ep. 26 - Robyn Benincasa: NYT Best-Selling Author & World Champion Adventure Racer


Robyn Benincasa is the founder of World Class Teams, a world champion adventure racer, a CNN Hero, former corporate sales expert and a full time firefighter who advises organizations on building World Class Teams of their own. One of the highest rated female speakers who regularly shares the stage with world leaders and business icons, her customers include many Fortune companies like Starbucks, Deloitte, Aflac, Fast Company, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, ARAMARK, Siemens, 3M, Coldwell Banker, Ameriprise, Microsoft, AT&T. With a background in marketing, she was previously in corporate sales with Baxter and Allergan and is currently a full-time firefighter. World Champion Eco-Challenge Adventure Racer, CNN Hero, Founder of the Project Athena Foundation (Survivors to Athletes!), 3x Guinness World Record Distance Paddler and proud owner of 2 metal ‘bionic hips’, Robyn definitely knows a thing or two about creating Human Synergy – “that magic that allows groups of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things together.” Her New York Times best-selling book How Winning Works, published by Harlequin has been reviewed as “an excellent resource for all business owners on approaching challenges with a team mentality.”

For the last 20 years, she and her teammates have been competing at the front of the pack in the most unique and compelling classrooms on earth – the jungles of Borneo, the Himalayan peaks of Tibet, the rivers of Fiji, the rainforests of Ecuador and the desert of Namibia – studying the good, the bad, and the not-so-pretty in extreme teamwork and mastering the skills required to inspire a group of semi-exhausted people through a seemingly endless series of checkpoints, in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal, working against crazy deadlines, in constantly changing conditions and all in pursuit of a huge hairy audacious goal. 

It is through these harrowing, life affirming and often hilarious experiences in the world’s most grueling challenges that she has emerged with her refreshing and truly unique perspective on what it takes to build the kind of World Class Teams that succeed against all odds, that triumph in the face of adversity and that win as one in times of great challenge and change. Whether you’re trying to beat the competition to market, scale a looming mountain of a project or simply get your team all marching in the same direction, Robyn’s 8 Essential Elements of Human Synergy will coach you to the finish line of success.


ep. 26 - Robyn Benincasa: NYT Best-Selling Author & World Champion Adventure Racer

Kyle Davis: Are we …

Gail Davis: I can see this.

Kyle Davis: Ready? Uh-hmm (affirmative).

Gail Davis: Robyn Benincasa is a world champion adventure racer, a San Diego City firefighter, a New York Times bestselling author and a CNN hero. She definitely knows a [00:01:30] thing or two about building world class teams that succeed against the toughest of odds. She and her teammates have a resume a mile long and with all of their accomplishments. I could go on and on about her but let’s welcome her to today’s edition of GDA Podcast and we’ll let her share her story live. Welcome Robyn!

Kyle Davis: Hey Robyn!

Robyn Benincasa: Wohoo! Hey guys! That was very nice Gail. Well done!

Gail Davis: Well thank you. It’s been my pleasure to be in your audience on many occasions. I just think [00:02:00] everything you do is so fascinating. I was thinking, “Where do we start?” I think one thing that’s really interesting, that stands out is not just that you’re a firefighter which is pretty cool but I believe that you are on the nation’s first all-female crew. I’m just thinking our listeners might find that really interesting to learn more about that.

Robyn Benincasa: That kind of happened by accident. Most of [00:02:30] my life I’m realizing happened by accident. That happened because we had a bid system in the city of San Diego. People bid into a station when there’s an open spot. At our fire station we ended up having two girls. Then we ended up having three girls and then once you have three girls, there’s no guy that’s going to bid in there. We ended up having four girls. It really wasn’t a big deal to us. We weren’t even really thinking about it until I [00:03:00] had been going to Primal Quest that year. They were looking for some interesting stories.

Primal Quest is a big adventure race. They said, “We’re just going to pitch around the fact that you’re on an all-female fire crew.” I was like, “Oh okay. Yeah sure.” Eventually it got into the hands of the New York Times and the Today Show. We had our little six minutes. We did not have 15 minutes, we had six minutes of fame. It’s about to happen again actually. I’m at another [00:03:30] crew now and we have three girls and we think we’re about to get a female captain. It just happens. It’s a cyclical thing but it’s pretty fun.

Gail Davis: That’s really cool. Overall, what percentage of firefighters are female? It’s certainly not a profession that you think of that something that women do.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah. In general San Diego was the first in the pool with having a lot of women. I’d say about 15% of our [00:04:00] thousand-ish firefighters are women and that’s coming up across the country but it’s also a job that not a ton of women are really drawn to or grow up thinking. You know “I want to be a fire girl.” They end up going to colleges and finding some of the athletes and people that already into being physical and that’s how they do some of their recruiting, but it really is the best job in the world. I wouldn’t do anything else.

