Lessons From An Army Ranger

After 20 Years Training Elite Soldiers, MTNTOUGH Coach, Retired Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel and United States Military Academy Physical Education Instructor, Ara Megerdichian Shares How to Get Off the Couch and Get Ready For Hunting Season


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I know you’re heading into the summer season: those who have kids are about to have them back home full time; vacations are coming; for some the beach may even be coming; and for many of you the ever-present excitement (and pressure) of fall is coming: hunting season!

Here we go – you’re 4 to 6 months out – it’s time to start getting your head into the game!

But I also know a secret… for some of you (possibly for many of you) this season is not so exciting – whether you’re a hunter, a parent, an athlete, or a person that desires reaching for another level – this season has stress attached to it.

Because in a few weeks, ready or not, the game’s on:

  • The races and competitions begin
  • The kids are ready to run
  • The baggy clothes are coming off

And, oh, did I mention – in 6 months, ready or not…hunting season is coming. The question isn’t whether it’s coming – because it is – the question is will you be ready for it? 

Will you be better this year than last year?

Tougher this year than last year? 

Stronger this year than last year?

More Importantly: Will You Slay Your Dragon This Year or Will it Slay You?

So let’s talk about just one dragon you can slay this year: the dragon standing at the starting line.

I taught at West Point for several years and one of the highlights of my time there was going to Army Football games. There’s just an electricity that cannot be described especially when you talk about big games like Army/Navy. I’m not sure that there are a ton of venues that compare to it.

But at that time the Army Football team wasn’t really at it’s prime – like any other team things go up and down and that period was a bit of a down period. But they had a motto – a really cool one – it was called “Find a Way to Win!” Now, for many games, especially the bigger ones, those players would take the field against a bigger and tougher foe:

I’d sit in the stands and think “man, those guys are bigger than our guys, they’re faster than our guys, and boy…there looks like there are more of them than our guys…

But our team would come out on that field and fight – and over time – as the game ground them down you’d hear it in the stands: It would start small but you’d hear it start: “Find a Way to Win!”

And then it would grow, and grow, and grow into an absolute crescendo until it drowned everything else out.

Over and over and over – until that stadium was rocking with the stomping of feet, the clapping of hands – the fans (and there were a lot of us) would be stomping and chanting “Find a Way to Win!”

It was a powerful moment in every game as our team dug in against its formidable foe.  

If you happened to be standing on the field (or even in the stands) I don’t think it’s something you’d easily ever forget.

So, I’d like to challenge you, as you go into this spring and summer season: commit that this year you’re going to “Find a Way to Win.”

The Dragon is Standing on Your Starting Line Telling You Not to Bother.

One of the hardest parts about a journey is not just the starting of it but the restarting of it. I think it’s one of the more challenging aspects of any journey – the point of starting a new chapter or, potentially tougher, restarting an old one.

And that dragon can be a tough one to slay – because while you’re standing on the wrong side of the starting line he’s standing directly on it and reminding you that the finish line is a long way, a tough road, and an impossible journey away.

And he’s going to make you wonder if you really want to start (or restart) this thing after all.

So let me answer that for you…Yes You Do!!!

Let me share a piece of my journey with you: I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have served over 20 years in the US Army as an Infantry Officer in a variety of assignments but that kind of lifestyle does tend to take its toll on you.

When I went to the VA for my exit physical before retirement they handed me some paperwork to fill out but when they saw my branch and the indicator that I was an Airborne Ranger I remember the clerk chuckling and handing me an entirely new (and much larger) ream of paperwork to fill out.

He looked at me and said – “you’re going to need it.”

And he was right – one journey was ending but another was beginning – and part of that journey was going to be dealing with the residual effects of 20 years treating my body like a punching bag.

I’ll save the long story for another time but let me share a snippet of it with you: a few years later the first of many damaged discs in my back blew out – I lost the use of my right foot for a period – lost a good portion of strength in my right leg – and the pain was phenomenal.

The docs thought for sure I was due for a fuse – but it turns out they didn’t need to do it – we opted for a more conservative treatment of cortisone injections into the spine (not pleasant but still…).

I was out for almost 6 months – taking pain killers – and lost 25 pounds. Definitely not the guy I used to be.

Finally, I was functional (sort of) – and could start working out again. This was not my first time crawling back from an injury but I knew this one would be a bit tougher because those discs are always riding the ragged edge of a repeat. And here’s the bottom line:

I could either lay on the couch and say that’s it – or I could get back into the gym and figure out how to, within my ability, prevent that from happening again. And the only way to do that was to strengthen my body and maintain a conditioning that allowed me to function, protect my back, and do what I needed to do without blowing those things out again.

