059: Building Up The Courage To Carve Your Own Path with Nate Boyer
To live the way you want and do the things you love to do, sometimes you have to get off the treadmill and carve your own path. Nate Boyer knows this all too well. Nate wanted to choose his own path and rebelled against going the linear path of going to college and getting a good job. He wanted to embark on adventures and make a difference in the world. He ended up working with autistic kids and eventually found his way flying to Darfur, Africa to help with the refugee efforts where his life was completely changed. Seeing the incredible people who don’t have much but were so gracious, generous and grateful totally transformed him and made him want to fight for people like that. Nate talks about the life lessons he’s learned from the refugee camp, going back to school, and joining the military.
I have Nate Boyer on the pod. Nate is a guy I met and we team together to go down to Tanzania and build water wells for the people of the Maasai tribe and then a bunch of NFL guys and Green Berets climb Kilimanjaro. We made it to the summit. We made it back. It was my second time down there. Nate is the cofounder of that organization along with Chris Long who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Nate has had such an interesting career. He served six tours over in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came back at age 28, 29. He decided to go to college. He’d never really been before. He took on not just going to college to the University of Texas, but actually trying out for the football team as a walk on and then ultimately becoming the long snapper for the team. That led in to playing in 38 consecutive games, which then led to a free agent deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
Along the way, Nate was involved in an open-letter that he pinned to Colin Kaepernick about his feelings towards the American flag and sitting and all that stuff. We go through all these different weaves and turns of his career. It’s super interesting. We just literally kept going and going. It’s a little bit longer pod. It’s great. Nate is super interesting. He keeps pushing himself. This guy is full on mindset of not giving up and just keeps pushing the boundaries of things that he can do that a lot of other people probably either don’t have the guts to do or haven’t done it. Well done to Nate. Great conversation.
As always, please continue to rate and review, go to iTunes. All the love that you share continues to help us out in terms of really providing that inspiration. It’s not about me, it’s about all these amazing people I talk to about overcoming adversity and finding their way. Finally, we are sponsored by Violets Are Blue Skin Care, Cynthia Besteman, somebody who I had on the pod. She’s somebody who overcame breast cancer and found these all-natural skin care products. They are absolutely fantastic, I use them. Check them out, VioletsAreBlueSkinCare.com.
Listen to the podcast here:
Building Up The Courage To Carve Your Own Path with Nate Boyer
I’ve been chasing this guy now for months on end. We became friends down in Tanzania and I’m excited to talk to Nate Boyer. Nate, how are you doing?
I’m good, Mark. How are you doing?
I’m doing fantastic because I just moved from LA, which is where you are and in Sun Valley across the street from this big beautiful mountain. I ran out this morning, did a quick up and down and mountain fresh air. It’s a great day to be alive.
You’re not seeing a lot of people, that’s nice.
I know that you’ve been all over the world and certainly you’ve had a very interesting career, very eclectic. I was thinking about it as I was prepping up, and I say this in the most complimentary sense, you’re like Forrest Gump. You look back at that guy’s life and he’s got so many different chapters to it. World champion ping pong player and in Vietnam and of course, fishing and the whole love story with Jenny and all that stuff. With you, between growing up to serving all over the world as a Green Beret to playing football both in college and in the NFL, to all these different other philanthropic projects that you’re doing. It’s just really amazing how you continue to stretch yourself.
I’m also not a smart man as Forrest was. He’s probably ten times more than I am. I’ll take that as a compliment. I appreciate that.
I’m a little bit in that same boat too. I’ve done a lot of different things and I just think it makes you a more well-rounded person. You just keep pushing to see what the limits are. For you, it just seems like there is no limit. I really mean that in all the right and sincere ways in terms of what you’ve been able to achieve. I found this really interesting that you grew up in California and your parents or your father at least was a veterinarian. Is that correct?
Yeah, I was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. My dad was finishing up veterinary school there and my mom was working at Oak Ridge National Labs. She’s actually an environmental engineer. When I was very young, we moved to the Bay Area and my dad started working at Golden Gate Fields, which is the only year-round horse racing track in the West Coast. My mom was working on her PhD at Berkeley in environmental science. That’s where I grew up. It’s a town called El Cerrito, sandwiched between Berkeley and Richmond in the East Bay and lived there until I was about nine. We did a short stint in Colorado Grand Junction, which is a cool little place. Then we’re back in the Bay when I was thirteen on through high school.
I almost ended up down in the Bay Area out of high school. I was recruited by CAL and I was so close to going there. I ended up not pulling the trigger. I’ve found it such a fascinating, beautiful scenic, cool campus, just tucked away in Berkeley. It reminded me actually of a much larger Seattle just with all the water that surrounds it and just the architecture and everything else.