Kyle Davis: [00:04:30] I think I have a friend of mine who is a female. I think she was actually a San Diego firefighter. I have to confirm. We can talk about it off air. She’s awesome.

Robyn Benincasa: It’s a hoot. It’s an awesome job. People have stopped my … not me because I’m biggish but my engineer was about 5’7”and only about 125, 130 so little for a firefighter. She used to get stopped all the time. [00:05:00] People would say things like, “Can you actually drag a body out of a burning building blah, blah.” Interestingly enough she was actually one of the only people on the job who had ever done that.

On top of it there’s just different things that different sizes of people and different backgrounds and experience and that you’re able to bring to the table for example. There are all kinds of instances where a big guy wasn’t getting through a crack in the door which is all that we could get open when there was somebody big [00:05:30] leaning on the other side of it who had fallen down or we were able to put her through little tiny bathroom windows to go and rescue people or go open up the front door if there was a little bathroom window open.

There’s just all kinds of instances where it’s not about brute strength, it’s about capitalizing on what everybody brings to the table. This is a lot of what I talk about in my presentations too although not necessarily from the firefighting side. This theme replays itself throughout a lot of things that I’m [00:06:00] involved in.

Kyle Davis: If we circle back, how do we get to where you’re at now? What was the moment you said, “Hey I think I’m going to do adventure racing. I’m going to go distances. They’re just ridiculous. They’re ridiculous terrain or I’m going to become a firefighter.” What was the moment if you will? What was the series of moments? Was it a cascade?

Robyn Benincasa: It was a series of general accidents and mishaps. No. [00:06:30] when I was a little I was a gymnast. So I was really inspired by my coach. His name was Stormy Eaton. He was always into iron man and running distances aside from being our coach. He was just our hero. We all grew up watching Stormy do a lot of this stuff and then he challenged us to do things like run half marathons or hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back or ride our bike certain distances. In addition to gymnastics, we grew up wanting to be him.

Ultimately when I graduated college [00:07:00] and ended up in California, it seemed like the logical natural thing to do after a background in gymnastics and diving and all this kind of physical stuff was to get involved with what the thing was out in California which was everybody and their dog and their mom running and riding up and down the coast all day long. It’s just a constant parade of people training for some triathlon or marathon. It was easy to get sucked into that. [00:07:30] I ended up doing triathlons for a bunch of years.

Then I realized that the longer the race was, the better I did in the standings because I’m what you back in the day called a Clydesdale. Now to try to be politically correct and call it Athena but Clydesdale was like a man over 200 or a woman at 150. I competed as a Clydesdale all the time. [00:08:00] I realize that because of that, I had the strength but I didn’t have the little tiny fast person speed that a lot of the smaller people had. I realized the longer the race, the more competitive I was.

I read one day about adventure racing in runner’s world and there was only one US team doing at the time which was captained by Mark Burnett who’s name you might recognize, who’s pretty famous now. Back in the day when he was a garage band adventure racer, he [00:08:30] was the only American team that was doing this crazy ultra-endurance race called the Raid Gauloises. As soon as I read about it, I was just instantly enthralled. I was like, “Wait a minute. It’s not just a one day race, its like a six to 10 day race. It’s through like jungles and forests and rivers and like no trails and crawling through leach infested.” I’m like, “Yes!” Not just because that part of it but more because I knew it was just going to be a suffer fest [00:09:00] and that’s what I was good at. I was just suffering for long periods of time.

Then the team component of it was a brand new added piece that it took me a few years to get used to it, wrap my brain around. We all ended up at Mark Burnett’s house in Topanga Canyon trying out for his next year’s team to go back to that race. The one US team was having a tryout to replace the woman that was on their team. I was at Mark Burnett’s [00:09:30] house with 14 other women who were invited to this tryout and yada, yada, yada to make a long story longer they basically put us through a three day Navy SEAL hell week, he and his team. The teammates were all Navy SEALSs. That was their background. They basically put us through three days of what their hell week was.

There were seven out of us out of the 14 left standing at the finish line. They ended up taking another girl but those of us [00:10:00] that were left ended up forming an all-female team that then went to that same race and raced against the team we were trying out for, Mark Burnett’s team. It was nuts. That was like way back in the day and we’re in the Borneo rainforest in our first big race racing Mark Burnett, his Navy SEALs and it ended in a really interesting way with one of … actually two of Mark Burnett’s teammates quitting the race and we finished. Oh [00:10:30] my God it was ridiculous. We came back and all these women’s magazines were like “All women’s team beats the Navy SEALs.” We’re like, “No! No!”

