This is the fascinating story of two trailblazers and adventurers, Serge & Joe Roetheli, and their families; separated by an ocean, but related by blood; one specializing in feats of great endurance, the other an innovator and entrepreneur.
In 1996, Joe Roetheli was 15 years into genealogy research when he discovered a distant relative, Serge Roetheli, a Swiss endurance runner, who ran over 25,000 miles on his trek around the world, traversing 35 countries on six continents. Joe tracked down Serge as he was running the American Challenge.
Unbeknownst to each other, the ‘Roetheli’ gene had kicked in for both Joe and Serge – distant relatives who were independently achieving their own daring goals, based on the Roetheli genes of courage, passion, persistence, performance, 4-C thinking, hard work, and never ever giving up.
These are the same genes that Serge, and his then wife Nicole, used in planning the American Challenge and the World Tour, while Joe & Judy Roetheli became hugely successful American entrepreneurs, creators of the Greenies® dog treats, and other popular brands like Pill Pockets®, Yummy Combs dog treats, and Spyder® power tool accessories.
Once the relatives learned of each other and connected, Serge became Joe & Judy’s mental mentor when they were building Greenies®, and he was running the world. Serge and Joe now refer to each other as brother.
Cultivating a love of Nature, fortitude & independence
While Joe and Serge took very different paths, starting their journeys prior to knowing the other existed, their lives show many parallels, particularly in their love of Nature, and in cultivating fortitude and independence.
Joe’s mother was abandoned as dead at the birth of his sister. While his sister did not survive, miraculously his mother did, and lived to provide life lessons for another 62 years.
Serge was born on the sidewalk between the taxi that rushed his mother there, and the Emergency Room door. He came into this world on May 8, 1955, 2.5 months early and weighing only 2.88 pounds.
Still in the hospital 14 months later, his mother took him home against doctors’ orders saying, “He will live, or he will die, it is a risk we have to take.”
During his fourth year, Joe’s dog, named Pal, died as a result of a farm accident. That devastated Joe but burnt a lasting love of dogs in him. He has been quoted often as saying: “I can exist without a dog, but I can’t live without a dog and a good wife.”
Born with a powerful spirit to survive, especially in the outdoors, Serge did not enjoy school and sat looking at the window to his laboratory of nature, where he wished to be and to learn.
Joe was always studious, but never the smartest in his class. His older sister was Valedictorian of her class, and his younger brother was the kind caretaker.
“Three primary stages of life: Learn, Earn, and Yearn to return.” – Joe Roetheli
Joe’s dad would keep Joe home to work on the farm a day or two each spring and fall, writing a note to Joe’s teacher that it would be a day of learning. Serge’s dad was quiet, reserved, and likely drank too much, but this led Serge to live without ever drinking alcohol or relying on drugs.
Joe’s dad was an entrepreneur at heart, being an early adopter of conservationist and environmentalist principles. He had a farm on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, where he terraced, contour-farmed, and rotated crops long before the environment or conservation of resources were hot topics.
Joe’s mother was reserved, concerned, and worried a lot. She had chores for all of them. One was, if you don’t help prepare the meal, you must help clean and wash dishes after the meal.
Serge’s mother was an outdoor enthusiast having climbed Mt. Allian (over 4,000 meters) at age 12, and the last time at age 74; this time with Serge’s brother, Yves, who was also a mountain guide and teacher.
Joe and Judy were raised in upper poor to lower middle-class families; Joe on a farm; and Judy in the small Florida town of Newberry – then known as the ‘Watermelon Capital of the World’. Serge was raised in a similar socio-economic setting in Sion, Switzerland.
As an elementary school student, Judy and her four siblings put on street plays, and sold lemonade and popcorn to the audience. Neither of Joe nor Judy’s parents had the opportunity to attend high school. However, they all valued education and urged their children to get a good education and to study hard.
Serge has always been in love with nature. Once while swinging on a vine, it broke, throwing him violently into a tree. He suffered serious cuts, bruises, and bleeding. He made his way home, where his mother told him to clean and dress his wounds himself.
Joe’s parents taught him the value of faith in God, hope in the future, and love of others, which he continues to believe in and practice. He grew up with strong traditional values and a history as an early bird.
He began driving the tractor and wagon on the highway at age eight, and trucks at age 13. He was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America and raised hogs, which paid his way through two years of college.
The Roethelis’ parents, both in the USA and Switzerland, helped kick them out of the nest, taught them how to fly, and assisted them in learning how to assess risk, be valuable to society, and own responsibility, while ‘flying’ on their own rather than being coddled and protected to where they would not have learned these early valuable lessons.
