‘The Fittest 66-Year-Old on the Planet’

He got a rocky start in life, but this 12-time Ironman triathlete has left that behind as he aims for the nearly impossible

by Elizabeth M. Economou | Updated 18 Dec 2017 at 2:27 PM

He’ll run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days — and make a little history, too.

In his mid-60s, Robert Hamilton Owens — a 12-time Ironman triathlete — is really just getting started. The Los Angeles-based Owens is set next month to compete in the 2018 World Marathon Challenge — designating himself, in all likelihood, as the fittest 66-year-old on the planet and an undisputed force of nature.

Superhuman challenges are nothing new for this individual, however. As an Air Force pararescueman, Owens routinely risked his life to save climbers stranded on Denali, the highest mountain in North America. He also helped smuggle literature in and out of the former Soviet Union after he left the military.

To be sure, courage and bravery form his DNA.

Owens, who is married, has been motivating audiences as large as 50,000 from San Diego to Moscow on leadership topics for a quarter of a century. Clients include the Navy SEALs, the New York Jets, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Philadelphia Eagles, among other groups. He’s also served for eight years on the Nevada State Judicial Ethics Committee.

To date, Owens has been many different things: a TV personality, a keynote speaker, a minister, a philanthropist, and the father of five children — not bad for someone who got a rocky start in life.

Raised in Orange County, California, without ever having met his biological parents, he was adopted at three months old by a California judge and his wife. He was raised as a special-needs child who was unable to play kickball with classmates due to the corrective shoes he had to wear throughout the sixth grade.

As he told LifeZette with refreshing honesty, “My dad [the judge who adopted him] had a wife. Two of us — myself and a sister — were adopted. Mom couldn’t have kids. We were in the Children’s Home Society, a national nonprofit. I had bent legs. Had to straighten my knock-kneed legs with corrective boots. I had really flat feet that turned in, so my knees hit each other.”

Adversity early on helped shape the person Owens is today.

There is no doubt that adversity early on helped shape the person Owens is today. And despite all of his physical accomplishments, he identifies more as a big-hearted and no-nonsense mentor who believes in paying it forward, than someone who, come January 2018, will run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.

LifeZette recently interviewed Owens by email for a look at what keeps him motivated and inspired, with takeaways here for all of us.

Question: Why do you continue to challenge yourself in superhuman ways?
Answer: I want to try to stay relevant and in the game as a senior adult and a senior athlete. I enjoy the challenge of doing things that people say I shouldn’t be able to do at my age. It’s a challenge that excites me — and it gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Related: She’s No Stranger to Helping Others — Even a Rival

Q: What do you wish people would say about you that hasn’t been said already?
A: I wish more people would talk about my efforts with helping kids and single moms, and those who are less fortunate. I like to raise money, coach, and mentor — and help people with no hope to find hope.

Q: Along those lines, what would you like people to know about you that they don’t already know?
A: I really don’t like to run or swim, or do most of these things I do. I do them because there’s an end goal. I’m a Type A. I enjoy having a purpose that has an end result that’s tangible. If I can raise money, or speak to kids in high school, or at hospitals or Special Ops students and hear them say, “That changed my life” — I will do it. There were people like that in my life. I was a train wreck until people invested in me and said something that rocked my world, and got me to wake up and stop being a punk.

The first of those who invested in me were my water polo coaches. Also — an eighth-grade teacher who took me under his wing. He said if I got good grades he’d take me skiing with his family, so I got really good grades and went skiing. My staff sergeant in the military overseeing my indoctrination training for Special Ops also helped me — he took a bunch of us under his wing, said you’re all a bunch of “screw-ups” who needed to get it together. So we all got it together. 

Related: At John Deere, Factory Workers Welcome a Brave Young Employee

Q: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date?
A: Raising five kids and mentoring young people.

Q: What would you say to those who have difficulty overcoming self-doubt?
A: We all have it — and you will tend to be like the people you spend time with. There are those who live with self-doubt and surround themselves with self-doubters — and there are those who have self-doubt, but attach themselves to people who have overcome adversity. They choose to tackle things and overcome them.

If you hang around people who don’t believe, are afraid, and filled with self-doubt, you will be full of fear, doubts and unbelief. If you hang around people with faith, hope and love, you will learn how to have faith, hope, and love.

Q: Are you a religious man?
A: I would say I’m spiritual rather than religious. I have changed, obviously, from when I was in my 20s. I was a full-blown heathen — in jail, drunk, and I crashed three cars, which burned in flames. I was a kid out of control. And I asked Jesus to come into my heart at 20, believing that He couldn’t do it. It was a bit of a dare. But He did. These days, my goal is to do something nice for someone. So every day I get up and wonder who I am going to surprise by being nice to them when they don’t expect it, whether it’s opening a door or paying for someone’s meal unexpectedly, such as a single mother and her children at a restaurant.

Question: Why is mentoring others so important to you?
Answer: The best thing I ever did was attach myself to mentors. I want to pay back what was done for me. That’s why people come to me and want to pick my brain. My thoughts are not my own; they were handed down to me by role models—the men who mentored me. In high school, it was my water polo coaches. T.J. Bruce, my sergeant in pararescue training; adventurer John Goddard; Albee Pearson, my first pastor; New York Times best-selling author John Maxwell; and others were also mentors throughout my life.

“The best thing I ever did was attach myself to mentors. I want to pay back what was done for me.”

Q: What lessons did you learn from being a special-needs child?
A: That rejection is a terrible thing. Rejection breeds poor self-worth. And rejection and poor self-worth rob a kid of confidence. All the other kids were doing well in certain areas, but I was always the “last kid selected.” This rejection can set patterns. And it snowballs. I had to find others ways to gain my identity besides being a “good kid.” I had to look for other ways of living and surviving.

Q: Today, what motivates you to continue to help others?
A: Nobody should face rejection and feel hopeless.

Q: What are you most proud of?
A: What I am happiest about are the people who call me up and say, “You changed my life.” You can measure a person’s worth by his or her funeral. A good funeral will last a long time because there are so many people who want to stand up and say, “Let me tell you about this person and what they did for me in my life.”

Related: What My Hospital Roommates Taught Me About God

Question: How has adversity positively affected your life?
Answer: Adversity never positively does anything. It gives you an opportunity to choose to run into the wind and face it, or to choose to run away from it. Adversity is neutral; it’s what you do with it.

Question: What would you say to college students and others who are embracing a culture of victimhood?
Answer: It will rob you of your life. 

Elizabeth M. Economou is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington. More information about Robert Hamilton Owens can be found here

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Rick Krusky and Robert Hamilton Owens)

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