Kyle Davis: Not quite.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah. We were not interested in that story at all. All these women’s magazines went nuts and it was crazy. We were all hooked and a lot of us ended up continuing to keep racing.

Kyle Davis: Aside from like adventure racing, I have the conceptual understanding that it’s a multiple [00:11:00] day race. Do you do like ultra-marathons past 50 to 100 miles at a single clip?

Robyn Benincasa Yeah. The race generally last about six to 10 days-ish. Covering it out 600 to 1000 miles. It really is whatever matches the indigenous terrain. Sometimes you may start and be running straight up a mountain. Sometimes you might start and be running to kayaks and paddling for 100 miles [00:11:30] or in a lot of races we started with 75 to 100 mile run kind of up and over and usually not on trails just up and over mountains and rivers and valleys charting your own course because that was part of the race is the navigation. You’re mountain biking, kayaking, white water rafting, mountaineering kind of whatever it takes to get from point A to point B through these generally like 20 to 40 checkpoints just so that they can ensure that you’re still on the course with [00:12:00] the rest of the people although they don’t tell you how to get from point to point.

They just say you must come through here. You get to different transition areas which is a point where you change from one sport to the next. Back in the days, sometimes it would be like two or three days before you’d see a transition. As the years went on, you’d almost have a transition every day or in some cases every 48 hours. Back in the early days, it was pretty really remote. You’d be out there for several days at a time before getting to your next sport.

[00:12:30] The real interesting part of the sport is that your team has to have at least one man and at least one woman. It has to be mixed gender. Its either four or five people based on whichever race it is. It brought up a lot of interesting dynamics about like, “Is the girl going to be the mandatory equipment?” What we discovered over the years was that the guys were generally the brute strength like in the first 24 hours but the girls are always a lot of the stronger teammates [00:13:00] to last 24 hours. It was really a cool thing to discover that we might never have been able to discover if the first person who originated the sport didn’t say it has to be a mixed gender team.

Most men would be like, “We’re not going to take a girl.” Then they realized over the years that we were instrumental to the end of the race. Also in a lot of cases like I was great at getting the sponsorship. I was really good with strategy. I was good with the communications and talking to the [00:13:30] race directors and the sponsors and a lot of the things that my male teammates didn’t have. Even though there ended up being some races where you can have all male or all female teams, my teammates and I always stuck together for that reason.

Back to the sticking together part, if one person quits on your team, your entire team is disqualified. That’s where the real interesting part of the story is because that’s how I developed my essential [00:14:00] elements of extreme teamwork because we all had to get everybody across the finish line together or we are all disqualified. It brought up this really new and interesting kind of teamwork that as a solo athlete I hadn’t really experience before.

Kyle Davis: I think a lot of people and I’m just speaking from having played sports all their high school and even into college. When you’re an individual contributor, even if you’re on a team, when I play football I was the center [00:14:30] in college so as long as I got the ball to the quarterback and was able to block my guy, I was good. I wasn’t trying to pick up the slack for the guy who is horrible next to me or anything else like that. It’s interesting when you get into a true team component like this where it’s basically one and done. If one person flakes out or crashes and burns or something like that, you’re done. You could segue into and I think that was a beautiful way that you brought it up. What are those essential elements that you need [00:15:00] to have for a team that’s really built to last and built to grind through difficult circumstances?

Robyn Benincasa: What I talk about team it can be a team that you’re on for a project for a day or a week or a team that you’re on for a lifetime in your marriage. My presentation is really about you as the team builder. Who is the person that you bring to the table in every interaction that lets people know that I’m here to be your [00:15:30] teammate. We’re here for each other and we’re going to be better together than either of us could ever be alone. What we discovered over the years that there really were eight things that you needed to have as a recipe in your extreme teamwork to make it great. If you’re missing even one of these things, your team has cracks in it. I massaged it over the years into an acronym for teamwork.

It starts with total commitment and obviously everybody needs to be on [00:16:00] the bus and the bus has to be going all the way to the finish line. There’s no arms and legs hanging out. Everyone is going all the way to the finish line on this bus. That for us was a matter of having an incredible plan was part of your commitment and asking people for their input and elevated sense of purpose. Having something greater than yourself added a heck of a lot to your commitment. That was something that you reach for.

Your perseverance, always going the extra mile, doing the extra thing, the things that the other teams, the other people aren’t [00:16:30] going to do is something that you’re going to do. You never let how you feel affect what you do. Feelings are always overrated. It’s all about what you do for your team that matters. Your preparation, you can’t get to a finish line without incredible preparation at the start and that’s part of your commitment. I always tell people the luckiest people in the world always just so happen to be the well prepared because you put that luck is that when opportunity meets preparation. Then the E is empathy and awareness, that human connection among teammates.

