In 2008 I ran across an article in the Chicago Tribune about an event that was going to be held at the end of summer. The article by Julie Deardorff ran August 19, and was entitled “Test yourself against Navy Seals.” It described the Navy Seal Fitness Challenge that was going to be held in Chicago on September 6.
The event was the general public’s chance to take the physical fitness test that all applicants must pass to be accepted into SEAL training. The event was billed as the Navy trying to help beat the obesity epidemic, though there was definitely a recruitment aspect to it. I think they must have been a little disappointed at the number of older guys like me who signed up, because now the events are by invitation only. The tests and the minimum standards are shown in the picture below.
Having just recently learned to swim at the YMCA, I wasn’t sure I should do it, but my wife convinced me that we could train ourselves and meet at least the minimum standards. So, I came home, we tested ourselves on the push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, guestimated our run times from a recent 5K, and took a shot in the dark at the swim. We entered this data on the even site when we registered, and it spit out a training program. (I have added my program as a separate page on this site.)
For the next month, running, swimming, and calisthenics became our hobby. The workouts would take a long time, but they got us into really good shape. The day of the test, we went down to the University of Illinois at Chicago, met some SEALs and did the test. To my surprise, I managed to hit the minimum standards on all of the tests except one — the running. That was the one I thought I would make for sure. But I was still proud of myself for making the swim standards. At the event if you made the minimum standards you got a brown shirt. If you hit the competitive level (10 minute swim, 80 push-ups, 80 sit-ups, 11 pull-ups, and 10 minute 1.5 mile run) you got a blue shirt. If you didn’t make standards, then you got a white shirt. Well, you can see from the picture how I did.
Still a couple weeks later I got a nice letter and dog tag from the Navy Recruiting Command encouraging me to sign up if I thought I wanted to join.
“Congratulations and thank you for your recent participation in the Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge. You came. You saw. You accomplished. Your commitment to physical fitness is a true testimony of your discipline, hard work and focus.”
Now, I could never join an organization that doesn’t use the Oxford comma, but I will say that this event has had a lasting effect on me. First, it gave me a true appreciation of how hard it is to become a member of an elite unit. I have never been in the military, but this was an interesting glimpse inside that world. At the same time, it taught me that I could train my body to do more than I thought possible. The fact that I completed the swim in time boggled my mind. This realization lets me know that I am capable of being an athlete. I wished I would have learned that a lot earlier in life.
Next, I also found out how fun it is to be in great shape. Shortly after doing the event I had to run for a bus for three city blocks carrying a bag loaded with a laptop, notebooks, and lunch. I beat the bus to the stop, bounded aboard, and sat down. Suddenly I realized I hadn’t broken a sweat and wasn’t even breathing hard. That was pretty cool.
Also, about a month later, I was part of a relay team for the Men’s Health Urbanathlon. I had kept up the training in advance of this event. I had the second leg with the most obstacles. The guy who had the anchor leg was surprised at how fast I covered the ground and how easily I tackled getting over the six-foot Marine hurdles. But that was what being in shape did for me.
So now, I am trying a 5K training course, but I am incorporating elements of the Navy SEAL fitness challenge to try to get back to something similar to that level of fitness. I know it is possible. It is just about putting the work in.