What Is Your Why? By Alex Kaliniak, Selection 021 Finisher

“What is your why?”

Cadre kept asking. I thought I knew my why going into GORUCK #selection021, but looking back I really didn’t. The more it sucked the more I enjoyed it, the misery was comforting. I did some groundbreaking soul searching between pissing myself during hydro-burpees and pissing myself to stay warm during tropical storm Nester. So I want to amend my answer from my pre-selection video…

Growing up I was a substantially overweight teenager (see attached photo evidence) and like many obese youth it became my identity. I got the full starter kit, awesome nickname (Gummy), XXL dark t-shirt to wear in the pool, labeled the “Class Clown”, lifetime membership to the friend zone, and one big hole where my self-esteem and confidence would normally be. Being the fat kid was all I had, it was all I knew. What else was I if not that? 13 year old, 300lb me was scared to be anything else. I feared losing what little relevance I had scraped and clawed together.

After graduating high school not much changed. I would always be that same kid, it was like my destiny was written. Until one day, I decided, f**k this, I’m tired of looking at other people and wishing to be them, wishing that I was better. Like they say, “Go sh*t in one hand, and wish in the other, and tell me which one fills up faster”. I woke up, marched into a recruiting office and before I knew it I was headed to basic training as the newest E1 private for the U.S. Army.

If you ever pass through Fort Knox, KY. look really close in the ditch outside the front gate, because that’s where I left the body and mindset of the person I used to be. Buried in a shallow grave of shame and self-doubt. Words aren’t enough to describe how fully I committed my entire being to the NEW person I would become. After basic training I went to Airborne school and got assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, NC. From there I only picked up momentum. What else can I do?! I wanted more! Ranger School, Sniper School, Long Range Reconnaissance and Leaders Course, Hand to Hand Combative, Jumpmaster, CrossFit, Endurance, Mobility, more training, more training, more training. This was my new obsession, I replaced food and self-doubt with anything productive I could get my hands on.

After 8 amazing years of serving my country, I felt the war was winding down and it was a good time for me to move on and start a family of my own. Get a taste of that good life we all signed up to defend. A week after I moved to Denver I met my queen, Alexis (yeah, Alex and Alexis, totes adorbs). Fast forward five years to our new life here in Dallas with our two beautiful daughters, 22mo Monroe and 6mo Sterling, our wonderful businesses, and amazing fitness family at our gym D-Town CrossFit. Our members mean the world to me, seeing them succeed day in and day out, set goals, crush goals, and repeat brings such joy to me I can’t even explain.

If you ask me, I have everything a man could ask for, no exaggeration. It’s the life I dreamed of everyday. However, I started finding myself struggling internally. For the first time I felt old ghosts gaining a voice, haunting me from a world away. I felt the person I buried coming back. I’ve spent a decade dealing with eliminating exterior threats by staying physically strong, mentally sharp, and tactically proficient. I’m not equipped to handle an enemy from within at close quarters combat…my own headspace.

Then, a breakthrough. While looking for an event to get the members excited to train for and complete together, I found GORUCK Selection. And seven seconds later I was registered. The minute I strapped an ALICE pack to my back, boots on feet, and hit my first timed march, it was like a warm blanket being wrapped around my soul. Training for the PT test was like stripping body armor off my mind. What had just happened? The more I punished myself the better I felt. It hit me, this was the same medium I used to reinvent myself and five years ago… I just quit. I hung up my boots, packed my ruck away, stayed out of the rain, walked around mud, spent my days under the AC. Day by day I began taking the easy wrong roads over the hard right roads made me who I was. The new me I worked so hard to be, sacrificed so much to be.

Training for Selection gave me my edge back, gave me the confidence that I once honed into one hell of a dangerous fu*king spear. As my training intensity grew so did my unwavering intensity to be the best, win, at all cost. Sacrifice my mind, body, my everything in the pursuit of being better…at everything…all the time.


I went into this event having never done or seen another GORUCK event (admittedly, that was a mistake). I wasn’t interested in gaming, I was going in like a f*cking Tomahawk cruise missile. I was going to go in physically bulletproof from my training and diet, and mentally, I couldn’t be in a better place, because I truly wanted to be there. I didn’t care about a stupid patch, I was there because that is where I belonged.

So here’s my why…

Every decision I make that isn’t moving me forward, is taking a shovel full of dirt off that weak, pathetic corpse I buried in that shallow grave outside of Fort Knox. When I think about that…winning is my only option.

Congratulations to Mark Jones and Patrick Mies, I enjoyed taking the ride with you boys. Chad Malone and Jonathan Hurtado are a pair of apex predators that deserve every ounce of respect that you can give.

The most professional and unwavering group of Cadre I’ve ever had the pleasure if training with, thank you for the opportunity, the experience, the respect, and the compassion you showed each of us.

Keep “Building Better Americans” and I hope to see each of you soon. 2021 is a long way off, that Team Assessment party just caught my eye. Maybe it’s time to see what that’s all about?


  1. Jessica says:

    I’m moved by how far you’ve come from your shaken teenage self. You really nailed it when describing all the bruises that come with that identity.

    I have questions! You mentioned that during training for the PT, you realized you were doing the same thing you had done when you enlisted: punishing yourself to bulletproof yourself from being hurt. Then you quit upon this realization. What came up there? And then what changed as you went through training for Selection?

    From what you wrote, it still sounded like you were using the physical punishment and mental discipline to bury an emotional wound. Did I miss a distinction you made there? Sure, it wasn’t about winning, but I’m curious about the comfort/belonging you felt in that process. On some level, it seems like you are ‘armoring up’ against a vulnerability, or to use your metaphor, adding more dirt to the shallow grave, hoping to keep it from ever resurfacing. It’s certainly not wrong (and has clearly been effective for you), but I’m curious about how sustainable it is. I’d love to hear more.

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