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The 3 Words That Took This Man From Near-Paralysis to a 52-Mile Ultramarathon

Hal Elrod’s doctors thought he was depressed. The 20-year-old wouldn’t stop smiling.



Two weeks earlier, a drunk driver had hit Elrod’s car head-on, spinning the vehicle sideways until another car smashed into his driver’s side. Elrod broke 11 bones, including his femur and pelvis, punctured his lung, ruptured his spleen and nearly severed one ear.

“I was clinically dead for about six minutes,” he tells The Mighty 15 years later. “I forgot to tell you that part.”

He slipped into a coma for six days and woke to news that he’d suffered permanent brain damage that would affect his short-term memory. And he may never walk again.

“I didn’t wake up from a nightmare,” Elrod, now 35, says. “I woke up into one.”

For five minutes, he wallowed, bitched, cried and grieved. Then, he went back to being happy.


Doctors asked his father to talk to him — it would be better to face depression while in the hospital’s safe environment than to do it in a world where alcohol, drugs and — God forbid — suicide were options. So his dad sat down next to his smiling son’s hospital bed and asked him, “Are you depressed?”

“Are you sad? Angry? Scared?” he went on. “When the lights go out at night and you’re left with your thoughts, how are you feeling?”

Elrod wondered how he could simplify his answer. He knew his behavior wasn’t normal. Three words summed everything up.

“Can’t change it.”

He’d already lamented his situation for the allotted five minutes, he explained. It was a technique he’d learned in sales. Then he decided — can’t change it. This was what happened. This new person was him. If the doctors were right, if he didn’t walk again, then he would be a happy man in a wheelchair. If his physical therapy worked, if he regained his strength back, then he would be a happy man who walks.

“Can’t change it,” he told his dad. “So I don’t need to be sad, angry or scared.”

Three weeks later, Elrod took his first steps.

Nine years later, he ran a 52-mile ultramarathon.

A few things happened in between, though — one being a second rockbottom.

Despite regaining his ability to walk and actively working to stay positive, Elrod became depressed in 2008 when he lost his house and faced $50,000 in credit card debt. This time, he had to ask himself — what could he change? He Googled habits of successful people, read endless Forbes articles and muddled through self-help blogs and books. Eventually he found a quote from the late Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker.

“Your level of success will rarely exceed your level of personal development because success is something you attract by the person you become.”

“It was something that I’d probably heard before, but this time I heard it at the right moment under the right circumstances,” Elrod explains. “It was the catalyst to the changes I made.”

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Those changes would grow into what Elrod has deemed “The Miracle Morning” — a six-step, hour-long routine that includes meditating, visualizing, making affirmations, exercising, reading and journaling for 10 minutes each — all before 8 a.m. Despite being a self-motivating person, Elrod had never tried any of these personal development practices. He wasn’t even a morning person. But when 5 to 6 a.m. was the only free hour he saw on his schedule, he devoted it to turning his life around.

“I got into a mindset that said, ‘If they can do it, whoever they are — if another human being can do blank, that’s evidence that I can do it too,'” Elrod says. “If I wanted to change my life, I had to get out of my comfort zone.”

Two months after religiously doing his Morning Miracle routine, Elrod signed up for that ultramarathon — way out of his comfort zone. Today, he’s also an author, international motivational speaker, life coach, husband and father of two. Back to happy. Still, he calls himself a work in progress.

“I’m always trying to be a better version of myself,” he says. “Every experience, good or bad, is an asset to making me who I am.”

When those bad things do happen, when the rockbottoms come within sight, when his short-term memory loss becomes a reminder of his weaknesses, Elrod focuses on the three words that kept him from going under and instead helped him move on.

Can’t change it.

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