That was my story. The thing that struck me was that you just described your parents very academically driven. When you graduated from high school, I don’t think you chose to go directly into some college, which so many of us get on this path, this treadmill where you think you’ve got to go from A to B to C to D to E and you decided not to do that, correct?
[bctt tweet=”Just smiling is a good way to relate to people.” via=”no”]
Yeah. I had some academic talent but I definitely didn’t apply it to myself growing up. I was a big sports nut. I love sports. I played mostly baseball and basketball. I didn’t have a desire to continue my education at that time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know what I was interested in honestly besides sports and girls. I wanted to adventure a little bit. I wanted to maybe have some of that Forrest Gump kind of life. When I was at El Cerrito from until I was about nine, it was a little more grit to that area and then when we moved to Colorado for a bit, and then we moved back further east in the Bay.
The schools were good. It was a nice pretty safe area. I know why my parents moved there. It wasn’t because they really enjoyed that spot. It was because they wanted to protect their children and give us as many opportunities as possible. It had a reverse effect on me because everybody in the school out there, all my peers, like you talked about that treadmill, it seemed like it was this idea that you had to do and if you didn’t do, if you didn’t go to school, go to college afterwards, right away and if you didn’t know what you’re going to study and all this stuff then you’d be a big failure. I know that’s not what they said but that’s what it felt like. I just really rebelled against that.
I graduated and didn’t have any scholarship offers for baseball or basketball. I moved down to San Diego and started working on a fishing boat. I actually took some firefighting classes. I thought maybe that was something I wanted to do so I had a little bit of education there but I wasn’t really a full-time student. It wasn’t necessarily something that I was sure I wanted to do. It was just interesting to me because it involved some adventure and doing something a little bit against the grain and nontraditional for what I was told that you had to do. It was just any way I could get off that treadmill, so I carved my own path. That’s what I was aiming to do.
I think there’s a big difference with you and especially as I know you today. Number one, I think it takes a lot of courage to step up and go against the grain, your parents are well-educated and you grew up in this pretty sweet area. I did the same thing with my kids, I raise them in Seattle and put them in a very protected environment, in private schools and all that kind of stuff. For you to stiff on that and push it back and say, “I want to choose my own path,” because everybody’s going, “Where are you going to school? What are you going to do?” You feel that pressure.
I think that the fine line is if you want to go off and do your own thing, which is totally cool and really find yourself, which is probably a pretty smart thing. I don’t know many kids who really have it all figured out when they’re eighteen years old. At the same time, you don’t fall in the other side of the line, which is like, “I’m just going to cruise and just do drugs and do those other things,” which I know you weren’t doing. Still there’s that fine line of wanting to pursue and have a thirst of knowledge of what life is all about and going after it in your own and unique way. You then became a relief worker. Was it the Peace Corp that you joined?
I was working on a fishing boat down there. It was awesome for a time, not that it was becoming too redundant but I was nineteen, turning twenty soon and I was like, “I don’t really see myself doing this forever because I felt like I’ve got a lot to offer. I felt like there are a lot of things I want to pursue and opportunities. What’s next? What else can I do? What adventure can I embark on? How can I make a difference in the world?” I moved up to Los Angeles. I was interested in the film industry. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I was like, “I’m only an hour and a half from there, why don’t I check that out?” I moved up here.
What I ended up doing for a job was I was working with autistic kids. I was like a big brother for them and I learned a lot from that, working in that environment. A lot about patience and a lot about respecting others and how they see things differently and understanding that a lot of people come to conclusions through different ways, through different routes.
Some of these kids are just incredibly talented and brilliant and they just communicate in different way. I learned a lot from that. I did that for a few years and then once again it was like, “I’m getting too comfortable now, what’s next?” I was doing that but at the same time, I probably wasn’t the best to myself physically. I stopped working out and taking care of my body and taking care of myself and drinking and partying a little too much and all those things that happened to a lot of us in our early twenties.
Then I came across this Time magazine article, the title of it was The Tragedy in Sudan. It was talking about what was going on in the Darfur in Africa and this genocide that was happening. I was like, “How is this happening? This is 2003 now.” 9/11 had happened a couple of years before, which really opened my eyes and everybody’s eyes, I think. I’m like, “How is this still going on in our world where there are people just killing other people because their skin color is a shade different or they believe in a different God or whatever?” That just didn’t make sense to me. “We’re in the 2000s, come on, let’s get it together, humans.”
I was just compelled to go over there and help. I was reading about how these refugee camps were understaffed. I called every NGOs from ChildFund to Catholic Relief Services to Doctors Without Borders, all these organizations. All of them were like, “We appreciate you inquiring but you don’t have a college degree. You don’t have any special skills, we don’t really know how you could help.” I’m like, “Literally, I will fly myself over and do anything because I’m reading about how you guys are way understaffed at camps and you need help building the camps and all these things.”