The A is [00:17:00] adversity management. Challenge management, change management, how do you see adversity? Is it a roadblock or is it a challenge? Are you ultimately ruled by your fears and your worries or despite all these things I’m still going to get to the finish line? What are you roadblocks? Then embracing when things do go wrong as a chance to excel or learn something, excel in a different way and never letting the pursuit of perfection hinder [00:17:30] progress. The M is mutual respect which is pretty self-explanatory but there are some fun stories there as well.

Then we thinking versus me thinking. A we thinking leader sees teammates around them all day long and is constantly trying to find the win-win and in that section of we thinking I talk about something that people find really interesting is how we were physical we thinkers in that … our team wasn’t just about individual accountability. [00:18:00] It was about team accountability, getting each other across the finish line. The first race we won we did a lot in part by realizing that we should move weight around. We should carry each other’s packs. We should take more weight out of one pack and put it into another pack based on who was feeling really strong at the moment or who wasn’t feeling so hot in the section.

We realize that if we were all suffering equally that everybody on the team was suffering equally like had the same [00:18:30] heart rate with some people carrying more, some people carrying less, then we’ve started to get to the front of the pack. Not only we moved weight around, we also created towlines in that same race. One of my the teammates cut a piece of bungee cord off the netting in his backpack and made a tail off the bottom of his pack so that whoever was suffering could just grab on to the piece of bungee cord and be taken along with the team. It wasn’t about waiting for your slowest person. It was about, “Okay, how fast can we pull our push our slowest person?” It [00:19:00] was really when we discover that we thinking and how to do it, that we started winning races.

The O is ownership. Buy in, how do you get complete buy in from your team? The R is relinquishment of ego which is a tough one for people. You can’t bring your ego on the race course with you. It’s the heaviest thing in your pack. You have to give away the credit and ask for help and accept help realizing it’s a gift to the helper. That helps a lot of people too because we always assume that people think we’re weak [00:19:30] if we’re accepting help. I’m like, “No, turn that around in your brain. When someone offers you help, you accept that because you built a bridge and you’ve made them feel awesome.” You’ve given someone a gift when you accept their help. That’s the way we saw it all the times. We were giving them the gift of our team going faster. When someone take my pack, I’m like, “Okay, we’re moving faster now. It’s a nice gift. Isn’t that nice for me?”

Then the K is kinetic leadership meaning situational leadership and understanding the difference between management [00:20:00] and leadership. That you got to change leader sometimes. Even though you’re a manager and you’re facilitator of your team success, you don’t always have to be the leader. One of your most important jobs is to create other leaders. In a presentation about an hour I can cover the key four or five of those that match best with the client’s theme or focus.

I can do all eight of them in about an hour and 20 minutes. We’re cruising. There’s a lot of content. There’s a lot of stuff going on. I also show [00:20:30] a lot of the videos from these races too. It’s a fun rollercoaster from like concept to story to video, concept, story, video. It moves really fast so I tell people that its really got a short attention span theater.

Gail Davis: It is awesome and I love it because obviously it’s a metaphor for how teams at work can be stronger but it does leave you personally inspired to be more physical [00:21:00] which is what happened to me the last time I saw you. I believe that I will be doing the rim to rim at the Grand Canyon with you later this summer. I just said it. It’s going to happen.

Robyn Benincasa: If you can see me in my kitchen, I’m raising the roof right now all for you. That’s awesome. I’m so excited.

Gail Davis: Let’s talk about that because it’s called Project Athena. Why don’t you tell our listeners about your foundation and what that’s all [00:21:30] about because I think it’s really, really a neat thing that you’re doing.

Robyn Benincasa: It’s another one of the things that happened by accident just like starting to be a speaker which is a whole another mini side bar but we’ll go down this one right now. On the Project Athena side, I had a really good friend or have … thank you baby Jesus, have a good friend who is now a two time breast cancer survivor. She [00:22:00] missed a big race in 1998 and we ended up winning that race. It was in her honor and that higher sense of purpose because she couldn’t make it. I watched her go through that cancer journey.

One of the coolest things about it is that she never defined herself as having breast cancer survivor because every single day she went out and trained for her next race. Some days she could run five miles and some days she could walk to the mailbox [00:22:30] and walk back but every single day she did something. She got outside and did something and always put a race on her calendar as she was going through her chemo and radiation. She wanted to feel like she was an athlete and not just a survivor. Taking a playbook from that and when I started having my medical setback about eight years ago now. I discovered I had stage four osteoarthritis in both my hips. I’ve actually had six hip replacements now which don’t even get me started.