Walking Back Into The Gym is Always Daunting

I was, at that point, in my forties, weaker than I’d ever been, and surrounded by those guys throwing weight around like it was nothing. But…this was the starting line – and for me, just another opportunity to “find a way to win.”

Wouldn’t you know it – I started to crawl out of that one – started feeling better – and a few months later – blam – out went my thyroid.

Holy Cow!!

I was down again – and once again 20 pounds down by the time it was over.

This was definitely getting annoying – what was really frustrating was that the only dogs we had at that time were my wife’s chihuahua’s and my first goal was (and don’t laugh) but my very first goal was to be able to out-walk that stupid chihuahua!!

That’s how bad I was.

“Find a way to win.” Back to the gym – starting all over again.

Now – I’d love to say it ends there – but it doesn’t. I had barely started really crawling out of that one and getting my feet back on solid ground when I was diagnosed with something that required a trip to the Mayo Clinic. Bad enough as it was – but what was worse is they couldn’t get me in for a few months – all I could do was keep crawling forward not even knowing if there was a forward to crawl to (by this time at least I could out-walk that stupid Chihuahua which was at least one goal plunked off the list).

The Mayo Clinic worked out – and I was good but…turns out I needed at least one of my hips replaced and had a decent amount of permanent damage to my leg from all the back injuries.

So… back down again – full hip replacement (at 50 years old) and once again…starting all over.  

I don’t know if it’s getting old for you…but it was definitely getting old for me – this was the third major event in the same number of years and the third restart!

The doctor who did the hip replacement was amazingly good but when you have a body as beat up as mine nothing is ever simple – so the surgery went well but…no such luck with the prognosis for recovery – that not so much and, to make it even better, I jumped back into the gym and three months later blew out my elbow and was right back into surgery again.

I’m two years out of the hip replacement and still dealing with the pain. It’s just part of the process – but it’s also part of the new normal.

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Quitting would be a million times worse!

So here’s the bottom line: I am not special – I’m not even that good to be honest with you – but I do have this in my kit bag: I’ve met that dragon at the starting line many, many times.

He’s big, he’s kind of scary, and he’s very discouraging… but let me tell you one more thing about him: he’s full of hot air and his only purpose is to keep you from stepping across that starting line because he knows something you don’t: he knows if you step across it and start running… your journey is going to be phenomenal.  

But That Journey Has to Start With You. 

It starts in your mind, works its way down to your heart – and then, the big one – it has to work its way down to your feet…and then back up again into a loop so that your feet keep moving.

You may be coming back off a failure, an injury, or just a long time on the couch – no matter – the journey is yours and the dragon, while real, is just air and you’ll have to take that first step… and then the next… and then the next if you’re going to realize it.  

Can it be difficult? Yes – but all great challenges are.

Can it be discouraging? Yes – but anything worthwhile can be.

But you have two real options in front of you:

1) Keep looking back at what you used to do compared to what you currently do – which is not a happy place or...

2) Move forward, which means that pretty soon you’ll be looking back at right now and laughing because of what you’ll be doing then!


Just for the record… I like that second one much better.

I’d like challenge you this season: commit to “Find a Way to Win.”

Find your new normal – work in that new normal – and get moving!

Oh… and one more story for you:

We used to have a tradition in the Ranger Battalion (I don’t know if they still have it or not).

Before a jump – in the final one or two minutes – as the plane was pitch black, flying extremely low level to get to the drop zone, the Rangers are hooked up and weighted down under hundreds of pounds of gear.

Each lost in his own thoughts as he prepares to exit the aircraft at 1200 feet, 135 knots, in the pitch black...

There starts, from the front of the Aircraft (which is behind all of us jumping because we’re going out the back) – a hand on the shoulder and a whisper from the Ranger behind: “have a good jump Ranger.”

And that would pass up from one Ranger to the other all the way to the very first jumper.

See, every Ranger will make that jump on his own – we will face the cold shock of the wind, the fear of the night, the opening of the parachute, and the leap into the absolute unknown alone – each facing our fear – but… that phrase is a reminder that while every one of us will face the jump individually we are not alone – every one of us will face it at the same time…

And if something happens to one of us… the others will be there to carry us.

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Each one of us will walk this journey individually but when you’re a part of MTNTOUGH, always remember: there will be hundreds of others walking that journey with you – ahead of you – and behind you.

That’s why we started MTNTOUGH – so you would know that no matter what – you are not alone.

This season – “Find a Way to Win.”

- Ara Megerdichian