specimen. Both men shared a devotion to their families and a generosity to others. Goggins is lucky that his heart defect was diagnosed, is apparently treatable, and leaves open the possibility that he may be capable of even more amazing athletic feats.
But just perhaps Goggins may rethink a military motto that he has featured prominently on his website and blogs. “Show no weakness.”
With all he’s accomplished overcoming pain and a dangerous genetic weakness in service to his country and his fellow soldiers, perhaps David Goggins can now let his obvious strengths speak for themselves and no longer bother to hide his human flaws.