Chances are you’ve heard of Noah Galloway either from his stint as finalist on Season 20 of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars or when he led his team to victory on the first season of FOX’s American Grit. However, there’s more to his story. He joined the military after 9/11, but on December 19, 2005, an IED attack caused him to lose his left arm above the elbow and his left leg above the knee. After that, he had a long period of depression where he was withdrawn and out of shape. But it was his three children that motivated him to overcome that. All of this and more is detailed in his first book, Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier.
I got to talk to Noah about what helped him overcome his depression after his accident, his favorite dance he did on Dancing with the Stars, why he wanted to write his book, his current obsession with Cheers and so much more! Keep reading to see what he had to say!
I’m curious, just because I don’t think I personally know, what made you join the military initially?
Well, you know, I come from a strong military family, but I never wanted to go in to the military. I was in college when 9/11 happened and that morning was the deciding factor. It wasn’t that I was making a career decision. It was just that I was 20 years old, physically fit, and I loved my country. So I dropped out of school and enlisted in the military.
Once you were in it, I know you really loved it. So did you see it as something that you wanted to make your career?
Yes, I always tell people [that] you hear it from all kinds of different soldiers: there is no politics when you’re in combat. So the reason we were there doesn’t matter. I enjoyed the excitement, the brotherhood, everything that was involved with wearing that uniform. So yeah, once I was in I was like, “Yeah, this is it.” I accepted retirement or death in combat. Never prepared for the in between that I ended up finding myself in.
Yeah, so talking about that in between period, I know after your IED attack, you went through a period of depression. I’m curious, what helped you overcome that? Or what was the moment where you’re like, “No, things have to change. I can’t keep feeling like this. I need to make a change in my life”?
Well, so I mean, the biggest moment for me was I walked in the living room one day and my three kids were sitting on the couch and I realized to my two boys, I’ve shown them what a man is and that’s what they’re going to become one day; and to my little girl, I’m showing her how a man’s supposed to act and that’s what she’s gonna look for one day. I mean I didn’t fix everything, cause I still made mistakes, but every time I screwed up, it was the thought of my three kids that motivated me to do a little better and to improve each more each day. So I owe everything to my three kids [for] where I am today because that’s what motivated me to get out of that depression.
So your Men’s Health magazine cover is what initially put you in the national spotlight and I know you were the first veteran and amputee to be on the cover. What did that mean to you and even now what does it mean to you to represent that community on such a national spotlight?
Well when it was first announced, I was embarrassed. I was afraid that to other veterans – other injured veterans – I looked arrogant and I worried about that because I didn’t feel like I should be someone that is in the front, in the public eye. I didn’t feel worthy enough. But then I had all these veterans and family members of veterans that reached out to me. They were just happy to see a positive story cause we always heard the negative. So that made me feel good. Even though it was hard for me to accept that kind of attention, it was good to know that it was doing something positive.
And is that still [what’s happening] now, you’re still hearing people’s stories and them saying ‘thank you’ for showing a positive light on our community? Is that still how it is now?
Without a doubt. I mean on paper, my 15 minutes ran up a long time ago. But in my world, I’m still living on that high because I still talk to people who have said that I motivated them, I inspired them. I mean that’s all I ask in life. I encourage my children to just always be there for others and be a positive light and that’s what I’m trying to do. So I am continuing to have people reach out to me and that motivates me everyday. That’s what gets me up in the gym every morning.
So you were talking about your 15 minutes [of fame] and I know obviously Dancing with the Stars is what really put you on people’s radars. What convinced you to do that show?[laughs] They had to convince me. I didn’t want to do it. I don’t dance. I turned down Survivor and another show because I didn’t want to be away from my kids too long. So when Dancing with the Stars called, I, without hesitation, turned them down and they didn’t hesitate to say, “That’s okay. We’ll send the dancer to you.” So Sharna Burgess lived in Birmingham, Alabama while we flew back and forth to LA for the live show.
Do you have a favorite dance from your time on the show or at least a most memorable one that still sticks with you?
There’s actually two of them, [including one] that no one ever talks about. I did Toby Keith’s “American Soldier”, and that one of the most viewed dances in the history of Dancing with the Stars, which was great. But the Viennese Waltz I did, it just felt good. I remember the judges even said it was the most natural I looked out there. So that one was probably my favorite. I just enjoyed that dance.
Are you and Sharna still in contact? Obviously life happens and she’s done a bunch of other seasons since then, but do you guys still keep in contact?
We do. We text from time to time. Just like any other friends, you’ll go several weeks and then you’ll think of something and I’ll reach out to her or she’ll reach out to me. But yeah, I mean her, the other dancers, I stay in contact with them [and even] some of the crew. When I got there, they told me it was like a family and that’s exactly how it felt and we still stay in contact, just like you would with your family.
So when American Grit then came up after, what made you want to do that? Cause you mentioned you had offers to do Survivor, you had offers to do other things and with Dancing with the Stars, Sharna came to you. So what made you want to do American Grit if that was going to also keep you away from your family and be more like those other shows that you had originally turned down?