[00:23:00] I swear every time I see those commercials like "If you had failed hip replacements, call our law offices and that dude and that guy ..." I was like, “Yes that’s me.” I haven’t called yet. Anyway, I had these two metal hips. Going through that process of having the surgeries and my leg is dislocated and then steel bars pounded down into them and all, I decided, “Do you know what? I’m going to be like [Louise 00:23:28]. I’m [00:23:30] going to just … maybe I’m going to become a paddler because I can paddle for God’s sakes. I may not be able to run for a while but I can get in a kayak.”

I always loved the kayaking sections in races. I started paddling and I put a bunch of paddling races on my calendar and started being successful as a paddler. I discovered a new sport that I never realized I was going to be good at. The next step that occurred to me was, “Wow why don’t we … this worked so well for Louise and me and other people I know like this, why don’t we do this for other people? Help [00:24:00] them live an adventurous dream. Train them and equip them and we help them on this journey to live an adventurous dream as part of their recovery so they can show themselves and their families and their communities and their doctors how strong and badass they are after a big setback in their lives.

It’s really their big come back party. That was the idea for the project Athena foundation. Basically, what we do is we help survivors live an adventurous dream as their big comeback. It’s been going on now since [00:24:30] … our first adventure was in 2008. Now we have six adventures a year where we take a combination of survivors and their also now male survivors too and we call them Zeus’s instead of Athena’s because we have a number of men write to us and go, “Why is this just for girls?” We’re like, “you know what? Good point.” We can help a lot of people with these endurance adventures. Now we have Athena’s and Zeus’s and the other half of the group that we take on all six of our annual adventures [00:25:00] or our fundraisers. We call them our gods and goddesses. Gail is going to be a goddess …

Kyle Davis: That’s right. I love it.

Robyn Benincasa: … for the Grand Canyon. It’s neat because the people that you’re raising money for you’re actually hiking or paddling or whatever sport it is, you’re right alongside them. You’re getting to see the impact of your fundraising dollars literally right in front of your eyes as these people transform from “I’m not even sure I should be here” to “Oh my god I’m a badass [00:25:30] endurance athlete.” In a matter of 72 hours you watch this unfold and it not only happens for the survivors, it also happens for the gods and goddesses which is a very cool thing.

A lot of the gods and goddesses are actually people that come from my keynote audiences because it’s a really neat outlet for them. They’re all fired up and inspired to do something and they want to be part of a team like that and they see it and they feel it. They go, “Man, I want to be a part of that.” Then they have an outlet to do [00:26:00] that with me and other cool normal non adventure racer people for an awesome cause. We travel as one big team. We literally share the love the entire way which is really different for people who have put on a number and entered a 10K or something. Nobody is racing anybody.

If you’re stronger at the moment, you help somebody else. If you need help, you accept help. That’s the team just rolls together just like you see in all of our videos. We’re one big team. It’s an experience [00:26:30] that most people don’t get to have much of in their lives. To have that kind of teamwork and connection and also be amazing and inspiring yourself at the same time. It’s the best thing in the world. My team of trail angels and I and our coaches, we ensure that everybody is successful and happy and having the best time of their lives. Do you want to hear about our adventures or do you want to jump in?

Kyle Davis: Real quick. If someone wanted to [00:27:00] be a part of this, how could they learn more about it?

Gail Davis: Projectathena.org is the website. Project Athena all one word dot org. You can go there and apply to be in Athena or in Zeus who are the people that are receiving our grant. If you are a survivor and you want to tell us your story, we pick our survivors quarterly and give them a call and say, “Hey you’re coming to Grand Canyon or you’re coming to the Florida Keys.” Yes it’s really cool and we set them right up with their coaches [00:27:30] and their chief inspiration officer.

If you want to apply to be a god or a goddess, one of our fundraisers, you also apply at projectathena.org but you click I want to be a god or a goddess and then you choose your adventure which is hopefully still open. The only one not available for this year because it’s closed already is the Florida Keys. That one fills up like 10 months in advance now. It’s nuts.

Gail Davis: Describe the six adventures. I’m only familiar with the one I’m doing. What else do I have to look forward to?

Robyn Benincasa: [00:28:00] A lot of people like once they have this experience of being we call it the circle of love, once people are in this circle, they want to come back. It’s just such an amazing place to be with such great people. A lot of our gods and goddesses come back again and again and again until they do them all. That’s why I have to keep making up new ones. The first one of the year is coming up next month. It’s called Harbor to Harbor. It’s a 50 mile walk [00:28:30] from Oceanside Harbor to San Diego Harbor down the coast of San Diego.

Gail Davis: That sounds great. Robyn Benincasa: How awesome is that?

Gail Davis: Yeah.

Robyn Benincasa: We walk on the beaches and some of the roads. We climb up and over Mount Soledad and La Jolla and we see Mission Beach. It’s awesome. It’s like a full scenic awesome tour of San Diego. It’s basically two marathons back to back with nice hotels in the middle. Yey hotels!

