Richard Bowles didn’t freeze, yell or try to run away when a man shoved a shotgun into his mouth, instead he opted to try his luck with a tongue-in-cheek joke.
It was a good thing the 41-year-old did because the outcome could have been wildly different had he angered the stranger who he encountered in the wilderness somewhere near the Queensland and NSW border.
Mr Bowles was running the 5330-kilometre journey along the Bicentennial National Trail, from Cooktown in Far North Queensland to Healesville – about 60km northeast of Melbourne – in Victoria, at the time.
“This guy came up and shoved a shotgun in my face and demanded to know who I was. So I was trying to explain to him what I was doing, which already did sound pretty ludicrous,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“But then he put the shotgun in my mouth and started to yell the words, ‘I’m going to blow your f***ing brains out’.”
The adventurer was on a personal explorative mission in 2012 with the goal of learning more about how the mind and body copes when pushed to its limits, to then help others better understand themselves.
No one was more surprised at the instinctual response than Mr Bowles himself, who miraculously made it out of the near-death confrontation by mumbling a joke around the stiff metal jammed inside his mouth.
“I said, ‘I’m doing it for charity, would you like to donate?’” he said.
“I joked my way through the situation. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared, because I was, and even thinking about it now, I can remember how the metal felt on my lips and the taste and smell of it. It really brings back a fearful time.”
Mr Bowles followed up the joke by complimenting the man’s orchard, which ended up being what it took for the “cranky man” to remove the shotgun from his mouth.
“He pulled the shotgun out and said, ‘You know what pal, I’ve been growing those mandarins for a while, would you like to try one?’”
The runner then gladly enjoyed some of the fruit, which according to the gunman, was particularly sweet that season due to the perfect weather conditions.
The stranger then gave Mr Bowles some pointers on where the path went and miraculously he was left to continue on his way.
More prepared than expected
After reflecting on the experience and conducting his own research, Mr Bowles said he found out his mind and body were more prepared for the crisis situation than he realised at the time.
The mammoth run was one of several tests he has endured to gain insight into human mental responses during times of crisis, which has helped educate others as part of his job as a motivational speaker.
In December, Mr Bowles spent 10 days in Kolkata, India, working and living the gruelling lifestyle of a rickshaw wallah – a job earning about $2 a day which was barely enough to cover his basic living needs.
He also ran 1000km across the Israeli desert in 2013 where he dealt with missiles flying above his head, being chased by a tank, getting stuck in a sandstorm and dehydration so severe that he was urinating blood.
Foot almost amputated mid-run
Adding to the traumatic event, he ended up with a serious foot infection and was admitted to hospital in Jerusalem where a doctor told him that amputation was a possible treatment option.
He said up to that point, the pain had been masked by the focus and determination he had to finish the journey, but eventually the infection got the better of him when he collapsed – fortunately close to the city.
His leg was ultimately able to be drained and he was sent off with “a whole bunch of drugs”, including a prescription for medication so high in dosage it was practically illegal to be sold for human use.
The Melbourne-based businessman collaborates with psychologists on his return from each experience to debrief and develop theories based on what he learned.
“What I focus on when I go into these extreme endeavours is what might happen, and I make a list of those things. It means I can prepare for times I’m uncertain, afraid, anxious or in doubt, because those are definitely going to happen,” Mr Bowles said.
“If I prepare for all those emotions and how I might overcome them, I’m able to have some clarity in that moment and go straight into solution mode.”
Mr Bowles has developed five key points for being resilient in the face of changes and challenges:
knowing where you are going
knowing what is coming
preparing how to act
considering the bigger picture
identifying your team
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