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Friday, October 6, 2000 -- Virginia Beach, VA
Seal Adventure Challenge
When You Think There's Nothing Left...
Teamwork pulls competitors through Seal Adventure Challenge

Story and photos by Dawn Taylor

Seal Adventure Challenge
"This is when it gets interesting," Instructor John Rea, a retired SEAL, told the competitors as they began the infamous SEAL log exercises. These are the ones in which five or six guys do sit-ups, overhead presses, lunges and other inhumane tricks with two hundred pound-sections of telephone poles.

As competitors started dropping due to leg cramps, vomiting and exhaustion, Rea commanded that the trainees protect their teammates, carry their weight, and keep them from the instructors, who he said were "after blood." This might sound like a scene from a documentary on the intensity of SEAL Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, but the students were not SEAL trainees.

They were a diverse group of 55 civilians ages 16 - 47, including a 23-year-old woman, who were all taking part in the 5th SEAL Adventure Challenge offered by Odyssey Adventure Racing in Virginia Beach, VA, and presented by Blackhawk Industries.

Seal Adventure Challenge
The log PT was just one exercise in a long series of activities that made up the 24-hour event, which is the closest civilians can come to participating in SEAL training. The day began with an introduction of the instructors and a briefing on the role the SEALs have played in the military. Scott Norton, a decorated SEAL veteran and recruiter encouraged those who were interested in going to BUD/S. He told them the next 24 hours would give them a realistic idea of what would be expected of them, should they be chosen for the highly coveted training. The impressive lineup of SEAL and other Special Forces instructors promised the class they would learn important lessons on the value of teamwork, and that each individual would find out what is inside of them AFTER they thought there was nothing left.

This pleasant and civilized exchange came to an abrupt end, however, as soon as the participants hit the tarmac outside and were placed on teams. Immediately, they were face down on the pavement "pushing them out" as instructors barked the count. Any deviation of the rules, any delay in response, or any other display of weakness would result in similar punishment throughout the day.

Seal Adventure Challenge
Beginning with pool drills, the trainees learned tough lessons quickly. With hands tethered behind them, the participants were asked to become "drown-proof" by descending to the bottom of the pool, then rising to catch a breath before going down again.

Teamwork became evident immediate, as some of the stronger swimmers held up those who could no longer stay afloat while treading water. When instructors found someone faltering, they would be called out of the pool for flutter kicks, more push-ups and other forms of "discipline."

During the Physical Readiness Test, already weary participants did timed push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups, and ran a fast-paced 3 miles -- striving with all their energy to gain points during the only portion of the event that pitted them against their teammates. "It pays to be a winner," the instructors all shouted. That lesson was reiterated throughout the day, as those who were slower or less motivated suffered the painful consequences.

Seal Adventure Challenge
The Seal Adventure Challenge offered a 6-hour option for those who were not ready to commit to the longer version of this simulated BUD/S "hell-week." As those 7 individuals prepared to leave, event organizer Don Mann suggested that they should stay for the log PT and boat carry. Three intrepid men stayed.

It's surprisingly hard to say "no" to a former SEAL with a reputation for putting on the most brutal and extreme sporting events in the country, and whose motto is "Your PAIN is our PLEASURE." "You should welcome the pain," he would later tell them as they struggled with their logs. "Humans have an incredible ability to take pain and will pass out if it's too much," he added. "I don't see anyone passed out here."

While half the group suffered under the weight of the logs, the rest were suffering under the crushing weight of their large rubber boats, which they carried over their heads across the sand dunes. "We're gonna laugh about this tomorrow" one optimistic Challenger shouted as his teammates groaned and cried under the pressure. Despite his encouragement, the boat crews took too long to get their boats in the water.