Gail Davis: Yeah. [inaudible 00:28:54] on me. I didn’t know that was an option.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah all of our adventures [00:29:00] actually have hotels because home you don’t camp. I’ll either race all night or be in a hotel. Camping just blows. We actually do camp in Florida but in general if I’m involved, there’s usually hotels and the occasional happy hour because everyone … yeah. Harbor to Harbor and then the Santa Barbara 24 hour was a creation from a couple of years ago because we needed to have something for after the canyon for [00:29:30] people that survive the canyon and they wanted to do the next thing. It’s a multisport adventure for 24 hours nonstop in Santa Barbara. Up and over the mountain range, in the ocean, 18 mile paddle, 40 mile mountain bike ride and then 22 mile hike. Yeah with 12,000 feet of gain. It’s awesome. Then we go all night and all day. It’s awesome, awesome, awesome.

It’s not hard to stay up all night when you’re moving. It really isn’t. It’s only the second night that’s hard so first night is just awesome. [00:30:00] Then the canyons. We have to a Rim2Rim which is everyone walks all the way across the Grand Canyon in one day and off the other side. Then we sleep on the north rim and drive back to phoenix. Then the other one is Rim2Rim2Rim where we hike all the way over in one day, spend the night in the north rim [inaudible 00:30:19] and then walk all the way back to the next up a different trail so you see something a little bit different. They’re both gnarly, both beautiful, awesome, awesome.

Then there is [00:30:30] the Cove to Harbor which is a marathon hike which is basically day two of Harbor to Harbor. Anyone who’s ever wanted to be a marathoner but you don’t run, that’s the one for you where we actually hike 26.2 miles and you get a marathon finisher shirt because you sure as heck did the distance. Then the Florida Keys which is we call it the keys to recovery. That’s a 120 mile kayak and bike ride to Key Largo to Key West down all the Florida Keys.

Gail Davis: Oh my gosh!

Kyle Davis: [00:31:00] very cool.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah.

Kyle Davis: If you’re in a Zeus or an Athena or if you want to be like Kanye West and say "I am a god" or goddess you can do so if you go to projectathena.org. I enjoyed that. That was fun. Let’s say this. You’re heavy into the adventure racing. You mentioned this earlier but you started off as a gymnast and you had a pretty awesome coach who really pushed you to do other things as well biking, [00:31:30] swimming, running distances and everything else in between. If someone had taken some time off and they’re new or whatever, maybe they don’t want to jump into the deep end and go run whatever that crazy 100 mile 24 hour races in Colorado, but they want to get into this, how would they do so on your own? What are you thinking?

Robyn Benincasa: I’ll talk for a second about Project Athena but you want to find something like that if you’re jumping in [00:32:00] because all of our adventures and I can speak for myself first and then I’ll expand. All of our adventures are designed for people who don’t have any background because you have a coach for four months. You actually have an online coach. Our coach Amanda or Vanessa for four months prior to your adventure and we’ve taken people off the couch literally and had them do Rim2Rim2Rim with our training plan. That’s one cool thing is it’s a great [00:32:30] way to dip your toe in the water.

I’m doing an endurance thing without the pressure of putting on a number and having a sweeper behind you and competing against other people. Like this is just all goodness. Your coach will have you 100% prepared if you do exactly what she says. That’s a very cool thing. There’s also places like [REI 00:32:51] . They have group training things like learn to rock climb. Learn to use your compass, hiking 101. On the [00:33:00] east coast its [EMS 00:33:00]. It joining a group that is not an elite group but most groups have a range of people where you’re going to be with other beginners and other experienced people that you can learn from.

I’m a big fan of putting something on the calendar, getting together with other people training for it, getting a solid coach. A lot of the stuff is it’s one bite at a time. Endurance is eating an elephant. It [00:33:30] really is one bite at a time. You just dip your toe in the water. Get some good people around you. Come with us on a Project Athena adventure. It’s really neat and gratifying to see people that have come to our adventures then go on to do crazy things.

Once they believe and understand what it takes to do these things, they go out into the world and they’re like they are endurance athletes. It’s awesome. It’s just awesome to watch. Someone coming from [00:34:00] … We had a girl that lost 100 pounds was one of our Athena’s. She literally almost couldn’t get off the coach and she’s running marathons. It’s just very cool to watch the transformation in people once they know what to do and they believe in themselves.

Kyle Davis: Very cool. I like it. I think this is a good place to wrap up.

Gail Davis: I wanted to ask one …

Kyle Davis: There you go.