I just kept running into these roadblocks and there were these red tapes and I get it, they’ve got to protect what they’re doing and they’ve got to be really careful. They don’t want to get in trouble. They’re nonprofit. I just said, “Screw it, I’m going to go over there on my own and figure it out when I get there.” I went to the AAA over in Burbank. That’s what we used to do before we bought everything on the internet. I bought a ticket to the neighboring country of Sudan, which is called Chad. The capital of Chad is N’Djamena. I never heard either of those places. I bought a ticket to fly over there and that was the closest I could get to where those camps were. I just flew over, landed in the middle of the night. I had no idea, this culture shock, it’s primarily Muslim country, people speaking different languages.
I’d never been to a place like that at all. I just started talking to people and figuring it out and piece together. The next morning, these UNHCR, which stands for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, these little prop planes were flying over to where the refugee camps were to drop off aid workers and supplies and stuff. I was like, “I just got to get on one of those planes somehow.”
I met this little Chadian man at 5:00 in the morning, they had this little clipboard, the manifest for these flights. I asked him if my name was on the manifest, which obviously it wasn’t. I said, “I’m supposed to be over here. I’m supposed to meet my contacts out there at the city where the camps were.” He looked at me, I didn’t have anything. I had one bag on me with literally malaria pills and a change of boxer shorts and socks and toothbrush.
I was like, “I was robbed.” I told him this big tale and I was like, “I was robbed in Paris. I don’t have my documentation. When I was flying through, I don’t have anything. I’ve got my ID here to show I’m an American, my passport,” and he just bought it. There happened to be an extra seat on that plane that morning and he let me get on it and I flew over there and talked my way into a job.
I was able to volunteer for the next few months over at the refugee camps and completely changed my life. Those people were so incredible. It was the same people that you and I met when we went to Tanzania. They don’t have much, if anything, but they’re so gracious and generous and just grateful that we would show up in their village and try to help out. It totally changed my life and made me want to fight for people like that and that’s what led to the military.
I could easily say right now, “Nate, this podcast is over because that was a great story.” It is a great story and it’s just the perseverance of you not going to say no. This has really carried through for you I think throughout your life where you are today. That’s just incredible to blind luck literally. The first time I flew down to Russia, which was to climb Kili, I flew in there and I did have it mapped out. At the same time, you’re flying in there and you’re by yourself.
You and I went down there and there were twelve people or ten or whatever that were in that group. You can lean on each other for this or that. I was down by myself. Some guy in the middle of the night picks me up and drives me into this dark road and guys with machine guns. It’s just like, “Here we are.” The big difference is that you’re 23 and certainly I was a lot older when I went down there with you. That’s just an incredible story.
[bctt tweet=”There’s plenty of problems out there to solve and they’ll keep coming.” via=”no”]
It’s just a war zone too. That was the part where if I didn’t have a little bit of naivety which I did, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Knowing some of the dangers of what I was doing when I look back and after my time in the military, if I would have heard of somebody doing something like that, I’d be like, “What an idiot.”
There’s another pod I did on a brilliant woman in Malibu named Kathy Eldon. She’s doing incredible things and really giving back in so many different ways. I really need to hook you two up. Her son tragically died. He’s got this amazing artistic career and he was working as a photographer for Reuters down in Somalia. In his case, I think the US bombed some village and people had died and he was just happened to be there, filming and taking pictures and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and these villagers just came over and literally stoned him to death. There was this tragic story that now these beautiful things have come out of it since. For you being down there in this war zone, did you feel as an American your life threatened at any time?
Yeah but not from the villagers. There were some checkpoints over there with local law enforcements where they were just trying to shake me down for money. I was a young kid and I didn’t have any, first of all. There was one point where I was riding, this was towards the end of the trip, I was riding back. It was a twenty-hour drive from where the refugee camps in the front lines were in Darfur back to the capital where I was flying out. This drive is just through the middle of the Sahara. There’s nothing, you don’t see anything except for a few people, a bunch of camels and every once in a while, a little village stop where you can refuel and get something to eat or whatever. Then there are these checkpoints along the way. You see these old Russian tanks that are just left in the middle of the desert. It’s really eerie. It’s like Mad Max or something.
In one of the checkpoints we stop at, everybody goes over to the side of the road, tucked away by this building to go take a leak. I went and did that too. The distinction was I was the only white guy. The people working in the checkpoint they saw that as a target. They walked over and as soon as I get done and turn around, there are three or four of them and they grabbed me and take me down in the cellar of this building. The people that I’m with I cannot see them and I don’t know where they are. They take me down there and they got me at gunpoint with these AKs, half of the AKs I don’t think even had magazines but that didn’t matter, still frightening. They’re just yelling at me. I don’t even know what they’re yelling.
Finally, one of the guys I was with tracks me down, comes downstairs and he just lays into these guys because he was a local as well. He knew what they were doing. They had no intention of actually harming me. It was just trying to get me to give them money. I literally had three American dollars, which over there was thousands of Dinars. They finally just let me go or whatever but that was the one time that I feared for my life.
