Nate's MTNTOUGH Story: From Carrying an Extra 30 lbs to Ultra Marathons and Backcountry Elk Hunts

Nate is one of the toughest guys I know.

When I first met him, he was busy running an Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic, raising two active kids.

He was carrying an extra 30 lbs, in his mid-40’s, and elk hunting was starting to get hard.  He wasn’t able to hunt the way he used too.

The busyness of life had gotten to him.  The stress had gotten to him…

When Nate started coming to MTNTOUGH, a switch flipped inside him.  He become a completely different man.

He dropped 30 pounds in those first couple months.

Then over the next 18 months, he turned into a complete mental toughness leader. A guy that can grind through almost any workout while he encourages everybody around him. Nothing slows him down. Nothing really stops him.

That led to the Grand Teton climb and the ultra-marathon adventures.

I'm excited to share his story with you.

MEET NATE: The Busy Professional Who's An Amazing Father, Hardcore Backcountry Hunter, Mountain Climber, and Marathoner 

My name is Nate Naperestek and I've been coming to the MTNTOUGH program for approximately 18 months now. I am a partner at Bridger Orthopedic. My primary task is to direct our rehabilitation department, which is Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Personal Trainers.

We also have a gym onsite and that is where MTNTOUGH focuses their efforts at least five days a week.

In addition to being a clinician with Bridger Orthopedic, I find myself in the outdoors quite frequently.

I've been a fishing and hunting guy in Montana for, I think this is my 27th year.

However, I'm tapering that down because I have a 14 year old daughter and an 11 year old son that are also avid in the outdoors and I'm spending more and more time with them. One of the reasons I chose to participate in a program like this, is to keep up with them as I'm aging and they are coming into their being.

Before MTNTOUGH, what I did to get into shape for hunting is, approximately 30 days before season, I would drag myself a few city block running and getting to the gym three to five days a week for an hour, and give about 70 to 80% effort and spend most of the time checking my cell phone for messages when I was pretending to workout.

It worked fine through my 20's, but early 30's started to drag a little bit.

Once I hit 40... I knew I had to change things up a little bit.

Found myself gaining a fair amount of weight, which I couldn't really attribute to helping me out in the field and I knew I had to do something different, so that's when I decided to try this program.

I first learned about the MTNTOUGH program through a mutual friend, Dustin Diefenderfer and Nick Bennett and he called me, said he had a friend that wanted to start a program, that he wanted to guide towards back country outdoorsmen ... needed a place to do it.

We had just renovated an appliance store in Bozeman, Montana.

I was scrapping, looking for renters and Dustin was a willing participant. So, Dustin was in on the beginning steps of our west location of Bridger Orthopedic.

In the beginning, I thought MTNTOUGH was going to be a little overwhelming to me from the cardio aspect.

Then I looked at a few of the participants, and I knew a few of them from around town because I'd seen their name in newspapers in regards to ultra marathons or mountain climbs. Most of them were models for all of the outdoor clothing companies and backpack companies that I knew, and I was like, "This could be a train wreck and what did I get myself into?"

Then, after a couple of months, I figured out that they weren't quite as super human as I thought and that everyone else had the potential to at least hang in there with these folks. Men and women.

MTNTOUGH has been a foundation for me the last couple of years. 

It's not only my hour a day workout, but it's also my social exposure.

It's also a driving force on what I'm planning to do in the next years. The first couple of years it was, everyone was going to go try an obstacle race.

Well, we got that done.

Then it was, somebody's going to go climb a big hill, a big rock. So, we did that.

Then there were ultra marathons that kind of followed after that.

One of the main reasons I like to come to MTNTOUGH now is I'm wondering what the next challenge is, and the greatest part about it is we have such a dynamic group and so many different people, from so many different sports and ways of life that I'm just waiting to see what the next great adventure is.

I'm finally at a stage, physically that I feel like I can at least survive it, if not thrive in any of those environments.

I had a couple of friends that decided they were going to climb the Grand Teton in a day.

Growing up in eastern Montana, my climbing experience is rather minimal, but it felt like I was in great shape. I could do a lot of pull-ups and I could cover some miles.

We successfully summited the Grand Teton. Made it down, had a wonderful experience there.

Two weeks before that, my only training for that was my first ultra marathon that I got to sweep with some fellow MTNTOUGHers.

Never had I signed up so much for a 5K, so the first race that I signed up for was half of the Devil's Backbone, which is a fairly decent race here in Montana.

MTNTOUGH has given me perspective that there really is ... even in the mid-40's, that physical capabilities, you can still get them and you can still thrive, and I feel great about it.

I had two hunting instances this year where I think I can absolutely attribute that to my physical fitness, that I've gotten through this program.