Gail Davis: I wanted to know how you got into speaking because how did you even have time [00:34:30] to discover that existed because …

Robyn Benincasa: Oh my gosh! In my real life and I’m sure you have this is the case in a lot of the speakers I’m a real introvert in general. We’re racing for years and we were discovered by the editors of Fast Company magazine because they were putting together an article called extreme teamwork. Their idea ... this is [00:35:00] back in ’98. Their ideas was to take a look at some of the world’s most consistently high performing teams and dissect them a little bit and discover what they could learn about these high performance teams and what could be applied to business. They found us. They found our adventure racing team because we were the world champions at the time and a team from Industrial Light and Magic and NASA, these very high performing teams in [00:35:30] tough situations.

They interviewed all of us. The yada, yada, yada on the article was that all of these high performing teams had an attitude and a belief system and a way of seeing the world and each other that was nearly identical whether they were making a movie or putting someone on the moon or winning an adventure race. That article I guess was a big hit with their readers and they were having a reader’s conference called Real Time. They wanted [00:36:00] somebody from our team to do a breakout about that article and what we had learned about extreme teamwork. I basically drew the short straw.

Nobody on the team would do it. It just rolled downhill onto the newest person which happened to be me. Just like the fire department, the new guy cleans the toilets. That was me. They’re like, “Okay, you have to go do this.” I was like, “Wait, what?” Oh my gosh! I mean [00:36:30] I was like, “Am I going to throw up? Am I going to pee? My God my heart rate is like way higher than ever any race I’ve ever run.” I did it. I came up.

At the time it was the 10 essential elements of human synergy. Only a little has actually changed since then. I was super lucky that in my audience that day was the zone vice president from Starbucks like my first gig out of the box. He came up to me and said, “Have you ever worked at [00:37:00] Starbucks, have a family member that worked at Starbucks?” Like, “No sir.” He said, “All that stuff you just said is literally like our core values.” I was like, “No way!” All of a sudden I was on this 13 city tour to talk to all their store managers. It was nuts. It was like the stuff that as a speaker you dream off, I didn’t know that didn’t happen every Wednesday.

Gail Davis: That’s awesome.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah. It just started. Then he had some friends who brought me in. [00:37:30] I just winged it or is past tense [wung 00:37:34]? I [wung 00:37:35] it for seven, eight years until I caught the eye of an agent. It happened like totally by accident. Now I love it. I’m bummed if I’m not on a plane going somewhere just because it is so joyous to watch people like be inspired and take this [00:38:00] in and think differently about their leadership and about their teamwork and who’s on their team and how they want to be. Either people are inspired on that teamwork leadership side or they’re inspired on the side to “I got to get out and freaking run. I got to do that marathon I never did.” Either way, it’s great and it’s great for the attendees. I just love, love, love it now. It was the seven, eight years of fear.

Gail Davis: [00:38:30] I believe you when you say you’re an introvert but you would never know that seeing you on stage. I guess that passion for what you’re talking about really fuels you because when you walk out on stage it’s like, “Who plugged her in?” you’re so committed and it comes across its very contagious that’s for certain.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah I love it. I love, love, love, love. I do. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t do this anymore now. [00:39:00] It’s such a neat thing to see people like grasping it and smiling and laughing. We have a lot of fun too. It’s the best thing in the world. I do love it but then I’ll get off stage and my husband won’t talk to me for like three hours.

Gail Davis: Do you have to decompress or something after that?

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah. I love talking to people and hanging out and all that but we’ll get on the plane to go back home [00:39:30] and I’m like, “Whew!” I was like, “Okay, nobody is sitting next to me that wants to talk.”

Gail Davis: I’m a people person but at the end of a full day being on the phone, I know what you mean sometimes when you get home.

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah because it takes all of us.

Gail Davis: Another thing I wanted to ask you Robyn I know you’re a Guinness book world record holder but I’m not really sure what that’s about.

Robyn Benincasa: That was part of the paddling side bar. After I started having [00:40:00] my hips replaced, I went into endurance paddling. I haven’t looked lately. I think one or two of my record still stands. I ended up breaking the Guinness world record for longest distance paddled in a kayak by a girl on flatwater. Kind of lake and then I ended up setting the 24 hour record for longest distance paddled by a woman on moving water on a river up in the Yukon River and its all 24 hours. [00:40:30] They literally have either somebody out there who’s adjudicating or you have to actually video the entire 24 hours and have a crew whose all signs, different documents that say I observed this entire process and here’s what she did dah, dah, dah.

They say go and you literally have exactly 24 hours to go as far as you can. When it turns 24 hours you got to put your paddle down, stop. It’s like times up, pencils down. Whatever the GPS says at that moment, you turn in to Guinness along with all your footage and your videos [00:41:00] and your witness statements. Then the third record was I ended up setting the 24 hour record for longest distance paddled on a standup board on flatwater, standing paddling board. Then …

Kyle Davis: Which by the way it looks like the easiest workout ever and its not.