Seal Adventure Challenge
As a result, Instructor Alan Holmes a Army Special Forces Captain, made them do push-ups in the sand with the boats on their shoulders. When they failed to do this to the his satisfaction, they were asked to crawl, and roll in the sand. One particularly humiliating punishment was when SEAL instructor Paul Wherries (a.k.a. Instructor Grinch) repeatedly blew his whistle. Each trainee had to drop and crawl over other trainees until they could touch his legs -- resulting in a pile of wet, sandy competitors all gathered at the foot of the grinning Grinch... (Known as the Grinch Pile as seen in the photo on the left.)

After several hours of boat drills and other "fun" at the beach, every competitor was completely covered in wet sand, which made carrying logs, boats and each other all the more miserable. At this point, displays of teamwork abounded, as competitors actually carried each other, and not just in the wounded-man-carry exercise. They also shared body heat, as they huddled together, which competitors said helped to "eliminate all the barriers and expand the comfort zones" between these relative strangers.

Seal Adventure Challenge
The night ended with a mission designed by Instructor Chris Smith, a former Navy SEAL, who had gained notoriety throughout the day as one of the most demanding and unforgiving instructors. The trainees, donning camouflaged face paint, were briefed on field communication, stealth, recon and extraction techniques, and were assigned a hostage rescue operation.

They had until sunrise to locate and remove two downed pilots from armed enemy camps. With the full moon to light their every action and no wind to cover the sound of their movements, they would need to be proceed carefully.

The teamwork that was forged earlier in the day was now needed as the participants moved and worked together to achieve their objective. Awareness and energy levels were heightened now that the teams were working as a whole toward a common goal. Crawling facedown in the sand, a task that earlier seemed humiliating and painful, now made sense, as did they stealthily moved in on their targets. After successful boat entries and recon activities, each team successfully completed their mission.

As the sun rose and with the mission behind them, the trainees gathered around a campfire to talk about their accomplishments. Each held their head a bit higher and the pride they felt could be seen in their bloodshot eyes. Their camouflaged faces and wet, sandy clothing were stark reminders of how they had spent the last 24 hours.

Seal Adventure Challenge
It's the mental toughness that got them through the event, Don Mann said, "I'm not aware of any place else that puts you through what you just did. Your body can only get so strong, but there's no stopping how strong you can get your mind." Captain Bob Schoultz, former Commander of Naval Special Warfare Group TWO, congratulated them on being able to "enjoy the sublime moments of being SEAL commando." And encouraged all to "live with honor and integrity and to build on their physical and mental toughness."
Competitors Share Their Thoughts...
After the event, many competitors are also compelled to share their thoughts about the profound effect the event had on them. Here are a few of their comments:

"I wanted to thank you personally for the most miserable physical 24 hours I have spent in my life. I loved every minute of it! It is not very often in life that we get to push ourselves beyond our pre-conceived, puny perceptions." --- Mark Mueller

"I know that our boys not only were challenged physically, but more importantly, learned a lot about commitment, dedication, team work and love for one's country. God bless." --- Tom Worosz

"I look forward to the next 24-hour Challenge and what it is going to make me bring out in myself. You and all of your instructors brought out the best in many of us." --- Michael Piet

"My profound thanks for one of the great experiences of my life. The most rewarding moments were the ones in which the greatest demands were being made. Another [lesson learned] was humility. How seriously can you take yourself in other life situations, knowing you've crawled through the sand gasping for breath while cold, wet, tired and miserable." --- Dan Freedman

"It made me more tolerant and accepting of others' limitations. The increased intensity and clarity are things I can bring back to the corporate world." --- Steve Reuss

The Seal Adventure Challenge was originally designed as a recruiting tool for the Navy after founder CWO (Ret.) SEAL Don Mann, was asked to design an event that would spark the interest of potential recruits. This remains a primary goal of the organizers and the Navy officials who support the event.

The 2001 24-hour Seal Adventure Challenge will be offered on these dates:
On March 17, July 14, and October 6.

For more information: visit the Beast of the East Web Site
Or write; or call (757) 425-2445.