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Podcast No. 61: Retired Green Beret Kevin Flike

February 19, 2020

On this week’s episode, I sit down with retired Green Beret Kevin Flike.

By Will Ahmed

Listen, review, subscribe.

Kevin is a truly inspiring person. He was badly wounded while serving in Afghanistan and endured a long and tumultuous road to recovery.

Along the way, Kevin battled unimaginable pain, underwent experimental surgeries, became addicted to painkillers, struggled with the loss of friends who were killed in action, and dealt with survivor’s guilt.

But Kevin overcame tremendous adversity and now holds dual masters degrees from Harvard and MIT. On top of it all, he is preparing to run his first Boston Marathon, an incredible accomplishment after the serious injuries to his hip and leg. He’s using WHOOP to train and we’re proud to be helping him on his journey.

Kevin has made it his mission to share his story to help others. We’re honored to bring that story to you.

Kevin Flike Podcast Show Notes:

2:11 – Why Kevin Joined The Army. “Wanting to serve other people was always instilled in myself and my brothers.”

3:25 – Joining the Army After 9/11. “ 9/11 [happened] in my senior year of high school, and it went from this fascination [with the Army and special operations] to ‘This is an obligation.”

5:20 – Becoming a Beret. “I wanted to be a Green Beret. I wanted a shot at this. When people are like ‘Hey, 10 or 15 percent of people make it through it,’ I’m like, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll be apart of that.”

6:20 – Learning Languages. “Languages are a huge component of the Green Berets. You have to build this rapport. It’s like the Peace Corps with guns. It’s not just about the tactics and the missions, it’s building wells and building rapport with the local community.”

8:39 – Working with Afghan Commandos. “It wasn’t just this professional relationship. I cared about who they were, I cared about their culture, I cared about their religion.”

10:52 – Escalating Warfare. “Things had really heated up [by the time we went back to Afghanistan for our second deployment.] People had a pretty good idea that there were some bad actors [in Northern Afghanistan] that needed to get taken care of.”

11:22 – Sleep Deprivation on Deployment. “I probably slept maybe 4 hours a night for 7 months…I felt the effects of it big time. After 3, 4, 5 months of it, I said ‘I’m going to have a nervous breakdown here.”

16:36 – The Day That Changed Kevin’s Life. Kevin details the 11-hour fight with the Taliban that left him wounded and near death. He was shot in the stomach and suffered fractured hip, a damaged femoral nerve, lost 20% of his colon, and was paralyzed temporarily on his left side.

17:35 – Immense Pain. “It felt like I was hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer…the pain that I felt that day was like nothing that I’ve ever experienced in my life.

19:25 – A Matter of Inches. “The bullet was about an inch or two below the body armor. An inch or two up? It hits the plates, it’s all good, maybe some bruised ribs. But I also think about it this way…an inch up and it hits your body armor but an inch over and it hits your femoral artery and you bleed out on the spot. Life is this game of inches.”

19:59 – Training and Preparing for the Worst. “In this moment, when my life was in the balance, I reverted back to what I knew…I got on the radio, I called my teammates, I let them know that I was wounded, that I had been shot.”

20:56 – The Gravity of the Situation. “There’s nothing you can do here,” Kevin recalls thinking. “So I’m just laying out in the open, pain just pulsating through my body. Minutes felt like years. I got back on the radio again and called the team and said ‘you guys gotta get to me.”

21:25 – Being Rescued by an Afghan Commando. “There’s this guy that I’d been working with for almost 2 years at this point, runs out into the open, takes me by my body armor and drags me behind a building…When I needed somebody the most that guy was there for me.”

23:41 – “I could hear guys coming up to my medic and saying ‘Hey, is Kevin going to make it or not?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, it looks pretty bad.”

24:25 – Faith in his Teammates. “Once that guy got to me and I knew people had me, I had great faith in my teammates and the commandos that we were working with.”

26:24 – Arrival at the Surgery Tent. “The surgeon was asking me questions and he said ‘Hey, do you have any questions for me?’ I said, ‘Am I going to live?’ He said ‘I don’t know, it looks pretty bad. Hang in there.”

26:36 – A Reminder. “I asked to save the bullet, which I actually have at home. It’s a great reminder if you’re having a bad day, take a look at that.”

26:50 – Preparing for the End. “I was pretty certain I was going to die. I said I’m going to need a Catholic priest to give me my last rites. I’ll never forget that mask coming down on my face and asking God for forgiveness for my sins and saying goodbye to this world.”

27:25 – Kevin recalls a previous near-death experience on his first deployment to Afghanistan when he was trapped while fighting the Taliban. “Wow, you’re going to die today. The heat’s going to get you, or the bullets, you can’t keep being so lucky. I had a conversation with myself at 26 that most people don’t have until they’re 80 or 90. I started asking myself questions about my life. What kind of man are you? Did you live your life the way you wanted to live your life with a zest and a zeal. Did you love your family? Did you love God? Did you take advantage of your opportunities? I ultimately came to the conclusion that I hadn’t because you always think you have the next time, and today is it for you, you woke up for the last time today…I’ve never felt so terrible in my life.”