At the camps, I saw these young men and some of these kids and even the women. All the women in these villages had been raped and the kids were injured or missing limbs and the men would come back from the war zone if they’re lucky. A lot of them were off fighting or had been killed already. I saw that stuff but I wasn’t in the midst of those battles. I just experienced that as a spectator from the camp side.
That’s still intense. That would be just like, “I’m out of here.” I totally get that. Let’s transition over into you becoming a Green Beret and part of that too is my curiosity around rangers and seals and Green Berets. How do you actually become a Green Beret? How does that process work?
You send in your packet, your application basically. Typically, it’s guys that had been in the military for at least two years, often longer. A lot of them were infantry men, they were rangers but sometimes not, they were cooks. It doesn’t really matter. You can put your packet together and submit it and see if you’re accepted to come to selection.
For me, I was part of this new program that started in 2003 called the 18 XRAY Program. The reason they started it is because we were now going to Iraq, Afghanistan and they were trying to bolster the unit in the Special Forces. They were trying to fill the ranks. In addition to people that had served in the military already, they were looking for people with different experiences outside of that. Typically, those were people that had some education beyond high school who are at least 21 and had a different set of skills.
You could get this contract called the 18 XRAY contract where if you scored high enough on these physical and academic tests as well as a psyche vow, language, aptitude, all this stuff then you’d get this contract where you’d go to basic training and then airborne school and then a pre-selection course. If you pass through that and you would go to selection, Special Forces assessment and selection with the rest of those men that had applied that were already in service. I got that contract.
I’d read about what the Green Berets did. Their motto is, “De Oppresso Liber,” which means “To Free the Oppressed.” I’d read about that when I came back to the States from Darfur and I pretty much was like, “That’s next.” I love this mission that I just was on. That was my first Special Forces mission. This is what I want to continue to do. A couple of weeks later I’m off to basic training. I go through that, go through airborne school. It completely changed my body just in those three or four months because I was training at such a high level and I was really pushing myself because I knew I had this goal of being a Green Beret.
You go off to selection with all these other men that had served quite a bit, a lot of men had deployed multiple times and you haven’t really done anything yet as far as the military except for some training. If you get through that, then you still have a year to a year and a half of training in the Special Forces qualification course to earn your Green Beret. It’s really intensive. There are five phases throughout. The attrition rate is really high because of the grind. It’s challenging in the sense that I think anybody that really has that will and is in pretty good condition, especially good mental condition can get it done. It’s just how bad do you actually want it is what separates everybody there.
[bctt tweet=”At the end of the day, we all basically want the same thing.” via=”no”]
I was not in the military but certainly I can appreciate that from going through a whole lot of training camps in the NFL. They don’t do this quite as the grind like they used to do, but six weeks to two days is as much as a physical toll as a mental toll. I find the same thing that’s really transitioned over from me. I’m leaving for
Denali, tree weeks no showering, sleeping on the snow, minus 25 degrees, losing weight, all that kind of stuff. It’s interesting to see the toll it takes on people and you see people just snap left and right. They just quit and of course you’re doing something completely different but at the same time, year and a half is a long time to get up at crazy hours and march and I’m sure do pushups and do all kinds of physical and mental aptitude type test. Some people just finally had it. I totally get it.
You can definitely equate it at a level to something like a training camp. A lot of those people that had been through a lot, they’d played team sports at a high level or even just people that were into climbing and were okay with being out by themselves in the middle of nowhere, doing land navigation in the mountains. That’s half the training it seems. We’re carrying these big heavy packs. You just got to be super self-motivated and also be able to motivate a team and be a part of a team like that.
Understand that some days you’re just getting through it and some days you’re excelling, but you just got to keep going. You’re going to have those moments and those times, everybody has it, where they want to quit. They feel a little voice in their head, “You’re done.” It’s just the ones that decided to not listen to it and keep pushing are the ones that are in the Green Beret. It’s not always the best athletes. If you had a lineup of all the people that started the selection and you could pick out ten out of 100 or whatever that would go on to earn their Green Berets a year and a half later, you can’t just, by the look of a man, decide that and be right.
You’re always surprised by some of the people that get through it. It’s just the way it is. I think we see the same things in sports and in a lot of things in life, who’s willing to gut it out and stick to it and continue. A lot of that comes from adversity that we’ve overcome earlier in our lives and been through some stuff already and overcame it. That all helps to propel you forward in those trying times because they’re going to come.
All that stuff is extremely well said. I always tell people too, especially when I’m laying up with these crazy mountains and they’re like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I want to go home.” Pain is temporary. That’s an easy stuff to say but it’s true. If you can just get yourself to the other side because all that stuff does pass. Once you do, then you wake up not every day you’re going to feel it, but maybe the next day you do. You’re reenergized and you’re pumped up and you’ve got some good sleep or you’ve had something to eat or something has turned. Now you’re back in the game.
