Mind Over Matter


By Randy Kraft, Special to the Independent

Personal trainer Mike Catanzaro, left, trains local resident Robert Owens for a 10th Ironman race. Fitness is but one of his many disciplines.Photo by Jody Tiongco.
Where local resident Robert Owens trains for a 10th Ironman race. Fitness is but one of his many disciplines.Photo by Jody Tiongco.

When Robert Owens, the adopted son of now retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Claude Owens, first made his mark on the world, it was not as high-minded as expected. He just wanted to have fun.

“It was all rear-view mirror stuff for me then,” Owens says of his youthful beach life, which was short on classes and heavy on skiing, surfing and water sports. And recreational drugs.

So how does a wild-child evolve into a world-renowned corporate trainer, mentor, mediator and leadership expert who has counseled business executives and government leaders in 30 countries? The answer is discipline, something Owens learned the hard way and which anchors his many accomplishments.

“He has a particularly unique personality,” says Max McManus, a Reno, Nev., sports trainer and gym owner who has coached Owens for the Ironman triathlon for 15 years. “When he decides to do something, he does it. Non-judgmental and cool as a cucumber.”

McManus knows a winner when he sees one. He has trained over 100 Ironmen and more than 5,000 athletes.

Owens is one of the original Ironman triathletes. He entered first in 1980 and, at 63, will complete his 10th Thanksgiving week in Hawaii. He has never made first place, rather a few solid thirds, he reports proudly. As grueling as is the training and the degree of difficulty, the competition is within.

“He is a natural leader, whatever he does,” says colleague George De Marco, a technology company advisor and conference planner in Coto de Caza.

Two colonels stop Robert Owens after he crossed the finish line of a marathon in Dayton, Ohio, in October.
Two colonels stop Robert Owens after he crossed the finish line of a marathon in Dayton, Ohio, in October.

Several years ago, Owens appealed to De Marco to get involved with Stop Child Trafficking Now where he serves as Southern California coordinator, and De Marco often enlists Owens to speak at industry seminars.

Judge Owens, who settled in Three Arch Bay in 1969, didn’t want to raise kids with “beatniks” so he moved Robert and his sister to Anaheim. Owens returned to Laguna Beach in 1998 to live with his aging father, whose family helped build the 1,000 Steps of the eponymous beach.

The adventurous spirit is ever present in Owens. Mountain climbing, biking, and scuba diving are regularly on the agenda. Yet, despite his high energy and determination, he exudes a laid back and affable persona. He prides himself most as a facilitator and teacher, and his students range from New York Jets’ linemen to heads of state in Communist China. He coaches all to keep their eyes on the prize.

Two events in his youth left indelible marks. As a junior lifeguard in San Clemente, he held a drowning victim in his arms. At 18, after a serious body-burn at a bonfire, he realized he was out of control. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1974 and as a para-rescue recovery specialist, deployed his adventurous nature to save lives, and helped him save his own.

“I shifted from focusing on myself to focusing on others,” Owens says.

After military service, he says he knew he wouldn’t fit back at the beach, so he relocated to northern Nevada

Robert Owens, center, met  with the New York Jets early in this year's football season for a motivational session.
Robert Owens, center, met with the New York Jets early in this year’s football season for a motivational session.

for 30 years, married and raised five children. He earned a degree in theology from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and certification as a mediator from Pepperdine University in Malibu. He served as 22-year host of “Leadership for a Changing Times,” a Fox radio talk show and, one of his proudest achievements, established and pastored The University Family Fellowship [UFF], a nondenominational church of over 3,000 congregants near Lake Tahoe. “No rules, no dogma,” he says.

“I still think of him as Pastor Rob,” says McManus, who had retired from Ironman until Owens convinced him to train. “We are both inspired by achieving the next personal best.”

In 1985, Owens attempted an unsuccessful bid for the Nevada state legislature. “The experience broadened me as a person. I asked a lot of questions and learned wonderful things.”

One of Owens’ current advisees, Omatara Johnson, chief executive of Victory Painting in Calgary, Canada, says Owens helps her see the strengths and weaknesses in her staff, and in herself. Since her ascendancy two years ago, Owens has been her mentor. “He nurtures people, he really relates to people; he doesn’t focus on the task.”

Johnson was recently nominated for the Alberta Woman’s Entrepreneurial Business award and won the YMCA Peace Medal for her work with the non-profit Freedom Tree, which assists communities in sub-Saharan Africa to develop health care and educational resources. She credits Owens with helping her expand her horizons.

Between adventures and coaching, Owens books regular gigs as a motivational speaker, integrating the spirit of the journey with the tenacity to achieve goals.

“He’s a great storyteller, and he connects stories to reality,” De Marco says.

At the end of the day, personal discipline underpins all of Owens endeavors and, in the new year, he plans to bring the message of mind over matter to high school students in Anaheim to help them cast their futures in a brighter light. He says change is only the beginning. “Growth means or equals change, but change does not mean growth.”

More about Robert Owens’ adventures and achievements at www.helpingleaders.com.

Robert Owens provides inspiration to the New York Jets.


Randy Kraft is a freelance writer. She pens the OC BookBlog at www.ocinsite.com and published the novel “Colors of the Wheel” in January. www.randykraftwriter.com




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  1. After knowing him from UFF from 26 years ago, very leery of him. Weird newspaper articles about him in Reno. I’m not sure what to think. That church got me back to Jesus that I never thought would happen and then he got bizarre, got my family out of there


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