BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – After his appearance on the Today Show in New York City and the unveiling of his photo on the cover of Men’s Health on Tuesday, fitness trainer Noah Galloway arrived back in Birmingham by Thursday and was working out with his girlfriend at the Alabaster YMCA.
Life won’t be the same again for Galloway, who this week became a media superstar. It’s a lot better than that other transformative event, on Dec. 19, 2005, in Iraq, when the Humvee he was driving hit a trip wire that ignited two 155-mm artillery shells hidden by the roadside. That day, Galloway lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee. “The roadside bomb was big enough to send our 10,000-pound Humvee flying through the air,” he told Men’s Health. “We landed wheels down in a canal.”
Galloway had dropped out of UAB after watching the Twin Towers fall on Sept. 11, 2001. He joined the Army and arrived in Iraq in 2003 as a member of the 101stAirbornee Division’s 502nd Infantry Brigade.
“I enjoyed every bit of it,” he said. “I spent a year in Iraq living with the locals, on patrol all the time. I was like, ‘This is it. I want to do this the rest of my life.'”
He was on his second tour of duty when the explosion happened. He woke up on Christmas Day 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, missing two limbs and his jaw wired shut.
For the next several years, he was in a depression reminiscent of Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.”
“I’d sit at home and drink and smoke and sleep,” he said. “That’s all I did.”
A fitness nut since he was 13, he let himself go. In 2010, he looked in the mirror and decided to change. He was self-conscious about going to the gym, but he went anyway, at odd hours.
“I was embarrassed to go in there,” he said. “I joined the 24-hour gym and went at two in the morning, when no one was there. I was starting from scratch.”
He had to specially rig some of the machines to adapt to his missing limbs. “Little surprises kept me going,” he said. “A little better this day, a little stronger the next. Suddenly it was six months. I was like, ‘Man, this is pretty good.'”
As he gained confidence, Galloway went to the gym during normal hours. He began entering competitions: an obstacle 5K, three CrossFit events, three marathons, eight Tough Mudders, and numerous Spartan races, including the 58-hour Death Race.
“I looked back, and my depression terrified me,” Galloway said. “I never wanted to experience that again. That’s why I got into races. What kept me moving was never going back to where I came from. I wanted people to see more than my injury.”
The active lifestyle buoys his optimism and staves off regret.
“Yeah, there are down days,” he says. “I don’t dwell on it, because that makes it worse. I don’t try to cover it up, because that’s something I did when I was depressed. I’ve learned that this too shall pass. A couple of days later I’ll be like, ‘Whooo, yeah, I really felt bad a couple of days ago. Now I’m good!'”
Galloway, 33, went through a divorce during his down period. He has three children, two boys and a girl, and in a video done by Men’s Health he talked about how his sons don’t seem to notice or mention his disability, but his daughter is constantly asking how he lost his arm, how he lost his leg. “Fighting the bad guys,” he explained.
Galloway beat out about 1,300 applicants and two other finalists to land on the November cover of Men’s Health in its first-ever search for the Ultimate Men’s Health Guy, who is “physically fit, confident, stylish, career-driven and a pillar of his community,” according to the magazine.
“A title like ‘Ultimate Men’s Health Guy’ almost makes it sound like, ‘Hey, this is the ultimate guy.’ To me, they’re putting a reader on the cover, so it’s more of the average man. He’s not going to be bigger than life. Men’s Health sees that man as relatable.” He grins. “To feel like I’m relatable to all the readers–that’s some big compliment.”
Galloway has been in demand as a speaker for several years and has helped raise funds for a number of veterans’ organizations. He said he’s especially proud to be able to start his own charity, the No Excuses Charitable Fund, which works with the YMCA of Greater Birmingham to help reducing childhood obesity by supporting after-school fitness programs and youth sports leagues.
by: Greg Garrison