The easy thing for so many people is just to quit and go home. You always look back and you don’t want to be on the other side just with a life full of regrets. If I would just stuck it out for another two weeks or whatever the number is. Unfortunately, too many people don’t. All the things you said are really a foundational piece. When you’ve grown up through adversity and just really tapping into some of these different things but whatever you do, just keep that will to keep pursuing and keep going. The Green Beret is a division of the army, correct?
Yes. A Green Beret is just a slang term for United States Army Special forces. That’s what the unit is actually called. We’re divided up into twelve-man teams. It’s a small unit tactics. Everything we do is small teams. When we’re deployed, we go overseas. We live with, train with, fight alongside host nationals, Afghans, Iraqis. They’ve become your brothers as well, your brothers in arms, even though they wear a different flag in their shoulders. You have to learn to respect and work alongside these people even when you don’t always agree or fully understand the culture and customs and where they’re coming from.
Let’s go back to when you were high school and you’re working with those autistic kids. You mentioned what a great lesson in life for you it was understanding compassion for humans and different perspectives and the way they go about communicating. How much of that do you think tied into when you went over to Iraq and Afghanistan, your ability to cope? You’re great with people. I’ve been with you and you’re fantastic, you’re very compassionate, you’re a great listener. Do you think that time that you spent back in the day after post high school certainly helped you out when you went over there?
Yes, absolutely. I learned how to be patient and understand that at the end of the day, we all basically want the same things. We want to feel secure, we want to feel safe, we want to be loved, we want what’s best for our families. We want all those things. Sometimes we just go about them in different ways and we see things differently, the way we approach life or whatever. That’s where that all came from because there are a lot of things that you just do not understand or be able to necessarily relate to because these people are so different from you wherever you are in the world. If you can have that understanding that they’re probably trying to get to the same place you are emotionally, it just makes things that much easier.
What’s cool about all human beings is no matter the language barriers and the accents and the way that we do things, when we laugh or when we cry, it all sounds the same and it’s basically the same. You have to understand how similar we are even when we feel so different. There are ways to relate to everybody. Smiling is a good one, just being open and being honest and being clear with who you are and what you’re about and what you’re trying to do.
Way more good interactions than bad no matter where you’ve been in the world that the good has always outweighed the bad in that way. I’ve learned so much of that starting out. A lot of times I feel like I wasted a lot of my early twenties because I didn’t really know, I was just spinning my wheels going from one thing to the other but I was learning what that was. That was my education. That was my college.
I’ve been doing this podcast now for months or so and they’ve really become effective. I’ve had so many people reach out to me and say how much it affected their life. It’s not about me. It’s about the people I’ve had on the show. I can tell you that I would not have been in a position to do this ten, twenty years ago. I just didn’t have the experience, and that’s what you’re talking about.
Even though you didn’t realize some of the things that you’re doing at the time, they all have been part of this resume of things that you’ve been doing that have really counted to where you are today, that set you up and continue to propel you forward. I’ve never asked this question before, when you take a look at your experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan, did you prefer one over the other? Is the geography more mountainous or something in Afghanistan than in Iraq? How is that?
Iraq has its beauty as well. I think more about Iraq comes from like, “This is the Babylon.” Some of the manmade stuff from over the centuries is just absolutely unbelievable. I think two of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are actually in Iraq. You can’t see those today. I think the pyramids are the only ones you can physically see now. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, all that stuff is there and you could see that. Where I was based was right where the Tigris and Euphrates connect and it was gorgeous. Some of the land was very lush. Then you go through the developed areas, they just don’t have the sanitation and the infrastructure that we have, the means to keep things up, to keep things going. There’s that side of things too that can be off putting for us, but it’s a beautiful desert out there.
Then you go to Afghanistan and up until the Russians, I think in the ‘70s, until they invaded, Afghanistan was a destination for climbers or mountaineers because those mountains are absolutely stunning and they still are. When you get out away from the cities, the mountains there are beautiful. There’s a little bit of altitude and you definitely feel that. They’re gorgeous places for sure, especially when you get in those rural areas but they’re very different. They’re farther apart than people think. Even people in the military, we don’t realize it until a lot of these young soldiers they go look at the map and they’re like, “These are completely different parts of the world almost.” They all seem so centralized because we associate them with the Middle East.
I’ve seen a lot of images on TV but when I saw that movie, Lone Survivor, great movie and I know they probably didn’t film that in Afghanistan, it just seemed they’re trying to replicate what it was like over there. I have an affinity for the mountains and it seemed very mountainous and very pretty cool place.