The winning mindset & never quit attitude of the Rotheli genes
In his senior year of high school, Joe went to the principal’s office to get his transcript sent to the University of Missouri. The principal, Mr. Stock, asked what he could do for Joe. When Joe told him, the principal leaned in close and said, “Joe, you should try it, you might make it.” That, in effect, was the day Joe graduated from college.
Serge is the epitome of finding solutions while on the go; without this he could never have completed many of his amazing endurance feats that involved overcoming daily struggles and major hurdles, the likes of which most people have never encountered.
Joe developed his own unique study habit. He read every chapter of every textbook in his extended college career (B.S. through Ph.D.) at least thrice – once before the lecture to know a bit about what was to come, once after to understand the concepts better, and again before the exam – this time with focus on how to apply the concepts in real life.
The latter has served Joe exceptionally well in his career. Joe has always had a keen desire to win – to be the best he can be. Just as he did with Mr. Stock, you can never tell Joe he is not able to do something; he is stubborn, passionate, and persistent enough that he will conquer it.
Serge, too, has a never quit attitude. He just keeps on ticking like a great Swiss watch. Born with a strong desire to win and to give his best, this became a very valuable trait once he began boxing. Serge has shown he will overcome and achieve virtually any impossible feat.
Joe served his country in the US Army as a two-year enlistee. Virtually no one knew of this program, but Joe learned of it and used it to his advantage. As a Swiss male, Serge also served his mandatory military service.
Joe’s philosophy is based in traditional values of respect, recognition, and rewards all parts of a strong company culture. Serge’s philosophy revolves around a quote he says frequently about what he has achieved, “Anything is possible, if one is willing to pay the price.”
“Impossible is a stupid word.” – Serge Roetheli
One of Joe’s favorite quotes is from Delford Smith who built Evergreen aviation. He said, “God gave us the gift of life; we owe God our best performance.” Joe believes that a strong epitaph and stepping stones make life decisions easy.
The most important question of every person’s life is: What do I want my epitaph to be? Joe hopes his will say: “He loved God and family, and was a fun-loving, 4-C thinking entrepreneur who helped many.”
Serge has recently been nominated for the “Special Jury Award” of the International Peace & Sports Forum in Monaco. Lark Gould, in her Washington Times article of September 7, 2013, referred to Serge as: “The real-life Forrest Gump… who may, indeed be the greatest endurance athlete in the world.”
In his July 18, 2013, article, sports writer, Chris Erskine of the Los Angeles Times, made three statements about Serge Roetheli that stand out:
- “So, when I got wind of the Swiss Forrest Gump… I wasn’t sure if I had a column or a Nobel Prize candidate…”
- “Roetheli might be the toughest man I ever met.”
- “He is, quite probably, the greatest endurance athlete of all time, belonging in the same sentence as Edmund Hillary, Thor Heyerdahl, and Moses.”
In Serge’s memoir on running around the world, “The 25,000 Mile Love Story,” he writes that humans are built for endurance, and quotes Harvard anthropology professor Daniel Lieberman, who said, “Humans are terrible athletes in terms of power and speed, but we’re phenomenal at slow and steady. We’re the tortoises of the animal kingdom.”
“I don’t mind being the tortoise – to take the whole experience in with persistence and might. To see something all the way through, rather than to give out in a bright, mad burst. In a way, we humans are suited for the big picture rather than the little one. The rule is simple and unchanging: Always keep going,” writes Serge.
“For me, running is second nature, as everyday as getting a cup of coffee, checking the mail, turning down the covers… Running can take you anywhere. Running is, in a word, universal.” – Serge Roetheli
Behind every successful man, there stands a woman
Joe and Serge’s story prove the axiom that behind every successful man there stands a woman. Judy is Joe’s devoted wife and the mother of their sons, Steffan and Michael.
She birthed the iconic Greenies® treat, with a bone knuckle on one end to signify a treat and a toothbrush on the other to signify oral care, fresher breath, and less dental tartar.
Judy is also the All-Time Reigning Queen of Rolling Credit Cards, a skill that enabled a couple with no business experience, very little in terms of financial assets, and virtually no collateral, build the 8th largest pet food/treat company in the world.
She kept her finger on the finances and wrote all checks to make sure there were good records and deter fraud. Their first business, selling a formulation created to address a family dog’s terrible bad breath, quickly went on to become the #1 treat in America in less than 10 years.
Judy and Joe created products that launched new categories, ran sprints around much larger companies to take the advantage of innovation, always racing on the cutting edge of new technology and innovation; for example, today Yummy Combs is protected by eight issued US patents with one more pending on a simple dog treat.
The happy couple built several successful startups, and will each turn 75 next year, and celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. For the last 25 years, they have worked together as entrepreneurs, often with desks just a few feet apart, almost as close as in bed. According to Judy, being around your spouse nearly 24 hours a day for 25 years, takes courage, commitment, respect, trust, honest, and true love.
