In 1999, Dutch daredevil Wim Hof earned the nickname Iceman when he swam under a frozen lake on TV—then jumped right back in to rescue an onlooker who had tumbled into the frigid waters. He was just getting started, reports the Times of London. In 2007, he nearly summitted Everest, making it to 24,500 feet in nothing but shorts and open-toed sandals and in the process setting a world record for highest ascent dressed as such. In fact, he now holds 26 world records, including one for completing a marathon in the Namib Desert—without water. But his mind-over-matter approach has its limitations: He's nearly died as well, like the time his retinas froze over after swimming 50 meters under polar ice and he had to be rescued. "You use stress to find the goal," he says now, at 57. His secret? The mantra: "Breathe, motherf---er!"
His son says Hof's focus crystallized in 1995 when his schizophrenic wife committed suicide. "Everything started there," Enahm, one of four kids Hof raised, tells news.com.au. While Hof says he has learned to "master grief and pain," still cries talking about her. "If there is one thing that drives me, it is the thought that I can relieve unnecessary suffering like hers." Skeptical? LA journalist Scott Carney was, reports Australia's ABC. He traveled to Poland ready to unmask a "charlatan." Instead, he found Hof's techniques (a mix of hyperventilating-like breathing, exposure to extreme cold, and "commitment") really held water. Exercise No. 1 saw Carney stand barefoot in the snow. He made it five minutes. By the end of the week, he spent 8 hours climbing a mountain in 2-degree temps, in only boots and a bathing suit. (Read about a truly odd world record.)