May 13, 2023 | Miles Brucker

People Describe the Toughest Person They’ve Ever Met

On a planet inhabited by no fewer than seven billion people, it takes a seriously special kind of person to stand out from the crowd.

Every once and a while, we encounter a person who does just that. And when we do, it’s usually easy to see why. Whether it’s accomplishing unbelievable feats, making enormous personal sacrifices for the well-being of others, or just being impossibly good at balancing and thriving through all of life’s challenges, these people have truly earned the title of awesome. If we could all take a page out of these folks’ playbook, this world would be quite an amazing place.

Here are 42 inspirational stories about exactly those kinds of people and what made them so incredible.

1. The Tables Have Turned

I knew a guy once, he was leaving his house to go to work when a crackhead rode up on a bike and tried to mug him. He punched the guy in the face, took his bike, and then rode it to work, where he welded all day.

I grew a full beard just from hearing that story.

toughest people

2. One Man’s Crazy is Another Man’s Awesome

I’d say the most incredible person I ever met was this absolute mad lad German guy I encountered in Namibia. My friends and I booked a desert tour with him. He picked us up in a WWII German ambulance and rolled us on over to the desert. He decided he wanted to show us a snake. This guy slows down the ambulance, leaves it running and doesn’t even put it in park, and just jumps right out and sticks his whole hand into a bush—but doesn’t find a snake. He did this a few more times before he just pulled out a pit viper and showed it to us. Then proceeds to tell us “Never stick your hand in a bush”. He then started driving up and down the sand dunes like his life depended on it. I swear we were at one point going down at a 90-degree angle. The guy was slightly nuts, but I had a lot of fun and learned a lot from him.

Close-Up Of Man Holding Snake

3. Laying Down the Law

My grandma is amazing. Her husband was in a car accident that he’s never fully recovered from, so to provide for the family she became the captain of the police force in a very crooked town.

Raised my mom and her brother through their teen years pretty much by herself. She still intimidates me even though she retired a few years ago.

Portrait of a female police officer showing ID card

4. Big Things Come in Small Packages

My grandpa is my hero. He worked in coal mines at age nine. Married my grandma knowing her brothers wanted to kill him for it. Took care of a family of 11.

He was only 4’11” tall due to stunted growth from working in the coal mines. In his 60s, he could lift a two- or three-hundred-pound rock himself and carry it across a lawn.

He had black lung disease and still lived into his 90s. He was a tough little guy.

Caucasian carpenter wearing hard hat

5. Adventurer

I was on a trip with a group of friends in Alaska, and we met an Austrian guy who looked and spoke like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, he was several months deep in a solo canoe and overland trip across Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Most Incredible Person Facts

6. Giving Quitting the Boot

Dad has been gone for almost 30 years now. I remember working in the garage with him one day. He was working on a V8 engine block on the bench and needed to move it to the other end of the bench. He grabbed it with two arms and started to the other end of the bench. The block slipped out of his grasp and landed on his foot. He did not flinch--he picked it up, placed it on the bench and kept working. At the time I was 6’4” tall and 235 lbs. I knew then I was never going to mess with him.

Auto mechanic working on gasoline engine.

7. Keep On Truckin’

My grandma broke her neck in a car accident driving down a rural road in winter. The car went into the ditch, and unfortunately no one was around for ages and night was coming soon. So, she managed to climb out and walk for quite a distance to the nearest house.
This was decades ago. Now she's almost 90 and, despite chronic pain, she's traveled the world, and lives on her own still.

Caucasian grandmother and granddaughter hiking on mountain

8. I Can Bear-ly Believe It!

My grandfather was born in ‘46, and in ‘66 he dodged the draft by joining the airborne. In the war, he was a mobile helicopter mechanic. Meaning he was sent behind enemy lines to fix a helicopter whenever it crashed or had issues. He has a Purple Heart but he won’t say what he got it for.

