Valentino followed a two-pronged approach that consisted of a physical plan and a mental plan:1. He did 5 reps every minute. This pace kept his heart rate down so he could conserve his energy for the long haul.
2. He pretended he was on a mission in Iraq. Every 1,000 pull ups got him to a “checkpoint,” where he was able to resupply fellow Marines with ammo and food.
If Valentino didn’t make it, the Marines would die.
That’s an unconventional strategy to say the least. But then again, with an exhausting, near-impossible feat like this one, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” technique.
It’s whatever helps you find the physical strength and the mental strength to finish the next rep—even when your hands bruise, your vision blurs, or your rib pops out of its socket, as Valentino’s did three times.
For Valentino, his motivation came from the Marines—and not just the imaginary ones at his checkpoints, but also the real ones suffering at home.
That’s because he used to be one of them.
A decade ago, Valentino had just returned home from his tour in Iraq, and sunk into a depression.
“Here I was, a war fighter who had been in charge of 42 men, and I come back and I’m not in charge of anybody,” he says.
He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after his battalion had lost 16 men to improvised explosive devices. He stopped taking care of himself.
One day in 2006, the Marine who had always been fit , put on dress pants and realized that he had love handles.
“I was like, ‘Hell, no,’” Valentino remembers. “‘I am not going to be weak anymore.’”
So he started working out again. The fat slowly fell away and muscle started to replace it.
He started to change inside, too. “I noticed that as I got stronger, that depression started to dissipate and my confidence started to return.”
His training improved his life so much that he turned it into a full-time job. He became a trainer, and recently opened his own CrossFit box in Dallas called CrossFit Apocalypse.
Now, he wants to help other vets find peace, too.
“I want to get veterans to wake up from PTSD, depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts,” he says. “I want them to get back to the foundation of what makes military men and women strong, which is physical fitness.”
That’s why he partnered with Spike TV’s Veterans Operation Wellness initiative to film his world record attempt. He wants to spread the word about challenges veterans face when coming home.
Valentino knew he would break the record if he stuck to his physical and mental plan. So he surrounded himself with reminders of his mission.
As he did pull up after pull up, his Marine Corps flag lie nearby. It helped him keep the slogan “the few, the proud, the Marines” playing over and over again in his head.
He also brought a map of Iraq, and plotted out his checkpoint route. “It was a reminder to me that no matter what I was facing, I would finish it out,” he says.
But perhaps most powerful for Valentino was the presence of Army veteran Brendan Ferreira, an ambassador for the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Taking Up Fitness campaign, which helps vets get back in shape.
Ferreira, an amputee, did pull ups while he was there in support—with his one arm.
“Just seeing him do pull ups was a reminder that I got nothing to complain about,” Valentino says. “I have two damn working arms.”
And that’s what helped push him through his toughest moments. When every pain receptor in his body was telling him to stop, Valentino kept going.
It’s impossible to quit when your mission is so much bigger than you, he says.