It was a destination. Through the ‘60s, it was one of the spots to go. Mountaineers were going out there and tracked in. Even back then too it’s crazy when you look at old videos or photos, it was very Westernized. The government and parliament and all that stuff, people were wearing suits. As things have gone with history we had the Russians and the United States. We supported the Mujahideen and brought that old tradition back to Afghanistan and put them back in power in that way. That carried on and then it’s splintered, it’s fractioned into other things and it’s come back on us.
You’re in the military for six years and now you bounced out. Where did this whole idea about, “I’m going to go back to college?” It just seemed that was the right thing for you to do. Now you’re motivated. You have much more of a clear idea of the path you want to go forward and you need the education. Is that what happened?
I never played football growing up and I regretted it. I was 29 and I was ready for the next thing. I would end up joining the National Guard so I would continue deploying while I was playing, which worked out awesome. I didn’t want to go back to school. A big part of that was I wanted to go try give football a shot. I didn’t want to live with that regret of not playing my favorite sport.
At first, I thought about just going to a small school. One of my friends, my closest friend in the military named Brad Keys, who you know Lisa. Unfortunately, Brad passed away in 2012 but this was back in 2010. He was the one that encouraged me. He’s like, “If you’ve got to go try and play football, you’ve got to go to a big school. You’re a Green Beret. You’ve got to go with the most elite.”
As a football player recruited by a number of different places, I would have told you just the opposite. I’m glad you never talked to me and you never listened to me because what you pulled off was incredible.
I think the fact that I didn’t play before, Mark, I had that naivety in that world too, is probably why I even tried and made it. My dad made this point before. If I would have played growing up and realize how hard that would be to play at that level, I don’t think I would have done that. I might have gone to a small school if I went at all. Because I hadn’t done it and because I had people like Brad pushing me and believing in me, I went and gave it a shot. I go out to Austin, Texas and walk on to the team and I just went as hard as I could in the wrong direction, a hundred miles an hour all times.
I wouldn’t let them cut me. I was on the scout team for that first year and a half as a safety. I started long snap and just try to find a way on the field. I’ve identified the most thankless job out there and figured that’s perfect for me right there. I was able to the win the spot and I started for three years because of that. It was all because of the encouragement from people like Brad. Also, I had a reason to believe in myself now after earning that Green Beret and being able to accomplish a few things. I built that mental resume where I felt like I could do anything.
I started playing football when I was eight years old. Just like I’ve told a lot of people, you just don’t jump into the NFL. It took me years and years and years and situations and just adversities and having to overcome. When I played at the University of Washington, I was recruited all over the place. I spent two years on the scout team. On my third year, I was playing special teams. I red-shirted a year. I started for two years but it was a long time before I saw the field. There were a lot of dark days, “Am I doing the right thing?”
There were even a lot of players that were recruited much higher than I was, just in terms of their prominence. They were the number one running back in the country or whatever. They would show up and they were just in over their head. The whole question as well as all these walk-ons was, “Where’s the best fit ultimately?” It’s always 20/20 because you have to look back and you don’t know where your career is going to go.
Trying to take on something that in your case you’d never played football before, then you walk on University of Texas, your coach was Mack Brown at the time, great, legendary coach and developed program. They’d been national champs. If you’re going to try it, why not go to the top? You’ve accomplished something with the Green Berets. It’s absolutely amazing. It was really incredible. At the same time, something that I didn’t factor in is long snapping is a special skillset. I don’t think I can long snap.
You can. If you spend a few months on it, you’d figure it out.
Did you have guys that you were snapping to?
It was my sophomore year or I guess red shirt freshman year. Towards the end of it, we had ball practices. I was just like, “I’ve got to find a way on the field.” I’ve got to run down and kickoff that year when we were blowing out Texas Tech. I threw a guy down. I was nowhere near the tackle, but it was like that rush in my first play in a game. It was a homey and my teammates all went nuts. I had that rush and I was like, “I have to find a way on the field.” During ball practices, I’m literally looking around at practice one day. I’m like, “What can I do? Can I be a holder?” I know the special teams was my only way in realistically. I wasn’t going to be a gunner. I didn’t have that type of athleticism and speed and size to do something like that.
I just noticed the long snapper happened to be a senior and his backup happened to be a senior. I knew they had other guys and they had a freshman coming in that’s supposed to be sixth rank snapper in the country or whatever, I don’t really know. I was like, “I’ll just start messing around with that.” I pitched in high school and I’ve got a pretty good arm and so I started just messing with it and watching the other snapper.
I actually deployed that summer, I went back overseas. I brought a couple of footballs with me and told Mack Brown, the coach, “I’m going to snap overseas this summer and I would love a shot at the job when I get back, if that’s possible.” He was like, “Of course.” I think at the back of his head he was like, “Are you kidding me? You never even played football before you got here. You’re lucky to be on the team. Can’t you just be good with that?”