After the war, he was a ranch hand in Montana. In 1980, he moved to Washington and built a log home by himself from the logs he cut. He then got into forestry and is one of the best foresters around. He’s worked in Canada, New Zealand, Chile and half the states in the US.

At 72, he has survived three major heart attacks and cardiac arrests, yet he still works full time in the woods. Oh yea, and he once stood up to a standing mother grizzly bear in Alaska.

Angry businessman heading on bear.

9. You’re Never Too Old to Be Awesome

My grandmother wrecked a riding lawn mower down a 20-foot ditch at the age of 80 and pulled herself out with one arm. She still has a bad arm from it. 10 years later, she accidentally set her one-acre yard on fire and she beat the fire out with a wet dish towel before the fire department got there. With one good arm.

Most Incredible Person Factsgetty images

10. Appearances Can Be Deceiving

My friend from grade school and high school is the most physically intimidating person I’ve ever seen, but is actually a super nice guy to the people who know him. He’s in the Air Force and has been decorated for helping some Afghan commandos out of a bad situation. I can’t imagine anyone tougher—he looks like a super soldier—or anyone nicer and with a better sense of humor than him.

Fighter Plane Pilot Holding Throttle and Sitting Cockpit

11. Never Give Up

My girlfriend’s sister went through a ton of miscarriages and after about six years of trying, she just brought a huge and healthy baby girl into this world.

Baby bonding with mom.

12. A Real Trooper

My mom.

When she was in her early twenties, she got bucked out of a moving vehicle and had severe brain damage. She was supposed to be deceased within 48 hours, and when she lived, they said she'd be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Instead, she woke up, re-learned how to walk, talk, read, and function, and walked out of the hospital on her own.

I was a mistake that she raised on her own without complaints. She raised me alone, went to school, got into nursing, and weaseled her way out of the projects into an honest-to-god house. Without child support for the bulk of my childhood. I can honestly say that I had an amazing childhood and she never once made me feel like a burden.

I have never seen her back down from anything. Ever. Somebody trying to break in? Well, they ain't gonna get far. Ex-boyfriend threatened her daughter? She dares you to open that gate. Boss lowballs her salary and then has the gall to call her lazy? Have fun, because she can be put to better use elsewhere.

She's now fighting ovarian cancer with a very low chance of surviving, and her response to talking to hospice is, "I will never talk to them. I'm not done."

She was offended that they gave up on her.

She's in a bad place now but she's lasted way longer than they anticipated and has even been improving. She just kind of shrugs it off. In her mind, she doesn't have to relearn what English is, so, you know, this should be easy.

I wish I was half the woman she is.

Superhero Learn to Read. Illustration

13. Selfless Hero

My uncle lost his life in Vietnam in 1966. He enlisted because he hoped it would keep somebody else from being drafted. I grew up looking at the box of medals they sent home with his body. He saved his squad by jumping on top of a grenade that was thrown at them.

US Memorial Day. Veterans Day.

14. All in a Day’s Work

The most insanely awesome person I’ve ever known is probably my ex-fiancée. She knew six languages and Russian martial arts. She was a great cook, bounty hunter, unlicensed private investigator, and stripper. She could take a taser like no one's business, could shoot, fight with blades, and also helped to take down a small human trafficking ring, a dog fighting ring, and to rescue a small girl from a kidnapping. Our relationship ended when civil war broke out in Ukraine and she had to go back and fight.

Super Woman of the City.

15. I Do It My Way

My late first wife was unbelievable. She never weighed more than 120 pounds in her life and had never even heard of the word fear—no matter who or what came before her.

Cancer eventually did her in, but under her terms. It was only on the day she decided to die that she finally did.

There should be a picture of her next to “awesome” in the dictionary.

Old wooden alhpabet blocks that spell 'Awesome'.

16. Once a Lifesaver, Always a Lifesaver

My dad served in Vietnam as a Marine. Was discharged with a Purple Heart, then joined the Navy and became a flight surgeon. He could fly F18s and perform surgery—not at the same time.