The support of adventurous women with immense courage
Serge had the support of three women, each of whom was instrumental in his endurance achievements. Nicole #1, his girlfriend at the end of his boxing career, accompanied Serge as he ran from Gibraltar to Cape North, Norway.
She drove a small van at his side as he ran this 4,359-mile adventure mostly in winter, and also accompanied him on an 11,200-mile sightseeing and bicycling endurance trip, which started in Montreal, zigzagged to the Pacific Coast, and then turned southeast all the way to Miami.
Nicole #2 urged and inspired Serge not only to run through North America, but also through South and Central America on his ‘little’ warm up event. She accompanied him, initially on a bicycle, and then on a motor scooter towing a small trailer with all their earthly possessions, as Serge ran from the southern tip of Argentina to Fairbanks – a mere 14,984-mile trek.
In South and Central America, Serge and Nicole were considered rich, for they had a motor scooter and running shoes. Immediately upon crossing from Mexico into the United States, they were considered poor for all they had were a motor scooter and a pair of running shoes.
After flying with their gear in a small plane across the Darien Gap and assessing the terrain on the Columbia–Panama Border, Serge put Nicole #2 up in a hotel in Panama City and returned to Columbia.
There he met up with Uwe Diemer, whom he had met a few days earlier. With two machetes, 30 pound of rice, and two hammocks, they spent 14 days hacking their way across more than 100 miles of an incredibly treacherous and dense jungle of swamps, rainforests, and mountains.
These areas are known to be infested with irate human ‘guerillas’, crazed drug lords, drug traffickers, greedy kidnappers, paranoid government agents, and a host of other dangerous animals.
Meanwhile, Nicole #2 waited in the hotel, watching many reports on the TV of deaths in the Gap, not knowing Serge’s exact whereabouts or if he was alive or dead.
Serge finally arrived at the hotel not having had a shower or shave in two weeks in the hot and humid climate of the Darien Gap, not an appealing sight for his lovely wife. However, he immediately remedied this with a shower and shave.
During the small celebration at the finish line with a group of Alaskans, Serge leaned over to Nicole and asked her if she was ready to continue on the ‘Main Event’. Two years later, with Nicole now on a small motorcycle towing a trailer, they were off again, this time to run the distance of the circumference of the world.
Nicole was once again Serge’s sole support on the World Tour, with no support back home, no financial supporters, and only maps of where they would travel. They both encountered and overcame serious cases of malaria, many dangerous wild animals, and quite a few dangerous humans.
If you divide the miles run (25,422) by the number of days on the road (1,910), Serge averaged a half marathon a day for 63 months, while drinking six tons of Coca Cola, while Nicole accompanied him by motorcycle, as they worked to raise awareness of the plight of children in developing countries.
They began traversing the Middle East days after 9-11, surviving a night in West Africa, where a civil war was raging and 407 people were killed. The Foundation that had agreed to schedule visits with the children they were supporting, let them down – a huge blow to the heart, mind, and spirit.
In India, the dense mass of humanity in the streets meant that Serge could outrun Nicole on the motorcycle; and she likely holds the record for the slowest motorcycle ride around the globe.
It takes a woman with immense courage and a strong sense of adventure to commit to spend eight years supporting her husband, as he runs his ‘warm-up’ and world tour, including 1,500 miles in the Sahara Desert in summer, sleeping in a pup tent, and enduring the lack of comfort and safety along the way.
Highlights of key Roetheli accomplishments
Serge, Joe, and Judy are humanitarians and entrepreneurs of their own making. Here are some examples of the amazing accomplishments that the fascinating Roetheli genes of passion, persistence, and performance helped them achieve:
|Joe & Judy Roetheli, entrepreneurs||Serge Roetheli, endurance athlete|
|Stevie Award as Best Company in America with < 100 employees.
Stevie Award for Best Packaging in the United States by a small business.
|Ran the distance of the circumference of the world, 25,422 miles in 1,910 days; an average of a half marathon a day for 63 months.|
|National District Export Council’s Small Business Exporter of the Year – 60 countries.
