Instagram is overflowing with ego, falsities, and inanity. Which makes those rare, truly inspiring posts much more meaningful. You know the ones; those snippets of incredible humans doing unbelievable things. You stare at your screen, incredulous, as the video loops back for your sixth watch.
That’s how we feel looking at these 29 U.S. veterans’ Instagram accounts. Every single time.
Throughout their careers, our valiant military members routinely undertake insurmountable feats: achieving peak physical fitness, surviving combat, surviving the mental aftermath, and overcoming physical setbacks from injuries and low testosterone.
No matter what knocks them down, these veterans get up and push forward.
That grit that drives that is almost tangible. It drives them to the gym, to marathons, to CrossFit games. It pushes them to achieve new heights. And they always hit the mark.
That determination inspires and motivates us. If you want to feel the same, follow these amazing people.
1. Noah Galloway
Double amputee Sergeant Noah Galloway lost his left leg and arm during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His journey back to physical and mental health reinvigorated his passion for fitness. “I joined the 24-hour gym and went at two in the morning when no one was there. I was starting from scratch,” he told Men’s Health.
Ever since he’s pushed his limits. From 5K races to marathons, CrossFit events to Tough Mudders, and plenty of Spartan Races, Galloway’s feats stand as a testament to his grit.
2. Nick Bare
Nick Bare is a US Army Infantry Veteran. As a student in the ROTC program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Bare started his YouTube channel offering insights into the rigorous fitness aspects of Army life.
Bare shares how his military mindset helps him go all in on his training. His hybrid athlete programs offer the same approach to help others build size, strength, endurance, and determination all in one go.
3. Derek Weida
US paratrooper Derek Weida was shot in his right knee during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan in 2007. He spent the next four years depressed and angry. When his leg was finally amputated, it ignited Weida.
He found his lane in fitness, breaking boundaries and setting PRs. Weida started The Next Objective, giving veterans gym memberships and access to an established network to help them achieve success and happiness.
4. C.T. Fletcher
In 2013, C.T. Fletcher burst onto the YouTube fitness scene. Fletcher’s ‘fuck procrastination’ mantra motivates his followers to drop their excuses and put in the work. Fletcher also opened Iron Addicts Gym, where he lifts head-to-head with greats like Terry Crews and Mike O’Hearn.
5. Jose Luis Sanchez
Staff Sergeant Jose Luis Sanchez lost his leg two weeks before his Afghanistan tour was over. His patrol unit sent him home with an American flag covered in personal messages.
Today, Sanchez runs New York and Boston marathons carrying that same flag. He races for the Semper Fi Fund, which cares for our nation’s critically wounded, ill, and injured service members.
6. Dave Castro
Dave Castro, 44, found CrossFit as a Navy Seal. He immediately saw the benefits and began volunteering at his local CrossFit gym. Later, Castro was tasked with designing and running the first ever CrossFit Games. Today, Castro serves as an important link between CrossFit and the military community—many of which look to CrossFit WODs to stay combat-ready.
7. Melissa Stockwell
Melissa Stockwell, who lost her leg in active combat, was the first Iraq veteran chosen for the Paralympics in 2008, where she competed in three swimming events: the 100-meter butterfly (sixth place), 100-meter freestyle (fifth), and 400-meter freestyle (fourth).
She pivoted to training for the triathlon and won a bronze medal at the 2016 and 2021 Paralympics. Stockwell co-founded Dare2Tri, a Chicago-based triathlon club for athletes with disabilities.
8. Earl Granville
Earl Granville served nine years in the Army National Guard with deployments to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. On his final tour, he lost his left leg.
Granville now works with various non-profits like Operation Enduring Warrior, the Oscar Mike Foundation, and Warrior Strong, keeping wounded and disabled veterans and law enforcement physically active after injuries. He stays active with Spartan races, CrossFit, mono-skiing, and marathons.
9. Kirstie Ennis
After losing her leg in Afghanistan, Kirstie Ennis was forced into retirement. Today, she’s tackling the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each continent. She also started a non-profit, the Kirstie Ennis Foundation, helping others climb their own mountains by providing access to outdoor recreational therapy clinics and expeditions.
10. Josh Bridges
CrossFit helped Josh Bridges join the US Navy Seal ranks. While on active duty, Bridges balanced serving his country and competing, taking 2nd place in the CrossFit games.
If you want a beating, try one of the punishing WODs he shares on his IG or one of his training programs that help active service members get stronger and fitter.
11. Max Philisaire
While serving overseas, Max Philisaire used bodybuilding to stay motivated. Now retired, Philisaire serves fitness instruction and inspiration on his Instagram account.
12. Justin Lascek
As a Special Forces Medical Sergeant, Justin Lascek, led assault elements against ISIS, and supervised the wellness of American forces. In Afghanistan, Lascek lost both legs below the knee and his testicles. He shares his incredible recovery progress on Instagram—from taking his first steps as a double amputee to repping out deadlifts and pull-ups.
13. Chandler Smith
Chandler Smith placed sixth in the 2020 CrossFit Games while on active duty in the Army and without any formal coaching. After retiring, Smith won the CrossFit Rogue Invitational qualifier in September 2022, securing his spot for the Rogue Invitational in Austin later this year.
14. Travis Mills
After an explosion took four limbs, staff sergeant Travis Mills knew recovery would be arduous. He told Men’s Health he slowly got stronger and was able to start feeding and dressing himself again.
Mills started the Travis Mills Foundation which gives the gift of rest and relaxation to eight recalibrated veterans a week.