After his military career, he became an emergency room surgeon. Always saving lives. He passed in 2013 due to dementia and left us way too young. He’s my absolute hero and hands down the most incredible person I’ve ever met.

Multiple images of a man in different occupations uniforms

17. I Want to Eat at This Cafe!

My employee Lindsay is awesome.

I met her almost 12 years ago when she was a high school culinary student working in my favorite cafe. Two years later, I own the place. She has weaved in and out of my life. She was working at the cafe during her first pregnancy. The moment she found out she was pregnant she stopped all caffeine and immediately started eating healthy. She worked full time and almost never complained. She developed kidney stones around month six. Around month TEN, she asked for a break. I thought she was going into labor. No, she was crying because she thought she was letting me down if she didn't work through the pain. She didn't want to use pregnancy as an excuse. I hugged her and explained how incredible I thought she was. She stopped crying and just accepted that it was time to stay home until that baby decides to arrive.

She lost two loves of her life, lost numerous friends and family to self-harm, and endured hardship upon hardship. During all this time, she has inspired me with her silent strength. She is never the loudest one in the room but always the most present. She has become this amazing wife and mother. I am lucky that we got her back on the weekends.

When I first took over, I took everything too personally. I expected everyone to be logical and rational customers. Eventually, wise Lindsay looks me deep in the eyes, full of 17-year-old wisdom, and said: "People are crazy!" This moment gave me a massive boost of confidence and I quote this to all my employees to this day.

Pregnant waitress bussing table in restaurant

18. The Emperor's New Robe

This guy fought with the Polish Underground during WWII. Went on the toughest deals—got captured three times and sent to prison camps. Escaped three times. Got captured again just before the liberation—killed one of the guards and put on the guard's uniform, because the Russians were "liberating" the Polish prisoners, and the British were taking charge of the German guards. Later gets it sorted out that he's Polish, and would have been killed if left to the Russians. Gets sent to London and emigrates to the US. Glad I knew him.

Soldier wearing combat clothing running, Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles, California, USA.

19. A Story That’s Full of Holes

A guy who fought in the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. He fled Hungary as a teenager and ended up a mercenary in Africa and Asia for twenty years. He migrated to New Zealand and worked a lot of the same jobs as my dad. Had more scars and bullet holes in him than I thought possible.

Middle aged man showing scars of DC sniper.

20. When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

My cousin Christopher was born with autism. Didn't speak a word till he was six years old, and was developmentally delayed all through his education. However, he has always been a kind soul, and most people recognize that in him. With a lot of support and life experience, he learned the social rules most of us are blessed to learn as children and teens only by experience.

He went from not being able to talk to graduating high school at 20, and he now takes care of himself and also photographs weddings for money on the side—he's very talented.

Most people who meet him don’t even recognize his condition because he's so talented with conversation, and if he slips up and says something awkward, he'll respond with "I'm very sorry, I have autism, did I say something that made you uncomfortable?" Just an all-around genuine dude who was dealt a bad hand and made the most out of it. Love that guy!

A man in cage shaking hands with a businessman

21. Last One Out is a Rotten Egg!

Harold. I met him when he was in his 90s. He married my widowed aunt. In WWII, he was a B17 pilot and his plane was shot up terribly in a run over France. He and his copilot kept the plane in the air and allowed his crew to bail out. Then he and the copilot went to bail out. Harold said when the copilot got in the door to jump, he froze. In Harold’s words, “I kicked him in the behind so hard he fell out and then pulled his shoot.” Harold laughed and said, “I got a medal for saving him, but the thing is, that plane was completely on fire and I just wanted out of there and he was in my way.”

Because Harold was the last man out of the plane, just as he deployed his parachute, the plane exploded. Harold was knocked unconscious and, though he survived the landing, he was injured with broken bones. All the rest of his crew got to safety with Allied forces, but Harold was captured by the Germans and held as a POW until the conflict ended, at which point he began a long, happy, and successful civilian life.