Judy became known as the all-time reigning queen of rolling credits cards, as it was the only way to fund the venture at startup.
|Warm up event: Ran from southern tip of Argentina to Fairbanks, Alaska, a mere 14,984-mile warm-up to running the distance of the circumference of the world. Finished in Alaska in December on snow and ice-covered roads and temperatures as low as -24° (Celsius or Farenheit?) while sleeping in a tent.|
|Inducted into the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.||The only 6-time Swiss National Boxing Champion.|
|Mr. K Award as Best Small Business in Greater KC Metro Area. Three times honored as a Top 10 small business in KC.||Macheted his way 125 miles across the Darien Gap – often referred to as the most dangerous place on Planet Earth.|
|Greenies® dog treats started the Dental Category in Pet Specialty Stores and has been the #1 selling dental treat for nearly 20 years. Even though they no longer have any financial or managerial interest.||Led expeditions to top of five volcanic mountains in Ecuador including Mt. Chimborazo (20,500 feet) and Mt. Cotopaxi at (19,165 feet).|
|Commercialized Pill Pockets®, the #1 pet pilling treat in America; has been the #1 selling pet supplements for over 15 years.||Climbed the highest peaks of Western Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and many more including dozens of climbs of the treacherous Matterhorn in Switzerland.|
|Commercialized Yummy Combs dog treats with a unique functional shape, superior nutrition, ease of use, advanced safety & great taste.||Crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Ole Elmer in a 22’x5′ canoe/rowboat from the Canary Islands to Barbados in 63 days with no backup. Isabelle, the third woman of Serge’s life had to help Serge learn to walk again.|
|Commercialized Spyder power tool accessories.||Earned a spot on the 1976 Swiss Olympic Boxing Team but did not get to participate because of actions far beyond Serge’s control or actions.|
|Honored with two Lowe’s Innovation Partner of the Year Awards. Called out by Lowe’s in 11 of last 12 quarterly reports to Wall Street by Lowe’s.||Bicycled 11,200 miles across North America, from Montreal to California, and then to Miami.|
|Honored with Legacy Award by Thinking Bigger – extended service to entrepreneurs.
Awarded Marion and John Kraemer Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
|Ran 4,359 miles from Gibraltar to Cape North, Norway in winter.|
|Pet industry ranked S&M NuTec as the 8th largest pet food/treat company in the world before it was 10 years old.
Honored as Petco Vendor of the Year twice.
|Ran the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, a trek of 150 miles up and down the Himalayan mountains of central Nepal, in seven days.|
|At the request of President Thomas Hoenig served on the Economic Advisory Board of the 10th District Federal Reserve Bank (Kansas City).
Started two Federal Programs programs during 18-year stint with the Federal Government; drafted legislative language to expand markets rather than pay farmers $32 billion not to produce.
|Scaled the 2,600-foot wall of the Lotus Flower Tower in NW Territories of Canada in two days of cliff climbing.|
|Joe was honored by his peers as “One of the Most Knowledgeable Experts in the World on New Crops and Industrial Uses of Agricultural Materials.”||Ran more than 60 miles of trails connecting the six high altitude mountain cabins of the Swiss Alps with over 20,500 feet of ascent and descent in 16 hours and 30 minutes – an average of 3.6 miles per hour.|
|Judy conceived the iconic Greenies® shape with toothbrush shape on one end and bone knuckle on the other.||Ran a trail of more than 80 miles in less than 20 hours that connects five major mountain tops in Switzerland.|
|Judy featured on front page and article of HER LIFE magazine, Sept 2008. Joe featured in April 27, 2007, issue of Kansas City Business Journal in an article titled, “Roetheli’s Evergreen Persistence Drives Life.”||Kayaked 260 miles on the Nahani River in NW Territory of Canada – one of the coldest, most treacherous white-water rivers in the world.
Struck directly by lightning while descending a cliff by rope and survived.
Referred to as likely the greatest endurance athlete in the world—perhaps greatest ever!
|Joe and Judy featured in New York Times article titled, “The Dog Who Breathed a New Business,” June 6, 2007.
Featured on front cover of CIO Views magazine as inspiring entrepreneur.
|Serge and Nicole raised $420,000 for charitable causes; The Roetheli Lil’ Red Foundation of which Serge is an Associate has built over 350 homes for the poorest of the poor in Guyana, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Haiti, plus many clean water projects; one in Malawi, Africa provides clean drinking water for residents of 20 villages.|
Joe & Serge were born for adventure of different varieties. They relished what others shied away from, envisioned and experienced the sweet taste of victory, did not retreat despite adversity, loved the smell and beauty of roses, and ate both the sweet and bitter fruits of nature.
Joe & Serge, in their own ways, had the zeal to go where few had trod. They would rather cut a trail than take an existing path. They searched for the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow.
The Roethelis are indeed conquerors, fighters against great odds, who do not know what the words “no” or “can’t do mean to others but not to them. No may mean, not at this moment, but try again later!
They say in harmony and unison, “No pain, no gain”, and are relentless in pursuit of their goals; there’s always a new goal just beyond the horizon for both Joe and Serge.
Contact Information –
Joe Roetheli – firstname.lastname@example.org
Serge Roetheli – email@example.com