My little boy and I were in the breaks of eastern Montana, and just kept walking, having a wonderful day. He harvested a mule deer buck in absolutely the worst possible place he could, and when it fell I kept looking at it. I was like, "This is going to be a long day."

Then we just had smiles on our faces and got to work, and got it out. Had a great time.

Later that day, I was able to harvest the largest deer in my career, so I think it was some good karma on pulling that little mule deer buck out, and then I was able to harvest a real trophy, in my opinion.

Two weeks later, I had a friend from Canada that came down.

He had a two day window to harvest an elk. He’d been hunting in Montana for nine years and had never harvested an elk.

First morning light came, I knew where the elk were going to be and they weren't. Then, I looked on the mountain behind us four miles, and they were up on the top and he was up for it. I was up for it, and four or five hours later he'd harvested his first bull.

It's things like that, and that's pretty much one of the reasons why I continue to come, is just keeping an elevated physical fitness level.

The people that I have met through this, has probably outweighed the physical benefits, to be honest with you.

School teachers, 60 year old cat lady nurses, to elite ultra runners.

There's everybody in the same group, and the dynamics seem to work. I don't know how, but they do seem to work.

I think one of the reasons I chose to work in medicine is because I like spontaneity.

The concept of being Always Ready, how it transfers into our workouts and our classes and things is, no one ever knows what we're going to do until we're here.

So, five minutes before our workout, no one has any idea.

Five minutes before I get to work, a lot of times we have no idea who got hurt over the weekend and what kind of situation you're going to be in and how you're going to have to help someone.

Then, take your lunch break, you come to a MTNTOUGH class and you have no idea what's going to be in front of you. You can always be ready to run around a block carrying a 45 pound weight, or doing a couple hundred calories on a certain cardio machine, and I like the idea that none of this is pre-programmed. I don't know a month in advance what I'm going to be doing, the way we've been set up.

Then, after we've done a few of the workouts, we get involved with them and then you know how to handle them. Then, you know how to challenge yourself.

You're always ready to take the next step up. I was able to do 20 pounds on this lift, next week I'm going to try 30.

For example: I just went through the post-season workout for a couple of weeks and we really highly integrated strength more so than cardio into the program.

Which I thought, timing-wise, was perfect.

I've worked in sports medicine-like fields and around gyms for over 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot of the fads that I've seen come and go.

I've seen higher injury components, and this is one of the programs where I've seen the ratio of injury to physical progression stay very, very minimal.

I mean, all of us get a little tendonitis, or a knick here and there, but as far as acute injuries ... specifically injuries, spinal injuries and extremity injuries from over loading from weight, I just see such a minimal amount of that in this program.

I think that's what differentiates it.

Specifically, when we introduce the strength in the last session, and we had Jimmy and Ara helping us out with strength and it was monitored so closely that everyone was able to really focus on their form, versus trying to throw numbers and weights up as hard and fast as you can. I think the way that we progressed, we started light. 

We moved into comfort settings.

For example, deadlift. I hadn't deadlifted since I was in college and was very leery of it.

Just had seen lots of lower spinal injuries from it in the clinic, and I don't think there was a single person that was injured out of 25 of us that was deadlifting.

Everybody was going heavy by the end, so I really like how we look after each other, and how the coaches look after everyone as an individual.

Specifically, before we take an exercise and put it into the final program.

And that translated well into hunting season.

I think one of the paramount hunting stories I've had in the last couple years since I've been in MTNTOUGH, was last year in the middle of September.

We had a freak Montana blizzard in the peak of the rut.

I was hunting in central Montana, and elk were everywhere, and found a few mature bulls.

It was one of those days where visibility was 100 yards at most, but the mountains were alive.

You could hear everything.

I found myself way back in, and found a bull that was very rutted up and came across, and I was able to get an arrow in him.

After I got an arrow in him and followed him, he expired and I figured out where I was at. I was in just a horrendous batch of rocks and cliffs and nasty spot.

I knew it was going to be a really, really long day.

So I set my backpack down and was trying to figure out where the truck might be, where's going to be the closest way to get this animal out.

Something came over me, like this is going to be more fun than the actual hunt itself.

I've been fortunate enough to harvest quite a few elk, and it was not a trophy bull by any means.

It was just a nice five by five, but it hangs very proudly in my house because it was one of those hunts, I packed the entire animal out myself that day.

I felt great doing it, and I think that meant more to me than taking the life of that animal because I felt like I could just handle it.

Any of us that have handled an elk before, knows that it's a ton of weight and they're awkward. Then, you've got antlers sticking out. It's just a mess. Then you throw weather conditions on top of it that are close to hypothermic and slippery.