Robyn Benincasa: No. You’ve seen standup paddling where most people do it with a canoe paddle?

Kyle Davis: Yeah.

Robyn Benincasa: One of the stories I tell them at [00:41:30] presentation is about my buddy Steve Gurney who decided in this section of the race we were in canoes but he’s like, “Why are we using canoe paddles? We’re a hell of a lot better kayaking team. We actually had our kayak paddles in our gearbox for a kayaking section later in the race.” We ended up getting kayak paddles and using them in these canoes and that’s how we ended up beating the team in front of us which is thinking differently. Innovating and saying, “Why are we doing it this way just because these are canoes? We’re a kayaking team and we [00:42:00] can totally use our kayaks.” I had a kayak paddle made for my standup board. It’s an 11 foot long kayak paddle.

Kyle Davis: I’m trying to think about this real quick. Looks like a Jedi knight trick like you’re just flying around just wheeling and dealing in.

Robyn Benincasa: Oh heck yeah! Certain races like … I started competing in standup paddling and I would bring this double blade because in kayak [00:42:30] racing where canoe … all these endurance races that we enter, the race director doesn’t give a rats if you use a canoe paddle or a kayak paddle as long as you and your boat get to the finish line. Everyone is just lumped in together. They don’t separate canoe paddling and kayak paddling. It’s like just paddle your boat which see who wins. I started racing standup paddling and I started doing pretty well with this double blade. A bunch of the pros got together and they made a rule that said, “No this sport is only done with a single blade.”

Kyle Davis: I was about to follow that up with [00:43:00] that. Robyn Benincasa: I was like, “Wait a minute they made a Robyn Benincasa rule. What the hell?” I was really the only one out there racing with it. Anyway, I was like. “Okay.” I decided well Guinness doesn’t give a rats if you have a canoe paddle or a kayak paddle. I turned in my 24 hour record using my ultra-long paddle and they were like, “Sweet here’s your record.” Its really only like certain people that want to restrict what the [00:43:30] sport is that say single blade but a double blade I think for a kayaker is a more efficient way to paddle a standup board than a single blade especially if you don’t have a background in canoeing. If your background is kayaking, there is a company that makes double blades now. its pretty cool.

Kyle Davis: I’m just thinking about the core workout on that and I’m just …

Robyn Benincasa: Yeah. It’s awesome.

Kyle Davis: My abs hurts just thinking of it.

Robyn Benincasa: if you watch our CNN hero’s video which is on the Project Athena site and on my [00:44:00] website, Robyn Benincasa, the opening scene is me paddling with that double blade if you want to take a look at it. It’s really cool. It looks ridiculous.

Kyle Davis: I’m all about ridiculous.

Robyn Benincasa: See? It’s just more efficient. Why wouldn’t you something a different way, a more efficient way for you? Take your background and experience and your strength and your innovation and just change the game. Why not?

Kyle Davis: Yeah. Just because people have been doing it one way for so long, doesn’t mean they’re doing it right.

Robyn Benincasa: [00:44:30] Yeah, that’s what I say.

Kyle Davis: Uh-hmm (affirmative).

Robyn Benincasa: Uh-hmm (affirmative).

Kyle Davis: Hey, look if you all want to learn more about Ms. Robyn Benincasa you can do so in a number of different ways. It sounds like a great sales pitch, doesn’t it?

Gail Davis: Yeah it does.

Kyle Davis: Yeah in a number of different ways. You could buy her book, How Winning Works, the eight essential leadership lesson from the toughest teams on earth where she covers the acronym I guess. Massaged acronym for teamwork but it works nonetheless. You can also have her come out to speak [00:45:00] for your event. You can do so by contacting GDA Speakers by calling 214-420-1999 or go to gdaspeakers.com. If you want to listen to the podcast but read the transcript, you can do so by going to gdapodcast.com.

Gail Davis: That’s great

Kyle Davis: [inaudible 00:45:19] Cool! Robyn thanks.

Gail Davis: Perfect! Thanks Robyn, I’m inspired. I got to go put my tennis shoes on and do something outside today.

Kyle Davis: Wohoo!

Gail Davis: Wohoo!

Robyn Benincasa: Go goddess! Go goddess!

Gail Davis: [00:45:30] See you at the Grand Canyon if not sooner.

Robyn Benincasa: Right on Gail! Thank you guys. Its super fun.

Kyle Davis: Bye!

Gail Davis: Bye!

Robyn Benincasa: Bye!

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ep. 26 - Robyn Benincasa: NYT Best-Selling Author & World Champion Adventure Racer by GDA Podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.