From SETBACK to COMEBACK Through Adventure Racing with Robyn Benincasa of Project Athena – EP83

 In Podcast

If you’re enduring a difficult time, either physically or emotionally, you are likely focused on the obstacles that lie ahead. Whatever you may be recovering from, be it cancer, major surgery, the loss of a child, or any number of other challenges, moving forward may seem insurmountable. But what if you had something awesome on your calendar—like an ultra-adventure race—that would inspire you to train every day, even on your worst days? Something that would shift your focus away from the SETBACK and make your life all about the COMEBACK?




Robyn Benincasa is a World Champion Adventure Racer, sought-after motivational speaker, three-time Guinness World Record kayaker, San Diego firefighter and ten-time Ironman triathlete. Robyn is also the founder and CEO of The Project Athena Foundation, a nonprofit set up to help survivors live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery. Her book, How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth, is a New York Times bestseller.

Today, Robyn shares her background as an athlete and the medical setback that threatened her ability to race. She explains how her own experience and that of a close friend and breast cancer survivor inspired the idea for Project Athena and describes some of the inspiring survivors who’ve won grants from the foundation. Robyn offers insight around winning as a team player and the differences between being a soloist and a teammate. Listen in to understand the challenges of staying healthy as an ultra-endurance athlete and learn how pushing yourself to ‘dare mighty things’ builds a foundation of confidence!

Topics Covered

[0:49] The teamwork of firefighting

  • All bring different skills, value
  • Think differently to solve problems
[2:57] How Robyn got into fitness

  • Always done sports (e.g.: gymnastics, track)
  • Competing since age 8
[3:43] Robyn’s medical setback

  • End-stage osteoarthritis in both hips
  • Multiple hip replacements
[5:42] Robyn’s recovery from hip surgeries

  • Waited year after revised surgery
  • Hip flexor issues on left leg
[9:18] The impetus for Project Athena

  • Friend and cancer survivor Louise Cooper
  • Train to climb 7 summits (even on bad days)
  • Live adventure dream as part of recovery
  • Grant includes training, transport and gear
[13:05] Examples of inspiring Athena adventurers

  • 3 blind people complete walking marathon
  • Parents lost daughters to HLH
  • Above-the-knee amputee kayak/bike ride
  • Breast cancer survivor, ‘not seen as frail’
[17:05] Robyn’s advice around winning

  • Leave ego at start line
  • ‘Winning is that way’
  • Focus on what YOU control
[21:36] The wisdom in Robyn’s favorite African proverb

  • Go fast alone, go far together
  • Capitalize on each other’s strengths
  • Give weight to those able to handle in moment
[26:08] How Robyn transitions from soloist to team player

  • Resistant to team play, angry if strongest/weakest
  • Learned how to be teammate, accept help
  • No finger pointing or blame
[28:41] Robyn’s insight on getting better at teamwork

  • Desire to win must overcome ego
  • Surround with experts to reach highest level
[31:45] The health aspect of adventure racing

  • Can be healthy when NOT racing
  • Sugar, salt, fat and caffeine during race
  • 5 hours of sleep every 24 if want to win
[36:05] How Robyn recovers from an adventure race

  • Could do better at nutrition and stretching
  • Probably not enough sleep with travel, fire station
[37:53] The benefit of big athletic goals and adventures

  • Confidence of knowing capabilities
  • Affords perspective in daily life
  • ‘Better to dare mighty things’

Learn More About Robyn Benincasa

Robyn’s Website

Project Athena


How Winning Works: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth by Robyn Benincasa

‘Xtreme Teams’ in Fast Company

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment