Using Adversity to Rise and Engage: A Conversation with Charlie Engle
“Our mission is to tell stories across the world and to let the people we encounter tell those stories.” — Charlie Engle
Extreme adventure, addiction and prison time all make up who Charlie Engle, Author of Running Man: A Memoir, is today.
A thrill-seeker, Engle has run, cycled, and climbed his way across various terrains around the globe. His 5,000-mile journey across the entire Sahara Desert, where he ran two marathons per day for 111 consecutive days, led to the film Running the Sahara and work with Matt Damon.
With so many incredible anecdotes, Engle talked about how seeking adversity and fulfilling one’s passions make for amazing stories.
Sustaining a genuine legacy
Although his interest to run the Sahara came from his curiosity of wanting to find out if he physically could, Engle focuses on a more “genuine” legacy from that experience.
“Matt Damon and I created H20 Africa, and we raised more than $6 million during this run,” he said.
Today, people know the water-focused non-profit as Water.org and it has gathered over a billion dollars in funding, since the last year.
Engle’s struggle and physical endurance led him to much recognition and great opportunities, but it also led to more adversity.
He shared the experience of arriving in his home in North Carolina and being arrested by six armed federal agents.
“A single IRS agent saw Running the Sahara, and he wasn’t impressed with me or what I had done. He opened an investigation into my taxes, and when nothing came from that, he used the Patriot Act to keep digging…to look at my emails, to surveil my phone and my friends and my family. Ultimately, I became the only person, the only homeowner in the United States, to be charged with overstating my income on a home loan application. For that, I could get 20 years in federal pension,” Engle detailed.
While he fought the charges, Engle was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
“Everything was gone overnight,” he said, “No more sponsors, no more speaking gigs, no more anything.”
“To keep it, you have to give it away.”
Even in prison, Engle engaged in his passions. He talked about maintaining running while in prison, sometimes simply in place within his cell. He did yoga. He taught nutrition classes and educated other inmates on addiction.
“By the time I left, I had a running group of 50 guys running every single day and 25 more doing yoga with me, three days a week on the softball field,” he said.
Despite thanks from many of the men he met while in prison, Engle credits his belief that “To keep it, you have to give it away” for his actions in the face of adversity.
Enthusiasm for running and nutrition and life was what got him through that moment in his life, he affirmed.
And as for the future, Engle plans to keep up his extreme adventures, this time within every continent. He has partnered with Green.org in order to focus on problems such as poverty or human rights, which are most relevant in every content he touches.
“Our mission is to tell stories across the world and to let the people we encounter tell those stories,” he said.
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