Most Incredible Person Factsgetty images

22. One of a Kind

My grandmother. She fought cancer six different times over a 17-year period. Through it all, she took care of five grandchildren, attended almost every game and graduation, kept a beautifully tended garden, and kept the whole family together. But to me, the best part is that in all that time she never once complained or showed any fear. As her doctor told her her liver was failing during her sixth fight, she looked at him and said, "Well, I'll just have to get better then." She is the inspiration for my life, and I hope I face the challenges in my life with half the courage she had. We lost her in January this year. I miss her every day, but I'm confident in saying I had the privilege to be raised by one of the strongest and most graceful women in history.

Most Incredible Person Facts

23. Retirement? Never!

I met a lot of cool people when I worked at Apple, but Don was by far the coolest. When I left, he was 82 years old and sharp as a tack. He kept up with the breakneck pace of the Genius Bar appointments with the best of us. He lived on a mountain and every morning he’d run to the summit. He climbed Mt. Baldy at 79 without breaking a sweat. He was a classically trained opera singer, an orchestra conductor, and a music professor at a local college. He spoke fluent German and Spanish. He was also a pastor at his church.

He was all around an incredible guy with an awesome life story. I might never work with anyone like him again.

Most Incredible Person Factswikipedia

24. Dive Right Into This One, Folks

This one guy was a well-known Navy Seal, there was even a popular book about him. He dove and removed mines, and had endless stories of awesomeness. Lost an eye too. Anyway, he gave me a crash course in SCUBA, which was kinda scary since he had a no tolerance policy for nervousness.

Team prepares to launch one of the team's SEAL Delivery Vehicles, Atlantic Ocean.

25. Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep

Had this thing at school where I met an old man. This was back in the early 2000s. I was talking to a group of people like most 16-year-olds do. I talked about how school sucked and how it’s hard to compete with everyone. Old man tells me to count my lucky stars for my opportunity. I kind of ignore it.

30 minutes later, I’m in the auditorium to hear a guest speaker. The same old man gets on stage and tells his story. His name was Alter Weiner and he was a Holocaust survivor from Poland. When he was my age, he was held in the concentration camp Buchenwald. He told several stories about how got so desperate that he had planned to charge the gates so they would kill him. He also told a couple stories about being in line to be executed and feeling relieved when he wasn’t chosen.

After he told his story I realized uncomfortably exactly what he meant when he said I should count my lucky stars for the opportunity. He was incredible because he was ready to die from the pressure he was under but chose to keep going. He pushed through and on the other side of that tragedy, he had a family, a home, and a life of constant gratitude.

Years later, I got out of the army—which cost me a big part of my identity and put me into a deep depression. When it got down to the darkest points, I thought about Alter and how happy he was.

Franciszek Gajowniczek.

26. No Hand? No Problem!

My grandma.

She only had one hand—lost most of her arm in a car accident when she was in her teens. That didn’t stop this woman from tying a squirming toddler's shoelaces, trapping, skinning, and processing rabbits into a delicious stew to feed the family, and effectively running a household of 10 people.

Most Incredible Person Factspixabay

27. Always Looking on the Bright Side

My mom grew up in China with her parents and sister living in basically one room. She had to attend night school, where everyone told her she would never make it to college. She did and went on to win awards as an architect. She then married my father and moved to the States, where she worked for years as a waitress while my dad went to school. Then my dad was killed by an inebriated driver. She had 6 months to be remarried or we had to leave America.

She decided she wanted to stay here for me, because by then my Chinese lacked very badly—I moved here when I was 5. Somehow, she found an amazing man who knew our situation and helped us in every bit he could. Then, my stepdad got diagnosed with a disease called PSP, where basically he slowly loses every single function he has.

These days my mom spends her time turning him in bed every two hours to avoid pressure sores, feeding him through his feeding tube, cleaning his incontinence, and giving him daily bed baths—all with as much love as the first time they met. She also works a full-time job as a designer while maintaining an amazing backyard garden, while also keeping up with her own gallery and art. She gets around four or five hours of sleep every single night, yet somehow every time I see her she has a huge smile on her face and is very energetic and cheerful. I don’t know how she does it but she gives me hope to be as amazing a person as she is.