I brought those balls over with me and I was Googling and YouTubing long snappers and practicing it and messing around with it and spending every day, a couple times a day, snapping 50 balls here, hundred balls here and just getting those reps in. Eventually it started to come together when I came back. That first year I won the job on the per field goals and extra points even though I was 185, 190 pounds, playing center essentially, those extra points. Then the year after that, I won the punt job as well. Essentially, I started for three years through that while deploying every summer and continuing to practice, I would come back and do that job. I ended up getting a shot in the NFL, which was unbelievable.
[bctt tweet=”Be open, honest, and clear with who you are, what you’re about, and what you’re trying to do.” via=”no”]
What was that like? You’ve got this whole can-do attitude and so you get a shot with the Seahawks. It must have been incredible. I saw a video in YouTube where you’ve got the call. I’ve been in that same room before where I’ve got the call from Tom Flores, the old Raider head coach. Your buddies are around, your family’s around, you’re high-fiving and you’re just possibilities. Ironically for you and me, that’s where I’m from. I grew up with the Seahawks. I’ve done a podcast with Steve Largent and other guys. That was my hometown, home team and it was really cool to see how Pete Carroll really embraced you.
On that last day of draft day was actually the biggest day in sports history. It was the Kentucky Derby, Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather fight. There were two games sevens I think in the NBA and in the hockey and the conference finals. Then Nate Boyer got signed with the Seahawks. That was the biggest. The St. Louis Rams before they came to LA and the Seahawks were the two teams that wanted to sign me and I had to make a decision. Seahawks were coming off back to back Super bowls. Definitely a much harder team to make but I couldn’t turn that opportunity down. When I got that call from Coach Carroll, it was so surreal and I just had to do it. To be coached by Mack Brown and now Pete Carroll, my only two coaches, how could you not do that?
As short lived as it was up there, I only played in one game. It was absolutely incredible and something that I’ll never forget. Who could forget that? Just to look back on that, just remember being on the sideline during the national anthem and standing there, just in tears before the game, that feeling of what I’ve accomplished and all those people that helped me along the way. People like Brad, that weren’t there to see it. It was this bittersweet but really powerful moment. I had the opportunity to play for the entire second half. All my snaps were really good. I did everything I could. Being a 34-year-old rookie, you’ve got an uphill battle there. I honestly don’t regret a second of it.
It’s this whole thing about your path, where you’ve been, how it’s gone. Tell me about the open letter with Colin Kaepernick. I know that was a huge deal and you were able to actually go and meet with him. When you say an open letter, what does that mean? Obviously, you’re writing a letter and you’re expressing your feelings about him sitting on the bench during the national anthem. Is open letter mean you write this thing and then you send it to a newspaper? How does that work?
I wasn’t going to write anything. I didn’t even want to be involved in this discussion because it was such a polarizing deal in the middle of the election cycle. I’m not an activist. I didn’t see myself as one. I had all these news organizations, publications, reached out and wanted me to write an op ed, an opinion piece about this whole thing. I was like, “No, I don’t need to inject my opinion in this. Everybody’s already got their opinion and not going to help anything.” I eventually decided to write something for the Army Times and I just told them, “The only way I’ll write something is if I can write it like an open letter explaining my experiences and my relationship to the flag and the anthem and what it means to me, but not judging Colin and telling him what he needs to be doing.”
That’s the way I wrote it and Colin actually reached out after he read it. A lot of people read it. It was this big viral thing the next day. Colin reached out and wanted to meet with me and we ended up sitting down the following day in the lobby of the team hotel in San Diego before they were going to go play the Chargers in their last preseason game.
It was through our conversation that he decided to take a knee instead of sit on the bench, isolated from his team. Then that spread and just became the thing to do with the way to protest. I wanted him to stand. I want everybody to stand because of what it means to me but I can’t just demand things from people without listening to them and respecting where they’re coming from their opinion. I think that at least at that time, he showed me some respect as well by adjusting his protest.
You stood next to him standing with your hand on your heart and he decided to kneel versus sit on the bench, right?
Yeah. It’s a pretty iconic picture. It’s maybe my favorite picture that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s just him and Eric Reid or Eric’s note for the first time that that game as well kneeling next to each other on the sideline and I’m standing right next to Colin with my hand in my heart. It was interesting to be a part of that. Definitely being a part of history in some way.
Who knows if he will look back and have regrets on what he did but when you are the employee of a team and certainly you want to express yourself but at the detriment of your employment, that’s a hard thing to swallow. Muhammad Ali back in the days was a brave soul but he was also very independent. Boxing is an independent sport. He’s not under the wing of somebody else’s organization who can either choose to have him box or not box. Colin and Reid also have found themselves unemployed. They’re great players. I think they still have talent, they could still be out there playing but it’s just a hot potato. Like a lot of owners, they just don’t want to deal with that. There are too many other players out there willing to play and not having controversy behind it.