30:09 – Living Without Regret. “When it’s your time, you want to feel at peace. Take it from me, if you’re that 26 year old Kevin trapped on the mountaintop questioning his life, and you don’t like the answers you get back, that will be the worst moment of your life.”

31:15 – Thankfulness. “Gratitude, for me, what I’ve come to realize is that is an everyday thing for me. I start out every day [by writing] in my journal what I’m thankful for.”

34:34 – Coming to Grips. “It was also hard for me because I felt this way about how happy I was that I never had to go back to Afghanistan again…but my team was still there. I felt bad that now I’m in the safety of the States and my team is still back there for another 4 months.

35:58 – Determination. “I was telling people I was going to run a marathon in a year. And people were like ‘You’re going to be lucky to walk in a year.”

36:30 – The Leg That Wouldn’t Heal. “After a while my stomach healed and my hip healed but my leg had atrophy to the point where it was the size of my left arm because of all the nerve damage.”

36:40 – Going to the Mayo Clinic. “They had been working on an experimental surgery that they thought that I could benefit from. They made it really clear though: this is experimental, we don’t know if it’s going to work. For a nerve to regrow it can take years.”

37:13 – Losing a Friend. “My teammate, Sgt. First Class Ben Wise, was killed in action just two weeks before the team was supposed to come home. You can imagine receiving both pieces of news, you’re going to have to get a huge surgery again and one of your best friends just got killed. In my mind, I’m like, ‘You weren’t there to help him and that’s what happened.’ All that news at once was crushing.”

41:29 – Recovering from the Injuries. “I had to basically re-learn how to walk…for a long time I had to think about every step that I took…I think that act of literally having to pick myself up off the ground paid a lot of dividends in terms of humility and the future for me.”

42:33 – Sharing His Story. “I think an experience is worth nothing unless you share it. This is my purpose on earth.”

42:38 – Painkiller Addiction. “My company had 3 guys killed on the deployment, a fourth guy killed himself when we got home…it’s like, ‘Wow, why are you alive? Why didn’t you die? What is your purpose here? Why is this all happening to you? Why didn’t you just die because you’re in some pain and you’re suffering right now. I think all of that together, and also the fact that I was in quite a bit of pain, really developed this reliance to deal with the gravity of the situation on the pain meds.”

45:31 – How Kevin’s Wife Helped Him Overcome Addiction. “She’s the glue that held this thing together. When you’re going through hard times you need to surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to tell you what you need to be doing, and she wasn’t. She sat me down and said ‘Is this it man? Is this what you’re going to do with the rest of your life?’ I came back with everything: pain, veteran, wounded, Purple Heart, all this other stuff that she didn’t care about. She said ‘I thought you had goals, man? I thought you had things you wanted to achieve in your life?’ And then this really stung…’You think this is a way to honor Ben and your fallen comrades?’ I was mad. We’ve been together since we were 18, married at 23, and it was the angriest I’ve ever been with her. But I was angry because she was right. I drew a line in the sand and stopped taking pain meds one day and started studying for grad school the next day.”

47:07 – Kevin’s 3 Steps to Recovery. “Ask for help, receive help, and give help.”

49:33 – Getting Back Into Shape. “It was the Christmas of 2016 that I had this massive wakeup call. It’s Christmas morning, the kids are there opening their presents, and I had to lay on the ground and watch them do this because my back hurt so bad…I realized at that point that ‘You have to put your physical fitness back at the top, it’s got to be your number 1 priority. It’s not because you’re selfish, but it’s because you love these people. If you don’t do this, you’re going to be nothing to nobody.”

50:39 – Finding and Using WHOOP. “I just want to understand more about what’s going on in my body…I want to be able to know how much I’m sleeping. I want to be able to know if it’s a good day to work out. I’m all about optimizing my performance.”

52:04 – Training for the Boston Marathon. “I made that promise to myself in Germany in the intensive care unit that I was going to run a marathon…it’s 3,130 days later and I’m actually going to be able to go out and do it. I’m excited.”

53:00 – Using WHOOP to Train. “Numbers don’t lie. So the numbers in my face that tell me that I slept for 4 hours and 22 minutes last night, ‘Okay, that’s not going to cut it. What are we going to do to cut that out?’ I can measure everything now.”

55:45 – Kevin’s Mission. “I’m trying to optimize my performance for life. I have this mission to go out there to take the lessons that I’ve learned from these incredibly dark periods of time and give them to people. I can’t have bad days. Because what if I meet somebody and have to have this opportunity to talk to them and list their spirits? I have two small children, a 6 and a 3-year-old, and they need me every single day. My wife, who is remarkable, she’s getting her PhD right now. I want to optimize for life so I can be the best version of myself just to give to everybody.”

58:32 – Time Management. “I have so much I want to achieve in my life. You can’t buy more time…but I came to realize that you can make more of your time, but you have to manage it.”

1:00:14 – Passing Lessons On. “If you walked up to my 6 and 3-year-old right now and say ‘What do Flikes do?’ They would say they don’t give up and they help people. I think that’s the family affirmation that we have. I really want to install that never-quit attitude and service. Always put people above yourself in your life.”

Connect with Kevin:
Instagram and Twitter: @woundedbywar
Facebook: Wounded By War
LinkedIn: Kevin Flike

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.