Theodore Roosevelt

Let’s start this History’s Most Manly series off with a man so over-the-top tough, he could make Chuck Norris start hyperventilating into a paper bag at the mere thought of his awesomeness.

We’re talking about a man who got shot in the chest by some jerkweed just before a campaign speech in 1912, and then shook it off like a nerf dart. Shot point-blank and bleeding, Teddy Roosevelt dialed up his testosterone like a steampunk Bane in full-on grow mode, and went up on stage. His opening remarks were,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

(That, my friends, is a level of badassery that boggles the mind—especially in a day and time where a lot of guys would take a week off work if they spilled a soy latte on their lap.)

What’s a bleeding flesh wound to a president who acts as his own Secret Service bodyguard?

Rough riding Teddy then proceeded to give a 90-minute speech, since he wasn’t coughing up his spleen or anything mildly concerning like that. What’s a bleeding flesh wound to a president who acts as his own Secret Service bodyguard?

Then there’s that one time Theodore survived a real pickle in the wilds of South America.

The year was 1914, and Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit were nearing the end of an epic trip to explore the most unexplored and intimidating tributary of the mighty Amazon River. Aptly named Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) before being re-named the Rio Roosevelt, the serpentine waters wound through nearly impenetrable jungle, with impassable rapids and waterfalls.

Lost and running out of supplies, the expedition was in jeopardy, not to mention the lives of the entire party. Just days before, Teddy had slipped and sustained a deep gash on his leg, which had become infected. He did not have the energy to go on.

Portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt seated in garden, looking like he’s about to pummel someone with a big stick, circa 1910s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).

“Leave me and save yourselves!” the great ex-president told the others, as he lay against a fallen log, his face gaunt and pale—I find that level of self-sacrifice pretty damn badass too.

But Kermit was forged of similar steel as his father and refused to let him die in the wilderness. With Kermit half carrying his father, the intrepid pair limped their way back to civilization.

Not that Kermit, smartass.

After Teddy and Kermit returned to the U.S., skeptics raised doubts about the River of Doubt story. Teddy rebutted his critics in a public forum sponsored by the National Geographic Society, basically telling them to “pound sand, mofos.” In 1927 American explorer George Miller Dyott led a second trip down the river, independently confirming Roosevelt’s discoveries. Teddy had been dead for seven years by then, but he busted out of his coffin and dug through six feet of compacted clay soil with his mustache just to say, “I freakin’ told you so!” according to a legend I just made up.

To read the compelling full story, you can read T.R.s account of the expedition, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, or the excellent River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Miller.

These are just two of the stories about a man so magnificent, it could make your head explode just thinking about him. He single-handedly dug the Panama Canal with a plastic spork, created our national park system in his sleep, broke up huge monopolies run by Capone-like gangsters, and hunted the Sasquatch to near extinction. (The current occupant of the White House can’t even conquer a set of stairs or master a bicycle.)

If you’ve girded up your loins and decided to depart from the “cold and timid” life that makes you invisible to women, you’ll get up and make your voice heard, even if you have to take a hit to do it. No risk, no bullets flying, no impact.

“Which way to the weight room?”

It’s time to stop retreating from life’s challenges. Once you resolve to get into the arena, don’t be afraid to be “marred by dust and sweat and blood.” If you know what you want, go after it like a bull moose, knowing that “it is not the critic who counts.” It is the intrepid who make the history books and ultimately succeed.

After the speech, doctors discovered that the bullet had lodged three inches into one of Teddy’s Lou-Ferrigno-sized pectoral muscles. He carried the bullet in his body for the rest of his life.

No big deal.

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