Tell me about the philanthropic Waterboys. That’s something that I was involved in. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared this with you, but when I was sitting on top of Kilimanjaro with Chris Long, which is the son of Howie Long. I put my arm around him and I go, “There are not too many guys who can say that they’ve actually played with your father in a summit at Kilimanjaro with you.” That was a special moment for me. Essentially Waterboys is raising money for the people of Maasai tribe down in Tanzania to provide water wells to these different villages. With all your experience, how did you get connected with Chris and involved in Waterboys?
Chris reached out to me actually the day after I got cut from the Seahawks. He told me about what he was doing with Waterboys. Together we formulated this plan, this idea to involve veterans in some way and to use that challenge of Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and money for these water wells in Tanzania. It was a perfect fit for me to be able to keep fighting for something. Fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves, something that I wanted to be doing since I was younger and since I was in the military. It’s something I wanted to continue to do and this was a great way to do that and to involve veterans who are also seeking that purpose and mission.
You have been four years into this, right?
I was on mission number two. You just completed mission number three down there. That means you must have climbed Kilimanjaro three times now?
This is my third time. NFL films came out and shot this hour-long documentary about that mission. Your class was the first one we did with a big group like that. It was really the pilot program for what we’re trying to do and it worked out incredibly well. Just to know that it can happen, that it could work, that this was not only possible but it was a great idea. Every trip, every year we go, we’re providing at least 10,000 villagers with these water wells just from our trip alone, and then the awareness that it’s raising to build many more wells is huge. Chris already reached his initial goal of 32 wells representing the 32 NFL teams. We’re up to 34, 35 now and his new goal is to serve a million people and that’s definitely going to happen.
I’m super proud that I was working through you. We were able to get Jim Mora on the trip and so he and I paired together and we raised $47,000 in the cost $45,000 to fund a well. Chris had agreed to, I’m sure you’re behind it too, to dedicate that well one, to a kid named Nick Pasquale who had tragically died as a freshman in the UCLA football team and then to my dad, Buddy Pattison, he was an air force pilot and he’s been all over the world. Your careers in many ways are very similar but just a total giving guy. I’m very hopeful in the future that I can go to whatever well that sign is now in memorandum of and visit that, it would mean a lot to me to do that. Fingers crossed, I can do that one of these days. I’m super appreciative that you guys allowed us to make that happen.
Nate, where do you go from here? You’re doing all these amazing things and you’re helping former vets and you’re helping NFL players through your MVP. You’ve got Waterboys going on. Where do you take this whole thing from here because it just seems like you keep challenging yourself to the next level?
I don’t know is the answer. I’m going to keep my eyes open and keep pursuing things I’m interested in. I’m out in LA mainly because I’m coming full circle with the film industry stuff. I want to have my own production company and produce my own content eventually. That’s something on a business side of things that I really want to do. These other things, it will come. I just got to stay patient and keep my eyes open and keep pursuing those things I’m interested in. These opportunities seem to pop up.
That whole situation with Colin, I saw that as an opportunity to be involved in something that matters. A way to problem solve some of the issues we’re having in our country amongst our own people and the lack of unity and all that. These things will continue to arise and I just got to be prepared to lend myself to them and be involve. I’m not too worried about it. There are plenty of problems out there to solve and they’ll keep coming and I’m going to keep moving forward in the meantime.
It’s where preparation meets opportunity and you keep preparing and this opportunity keep arising in front of you. I know one of the things you’re doing too is public speaking, where can people find you?
I’ve got a website, NateBoyer.com, also on social media @NateBoyer37 on Instagram and Twitter. Those are the best ways to get in touch with me directly. There are a bunch of different things I’m involved in and if anybody has any ideas about something they’d like to reach out about, please feel free to.
I’m still going to try to pull you down into climbing up to base camp at Everest. I’ve got you and Mora and Laird Hamilton and a bunch of other guys. It’s still working with behind the scenes and when those things pop up, I will re-approach you and we can have a conversation about where that might go.
That would be awesome.
Thank you so much. It was a great treat. I can’t even thank you beyond words what that meant to both Jim Mora and I to be involved with Waterboys. It meant so much. It was a life transformation for us in terms of really giving back and not just giving money because that’s easy. It’s really getting involved and seeing the results of that happen and the gratefulness of those people that just showered us with just happiness and they have nothing and yet they seem so rich. It was a true lesson for me on what’s really important in life and for you, you helped more or less channel that for us to be down there and be a part of that. I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity. Thank you.
Thank you, Mark.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Nate Boyer
- The Tragedy in Sudan article
- Kathy Eldon – previous episode
- Steve Largent – previous episode
- Colin Kaepernick
- Army Times article of Nate Boyer
- Nick Pasquale
- @NateBoyer37 on Instagram
- Nate Boyer on Twitter
- Violets Are Blue Skin Care
- Cynthia Besteman – previous episode
- Finding Your Summit on iTunes