Most Incredible Person Factspixabay

28. Giddyup!

I met the guy who was the first person to ever travel across the entire continental US on horseback. He didn't even set out to be the first person to do it, he just went out and did it because he wanted to and was shocked to find out later that no one had ever done it before. When he also found out that no one had ever traveled from Canada to Mexico on horseback, he set out and did that too.

Silhouette Cowboy Riding Horse On Field Against Sky

29. The American Dream

Technically this is two people, but I think it counts. Growing up under the totalitarian government of Iran, these two brothers I went to school with fled the country in the ‘80s on foot to try and get asylum in the USA. They did this around age 13 and it took them months of hiking and sneaking around to get to a safe place, from which they eventually made their way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Mad props to them for braving it and pulling it off.

Exit sign on a black dilapidated wall.

30. Me-Wow!

Not a person, but this ginger cat that wandered down our drive one day, one eye missing, what seemed like half of his brain exposed, gashes everywhere, just skin and bones. We fixed him up and named him Butters. He guarded our house with his life and would take on any dog, coyote, or anything that tried to come up.

He once fell asleep on a visitor’s car and clung for dear life a couple miles down the road until our friend realized he had this chunky cat sprawled out like a starfish on his back window.

Close-Up Of Cat Lying On Bed.

31. Move Over Crickets, This One Deserves Real Applause

My dad broke his finger playing cricket and just taped it together and continued playing. Never went to a doctor about it and it healed—as far as I can tell—completely fine.

Most Incredible Person Facts

32. Impressive Resume

My dad can do anything he sets his mind to. He's 5'8” tall and 140lbs, but can lift anything, built our family house, fixed cars, coached my hockey teams growing up, and worked in digital forensics for the authorities to help fight drug trafficking and child offenses. All that and he's still proud of the lump of a son I am.

If I can amount to half the man my father is, I'll have done alright.

Superhero illustration.

33. Don’t Mess With My Son

My dad, till the day he passed on from cancer, was the most awesome person I ever met. Served in both the Israeli and Russian armies in his younger days—obviously at different time periods—and then moved to the United States with my mom to start a new life and a family.

I had these bullies in high school who picked on me and they just wouldn’t stop. The teachers did nothing about it and neither did anyone else. One day instead of my mom picking me up from school, my dad picked me up. He saw that I was upset and I broke down crying because I couldn’t handle the torment from these guys anymore. So my dad asked where they were, and I pointed outside the car. He yelled for their names and I don’t know what he said to them, but it was enough to have them stop picking on me for the rest of high school. My dad was my hero that day and forever, and I had an unbelievable level of admiration and respect for him from that day on.

My dad was tough and strong till the day he passed on. I’ll never forget how strong he was even on his deathbed, but he left such an impact on my life that no other person ever could. That’s why he was the best in my book.

Back to school concept.

34. Jack of All Trades

My 60-year-old aunt married an 80-year-old WWII veteran. He's literally the coolest person I've ever met. He could hunt, fish, lay brick, build beautiful fireplaces, houses, woodwork... anything. He was your classic manly man and they don't make ‘em quite like him anymore.

Caucasian boy putting fishing net over grandfather's head.

35. Throwing Caution to the Wind

My uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 30s and decided to just start living for the moment and having as much fun out of life as he could. He started to smoke a ton, thinking he's going to die anyway, right?

Fast forward—he's in his late 80s now and outlived the doctor that diagnosed him by a longshot. I don't know how he did it, but the results speak for themselves.

Most Incredible Person Factspixabay

36. Alive and Well

I never met my granddad, but from what I’m told he was pretty amazing. He was a fighter pilot in WWII. He was shot down twice. The first time he made it back to the allied side. The second time he was captured and his best friend/wingman was executed in front of him. My uncle would later be named after that friend who lost their life.