That one we filmed in a shorter amount of time and my kids came out to where I was like. We negotiated everything up front to make sure that I had time with my kids and that I wasn’t just doing that all the time. So they got to come up and see things filmed, I took some time off and it didn’t take as long to film.
Gotcha. So shifting gears to your book, what made you want to write a book? Because I know obviously some people don’t feel as [comfortable] being as honest and vulnerable in a format like that. So what made you want to write the book?
Well, I mean it was hard to do because I am very open and honest about my depression and my mistakes that I made. And I just knew when it came out that these people that loved me on Dancing with the Stars were going to hate me now. But what kept me motivated to do the book and put it out there was when I was going through my depression, I felt like I was the only one going through it; all I hoped was to put this book out and if one person read it and connected with it and it helped them, then it did it’s job. I’ve had countless people, not just veterans, not just people with disabilities, but people that have struggled with depression reach out to me since the book and said that it has helped and that made it worth every bit of honesty that I put out there, just to know that it has helped someone else.
Why do you say that people who loved you on Dancing with the Stars were going to hate you once they read your book?
Cause I showed a side of myself that wasn’t, you know, when I was on Dancing with the Stars, people loved it; I was a southern gentleman, I was professional, I was nice. But then in the book, it’s not all of the book but a big part of the book is my depression and me being out drinking all night, not being this good person. But that’s just what was happening so I put it out there.
When you were actually going through the process of writing the book, was the process cathartic in a way? Because like you said, it made you deal with things that you may have not even dealt with before you actually decided to put them in the book. So was it a cathartic process?
So the girl, Rebecca [Baer], that I asked to help me write it, I knew years prior — when I first met her — that one day she was going to write my book for me. I had tons of people reach out to me throughout the years that said, “If you ever do a book, let me help you.” But I knew who I was going to ask. When I called on Rebecca, she was perfect because [we wrote it] was while I was filming American Grit and some days, after hours and hours of filming, I didn’t feel like getting on the phone and us going over stories for a couple hours, but she knew how to ask the right questions. And it was [cathartic]; it would bring up things that I had forgotten about and it was really hard to admit, but she was so good and asked the right questions and that’s why I asked her to help me do it cause she was perfect for that job.
Yeah. There are many ways you can approach an autobiography or memoir. So stylistically, was there an autobiography or memoir that you had read that you were looking at for inspiration in terms of how you wanted to go about writing your book or were you just like, “No, I’m going to figure it out on my own”?
No, there are several different books that I’d come across that intrigued me on their styles. But then when I partnered up with Rebecca, I mean I basically just told her I wanted it to flow well like a story. I give speeches, I’m a storyteller and that’s what I wanted to happen in the book. That’s what we kind of put together. There was, oh man, there’s an author that I really liked and I can’t think of this name right now, but that’s how all of his book [goes]. They’re stories and they’re really good. So that’s what I wanted to base it off of and I cannot think of what that guy’s name is.
It’ll of course come to you once we hang up [laughs]. So you titled your book Living with No Excuses. What does that phrase mean to you and why did you want to call the book that?
Well, me and the publishing company battled over the title. They cut a lot of things out and they wanted the book to not be too long. I was like, “Okay, whatever.” But then [with] the title, I really wanted something along the lines of ‘no excuses’ because you know, when I got back into fitness, just that alone, people started coming up to me in the gym and said I was taking their excuses away, that if I was going to be there, they had to be there. That’s what I’ve always heard since I’ve been injured, that I was taking people’s excuses away. So I wanted the title to flow with something like that. That was the one thing that I fought with them about and I’m glad I won that battle.
So aside from the book, I’m curious: what else are you up to these days? I know you’ve done a little bit of motivational speaking and some fitness related stuff, but what else are you up to these days?[Spending] a lot of time with the kids, cause I still do a lot of speaking; that’s my bread and butter, but I dabble in a few things here and there. The book has done really well and fingers crossed that there’s a possibility of it being a movie, but you never know if that’ll happen or not. But that would be great if it does and if it doesn’t, you know, the book is out there and I’ve gotten very good, positive response from it. So things have been going really good.
That was awesome. Last question – our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd, so what is something that you are currently nerding out about?[laughs] Well nerding out sounds like it should be something very intelligent, but it’s not. I’m just like everyone else: you want to watch Netflix all the time and you feel like you’ve watched every show the minute it comes out. I started Cheers from the beginning. You got 11 seasons, 26 episodes a season. I’m halfway through it on season seven and I have done nothing but research everything there is about the TV show, Cheers. I feel like everywhere I go I’m dropping facts to my friends like they care. They don’t. But my world revolves around Cheers right now.
What’s the most random thing or surprising thing that you learned about Cheers that you had no idea about before you started researching it?
Well so we all know the character Frasier, right? Cause they had a spinoff. Well the Frasier character was only supposed to be in a couple of episodes and then he was out. But he did such a good job on the show, that the fan base wanted him back. So they brought him back and then he ends up having a successful spinoff for 11 seasons himself.