15. Kaj Larsen
In 2021, veteran Navy Seal Kaj Larsen and fellow vet Don Tran attempted an insane feat: Carry a 45-pound rock under the ocean for five miles.
The team spent hundreds of hours prepping including breathing work and underwater exercises with weights.
The challenge was dedicated to Force Blue, a nonprofit organization aiding combat veterans upon returning, with a flair for preserving and restoring the ocean. You can watch the full video here. Spoiler: Of course, they pulled it off.
16. Don Tran
For former Marine Don Tran, that was just one thousands of days spent in the water. Tran co-founded Deep End Fitness with fellow Marine raider Prime Hall.
Their training methodology stems from working as Marine Corps Water Survival Instructors. There they realized building confidence in the water can elevate your performance in all aspects of life. In sessions, Tran and Hall focus on breathing techniques, aquatic skills, and functional fitness.
17. Prime Hall
Tran and Hall started underwater football during their training time. When they left the Marines, they began their own rec games to stay in shape.
These games were well attended, so they launched the Underwater Torpedo League. A quickly growing sport with a cult West Coast following, the game demands intense cardio and total body strength. The rules require that players stay underwater as they stave off defenders and score by getting the torpedo in the goal.
18. Austen Alexander
US Navy veteran Austen Alexander regularly shares military-inspired fitness challenges on his YouTube Channel. After challenging elite athletes and ex-military, Alexander has launched The Battle Bunker—a unique competition comprising three military-style fitness events. Each is designed to test the highest level of physical readiness and anyone can participate.
19. Tshane Johnson
Former Marine Corps serviceman Tshane Johnson teamed up with the Purple Heart Honor Mission to attempt the Guinness World Record for the most pushups in one hour.
Johnson squeaked out 3,050 reps in one hour, a huge victory. Though the record has since been beat, Johnson has his sights set on new records.
20. Nate Boyer
Former Green Beret Nate Boyer helped create the Merging Vets and Players (MVP) program. This brings former NFL players and military veterans together for a workout session before segueing into deep conversations he calls “fireside chats.”
21. KC Mitchell
Army veteran KC Mitchell lost his leg in Afghanistan and returned stateside after 44 surgeries, depressed and in pain. The act of moving strengthened Mitchell’s outlook and his wounded body. He began powerlifting—a sport where you bench, squat, and deadlift as much weight as possible—and was hooked.
Mitchell became the first amputee to complete a full powerlifting competition, racking in at a monstrous 435-pound squat, 424-pound bench, and 600-pound deadlift.
22. Erik Bartell
Army vet Erik Bartell is executive director of the FitOps Foundation—an organization founded to help veterans entering the fitness industry.
Through three-week teaching retreats that serve as one part clinic, one part networking, and one part group therapy, Bartell helps them start their post-military career.
23. Ryan Sowder
In 2019, National Guard truck driver Ryan Sowder made history with the highest score in the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT): a massive 597 out of 600.
Incorporating exercises like deadlifts, medicine ball throws, and a sprint-drag carry, the new test puts emphasis on functional fitness and CrossFit workouts the military’s elite use to achieve peak physical fitness. Sowder now competes as a professional CrossFit athlete, scoring 104th at the 2022 Games.
24. David Goggins
David Goggins is a retired Navy Seal and former U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq war. After several of his friends died in Afghanistan, Goggins began long-distance running to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Known for pushing to extreme limits and punishing workouts, Goggins is considered among the world’s best ultra-endurance athletes.
25. Jocko Willink
Honored with the Silver Star and Bronze Star Medal for his service, former Naval officer Jocko Willink is famous for 4:30 a.m. daily wakeup calls. His Instagram is peppered with them, each with a motivational message like “Search and destroy” or “Mule kick that door”.
Willink hosts the Jocko podcast with Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Echo Charles. He also co-authored the books Extreme Ownership and the Dichotomy of Leadership all to help flex your willpower.
26. Leif Babin
Leif Babin served nine years as a Navy Seal, navigating the Battle of Ramadi, where he learned that leadership was the single greatest factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.
Babin pairs up with fellow author Jocko Willink often for events where they speak to the leadership behind winning teams. Babin loves staying active: he logs some impressive miles behind the stroller, slams CrossFit workouts, and enjoys outdoor sports like archery and fly fishing.
27. Jared Bullock
Jared Bullock joined the military after 9/11 and served two tours in Iraq before training for Special Forces, becoming a Green Beret. While deployed in Afghanistan, Bullock lost his best friend and his right arm and leg.
Just 10 months later, he ran a 12-mile race. He immersed himself in bodybuilding, adapting his form and equipment to his body and needs. Bullock now owns the youth gym Foundry Athletics with his wife.
28. Jedidiah Ballard
Former Army Ranger Jedidiah Ballard served two years as a battalion surgeon in Afghanistan. Now an ER doctor, Ballard has completed a Special Forces medical tech dive course in Key West, finished the World’s Toughest Mudder—a 24-hour obstacle race—and summited Mt. Hood. A military-inspired workout using a rucksack—a weighted backpack—is his favorite.
29. Don Faul
Meet CrossFit’s new CEO: Don Faul. The former U.S. Marine was recently CEO at Athos—a smart apparel company for athletes and service members.
Don claims eight years of training in the box have changed his life. “Most people around the world haven’t had the opportunity to experience the life-changing impact of CrossFit,” Faul said. “I’m excited to work with the team to change that.”