When the POW camp that he was held at was liberated, they found him cutting up the chocolate bar the Germans would give to the officers. He was dividing it up to give some to as many prisoners as possible.

After he was rescued he was sent home and the army dropped him off in New York. He went to his uncle’s house, who he knew lived there prior to joining. When his uncle answered the door he had a heart attack because his family had thought he had died. His uncle thought he was seeing a ghost. Luckily, he survived.

Most Incredible Person Facts

37. What’s in a Name?

His name was Remington Strongman.

With a name that awesome, is a story even necessary? He was a client at my restaurant. Was just a skinny 20-something though, ironically. Credit card purchases confirmed that his name was legitimate. Beat that!

Most Incredible Person Factsmax pixel

38. He Shall Overcome

When my late father-in-law was only 13, the Russians came into his village of ethnic Germans in what is now Serbia. They shot his father, one of the largest landowners in the area, in the front parlor.

They assaulted his mother and older sisters in front of him, then dragged the whole family off and put them in concentration camps where they were worked to death bit by bit. His older brother was sent to the mines in Siberia.

He escaped from the camp three times with his two older brothers and got their mother and sisters out of the women’s camp.

Recaptured and beaten, they were kept alive because they could repair electrical circuits. Finally escaped, snuck the whole family of seven out of there, and walked across the Alps into Austria. Wove baskets from reeds and traded them for food. Finally ended up in a US-run displaced persons’ camp.

Worked for five years doing construction, delivering milk, and any job they could find until they were able to immigrate to the US.

Worked as a welder and ran a cleaning business. Bought a house. Raised two children and sent them to college. Never became a citizen because he never learned to read or write in English—he hid it from everyone but his wife).

Dying of Emphysema, he got a notice that ICE was thinking of apprehending him because he had let his green card lapse. I drove him up to the Federal building and wheeled him inside on his wheelchair.

The clerk said, “So, we may have to deport you.”

I laughed and said “To where? Read his green card.”

“Citizen of No Country… Oh!”

He laughed and told jokes, the ICE lady started laughing, and she got his green card renewed in record time.

Surviving that kind of childhood and then living a good life? Awesome.

Most Incredible Person Factsmax pixel

39. Keeping Her Head Above Water

I once met this girl who was 15 and competed nationally in swimming. No big deal—except that she had lost a foot and hand to a flesh-eating disease! She was so sweet and humble about her wins, too.

Close up of woman with swimming cap and goggles in water.

40. When Duty Calls

I work for my state’s parole board and every two years we see this woman who, in all honesty, shouldn't be alive. The couple who kidnapped her ended up stabbing her many times after they both assaulted her. They left her in a ditch, came back later, and stabbed her some more just to make sure she was deceased.

She regained consciousness and walked to the nearest gas station. Now she comes to oppose parole every single time they’re eligible for it. Hearing her talk about the incident is riveting and awful, I don’t know how she does it every two years without fail. But she wants to protect other people who might become victims if they’re released.

Girl behind bars.

41. The One Involved is Always the Last to Know...

I know this is gonna sound kinda cheesy, but my most incredible person is my dad. Army vet, all around tough guy. He got into a pretty bad car accident in ‘87. The car flipped. Then around 2012, he started experiencing numbness in his fingers. He went in for X-rays and it turns out he broke one of his cervical vertebra, and was walking around with a broken neck for 25 years. That's the type of guy he is. The vertebrae had healed but some bone fragments were making contact with his spinal cord, causing the numbness.


42. Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

My uncle is the only survivor of the squad he commanded in Afghanistan. Not a single one of them died in combat, but everyone except for him took their own lives after returning home. He wasn't functional in public spaces for years after the fact, due to PTSD, and his wife couldn't take the stress and divorced him.

The fact that he's still alive is a miracle. The fact that he's happily married, perfectly functional in public, and makes unreasonably good money etching barrels is just a testament to the dude's willpower.

Depressed soldier talks with counselor


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