One badly executed jump ended Mike McCastle's hope of becoming a Navy SEAL—he blew out both his knees while in training—but it launched something else just as physical, and much more jaw-dropping. In a lengthy story for Outside, Julian Smith writes that the injury robbed McCastle of his sense of self and led to a 30-pound weight gain and increased drinking. "I felt like nobody." Extreme physical activity had long energized him, so he decided, in 2013, to run a 50K around Lake Union in Seattle while wearing a 40-pound vest, in a nod to the weight children fighting cancer must carry. It became the first of his "Labors," an idea modeled off the story of Hercules, who was himself given 12 impossible-seeming feats.
Impossible-seeming applies to McCastle's list. Next up was trying to break the record for most pull-ups in 24 hours, which stood at 4,030. His July 2014 fell far short: He got to 3,202 and ended up hospitalized for four days. As Smith writes, "During rest breaks, he watched his urine turn as dark as barrel-aged whiskey. His body was breaking down his damaged muscle tissue and flushing it out through his circulatory system, a condition called rhabdomyolysis that can lead to kidney failure and death." He felt like a failure once more, until a teen hospital patient came into his room to tell him how inspired he was by the attempt. "I saw that even in failure, I could still impact people in a positive way," says McCastle. "It was an epiphany." In January 2021 he finished Labor No. 8, and those completed are wild: In 2015 he climbed up (and down, over and over) a rope 29,029 feet in 27 hours; that's the height of Everest. (Read the full story.)