Gary Johnson, Presidential Candidate and Mountain-Climber, Gets His Due

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The former New Mexico governor trails nearly every Republican candidate in polls, but he's the most physically daring by far

You might not realize it from talking to him, or from watching his semi-nervous appearance in Thursday's Republican debate, but Gary Johnson is tough.

The former New Mexico governor and thoroughgoing libertarian climbed Mt. Everest. He injured himself severely in a paragliding accident in 2005. He ran track in high school, and he's probably the most athletic of all the Republican presidential contenders -- even if he trails all of them in the polls.

GQ published a November issue profile of Johnson online today, complete with a prominent shot of the former governor shirtless on a mountain bike. Writer Lisa DePaulo clears up any misconceptions about Johnson's grit:

Do not confuse his Zen-like quality for a lack of cojones. The guy has brass ones. He's a five-time Ironman triathlete. He paraglides and hot-gas balloons. (Not hot air, hot gas.) He biked across the Alps. And from the right angle, he looks like Harrison Ford.

In that spirit, we present the above photographic evidence of Johnson's athletic prowess.

Johnson is intensely serene. He keeps long, steady eye contact. He refuses to present himself as anything like a politician. Adventurism has something to with Johnson's Zen -- his incapability of bullshitting, as DePaulo puts it. Climbing back down Everest in 2003, Johnson told me in January, he was sure he was going to die. He and his expedition, led by Nepalese Sherpas and renowned pro-climber Dave Hahn, were crossing an ice slope when Johnson heard the ice cracking.

"We're at the top. Huge crash of ice, and under oath I would have testified that things were moving. It turns out nothing was moving, but there was a giant, giant crash. It felt like things were moving, and we thought we were going to die, and the crash stops, and minutes pass, and we're still there and we scramble off of it and move on and nothing happens. But for two minutes, that was a very real two minutes that, holy shit," Johnson said.

"It puts your car payment into perspective. For me, in my life, rock climbing changed my life from that perspective. I mean the notion of living in the present -- when you're rock climbing or mountaineering, that's kind of the magic of mountaineering: You are absolutely in the present. There's no tomorrow, there's no yesterday, it's really where you're at and what you're doing," he told me. "It's very immediate, it's very in the moment ... I think the definition of Zen is in the moment, and so that is a real -- it's a terrific perspective."

Johnson is known as the pro-pot candidate. He's smoked marijuana, and he wants to legalize it. But Johnson said the last time he smoked pot was in 2005, after a serious paragliding injury left him under doctor's orders to lie on the floor, on a foam pad, for six weeks. He had a fractured vertebra, six broken ribs, damage to the meniscus discs in both his knees, a torn ACL, and pain in his shoulders, hip, and neck, he said.

"I have had experience with pain-killing prescription drugs, and that has not been a good experience at all for me. And so I found myself laying on the floor -- the diagnosis was six weeks that I was going to have to lay on the floor to eat and sleep -- and that was going to be to stabilize my condition, and I was visited by a friend who said, 'You know, do want me to get ahold of some marijuana for you?' And it was like, 'Yes! That would work! That would absolutely work!'" Johnson said.

It did, apparently. Johnson only spent two weeks on the floor.

The other Republican candidates have had their share of life experiences. Herman Cain survived stage-four cancer. Ron Paul delivered more than 4,000 babies. Michele Bachmann raised 23 foster children and five biological children. Rick Perry jogs with a laser-sighted gun.

But none of them have recovered from a paragliding wreck or nearly died atop Mt. Everest. Between them and Johnson, that's probably not the only difference.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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