So, you're crawling up and down rocks, and out of all the elk I've killed, I think that was my absolute favorite just because of there was a little bit of adversity and I got to do a lot of it by myself.

I can attribute that to the physical condition I was in.

Then I was able to meet friends at a trail head with a full bull elk at the end of the day and probably one of the better trophies I've ever harvested. Not according to inches, but according to physical abilities, which I can absolutely attribute to this class.

MTNTOUGH has transferred into my many areas of everyday life, including work.

We work long days.

Most of us as Therapists here work four 10 hour days.

You get in the middle part of a day and especially if you throw some food on top of it, you get the afternoon blahs.

A lot of times you're trying to give it your all, but at two o'clock in the afternoon you're really struggling.

What I have found, I break up my day and in the middle of my day is when I typically do the MTNTOUGH program and that has given me a great new lease on the afternoons. I feel invigorated. I feel strong. I feel like I earned the rest of the day and my energy level has just expounded from that.

The other aspects of my life, I feel like now that I have children that are athletes, and coming into high school that I can participate with them in their sports.

My daughter's a tremendous skier.

I can attempt to follow her on the ski hill, but at least I have enough energy to give it a good shot.

My son, is becoming an avid hunter and I look forward to showing him places that I can get to now that I probably won't be able to in 20 years, but he'll be able to.

So, that's the way that MTNTOUGH has translated into my everyday life.

I just love to be able to get out there with the people that can take it to the next level, and learn things. I've lived in Montana almost all my life, and by participating in these races, or helping out, or sweeping, or any of this, I'm getting to see spots that I've never dreamed of because they're so far off trail.

I'm looking forward to next year's events.

Doing the MTNTOUGH pre-season program was a real good wake up call for me.

I weighed 237 pounds at the initiation of the pre-season program.

At the end of the pre-season program, I weighed 202 pounds, so it was a massive jolt to my body.

Didn't feel like I was depriving myself of anything. Didn't change diet significantly, just absolutely maximized my workout abilities.

Which then allowed me to still eat comfortably and enjoy some things I do.

So, the pre-season program was almost all about just getting in lean, good shape. It felt wonderful, from bird season ... I'm always the guy now who gets stuck walking through the cattails.

If somebody harvests an elk, I'd like to think I'm in the top three phone calls.

My son and I got to haul out many a bull this year.

The Pre-season Program was a great cardiovascular conditioning for me, while still maintaining strength. I wouldn't say so much as overbuilding it.

The Post-season Program, really kind of focused on some core groups and things that I'd been missing. A lot of lifts that Ara, Jimmy and Dustin had scheduled for the post-season workout were dynamic lifts and multi-faceted with multi-muscle groups, which I really appreciated.

Using balance. Using bosu balls. Using one legged stance.

The MTNTOUGH lifts aren't so much as like a straight bench press. A straight squat. A lot of times, there's one leg involved, there's a dynamic component to it. Bent over rows in different angles, and that's what I can really appreciate about the program is, you're not just targeting one or two large muscle groups, you're actually hitting the foundation and the core of the body which then translates to the overall strength.

I think that's one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much, is I feel like proximal to distal strength increases.

There is no way that someone should shy away from trying this program because of misconceptions or perceptions that physically they're not able to do this.

I've heard many people say, "Well, I'm going to go work out for a month before I try MTNTOUGH."

I think that's an absolute misnomer.

There's no one that starts this in their first day or two, that is great at it, but even with the online programs, just getting yourself to do it.

I think if you can get a quarter of the program done, a half of the program done, three quarters of the program done, by just pushing yourself towards the goal of getting it done.

And then at that time, refining it. and increasing times. and increasing weights. That's the way to look at this.

Nobody starts out looking like Dustin Diefenderfer, the founder of MTNTOUGH. I mean, he's put countless hours and time, which he continues to. It is not a program that should be put up on a shelf.

We're not all elite backcountry athletes when we start this, and a lot of us aren't when we finish it.

The group dynamics of our classes ... There's teachers. There's principals. There's nurses. There's doctors. There's laborers. There's pretty much everything in between.

A lot of the people in our classes aren't hunters, and you don't need to be a hunter. It's just those people that live in this kind of environment, and want to be able to enjoy it.

So, I would not shy away from it.

Are You Ready To BE MTNTOUGH Like Nate?

If you’re ready to become part of a new type of community that’s never been done before… and transform your body and mind into a backcountry athlete, I invite you to come join us.

That’s why we created The 4-Month MTNTOUGH Backcountry Hunter Preseason Program… to take you through the same journey Justin experienced no matter where you live.  

To help you become the best version of you.

--> Click here to learn more about the program and enroll

My best,

- Dustin