I have met numerous SEAL Team members and other Special Operations people during my time in the Navy and my subsequent career. Several of them are people I consider good friends for whom I have a great deal of respect. They are cut from a different piece of cloth.
During the summer of 2011 I was channel surfing and happened across a documentary done by the Discovery Channel on US Navy SEAL Team Training. (Navy SEALs Training DVD Set (SKU ID #84886)(UPC Code = 014381411720)(Brand Code = 3940 84886)
Early in the BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) Training class members are required to swim 50 yards underwater without taking a breath. It goes like this: you jump into the cold water of the 25 yard pool, do a forward summersault, and swim two lengths of the pool underwater without taking a breath. They swim the breaststroke with frog kick and are encouraged to stay relaxed and glide.
During the event a couple of the class members passed out at the end of their swim and had to be pulled out of the water.
Swimming 50 yards under water taking no breath is a tough thing to do. In the debriefing at the end of the event one of the instructors asks a question and then offers the lesson the class needs to learn:
“How many of you guys went over a hurdle today that you didn’t realize you could get over?”
“You can push a lot farther than you thought you could.”
It reminded me of SERE school. We had the opportunity to learn the same lesson at SERE.
I’m No SEAL, But I Did It!
Now I am no SEAL or Special Operator. But I took up the gauntlet on this one. I swam and played water polo in high school and at the university and have been regularly swimming 25 yards underwater most of my life. Why not 50 yards?
It took a bunch of attempts, but on 09 September of 2011 I swam 50 yards underwater taking no breath. It was HARD! I thought I was going to choke! But I did it!
Now I know that our SEAL friends had a rougher setting than I did. The water in my pool was a warmer, I did not have a mad dog SEAL instructor breathing down my neck, and I was not in the midst of BUDS. But I still did it. And I was 64 years old.
01 – 03 July 2014 – Three days in a row!
Between 2011 and 2014 I have had a wrestle with atrial fribulation and prostate cancer. It has been a rough row to hoe. But I am back in the grove. I feel better than I have for at least five years. For the last three days I have swum 50 yards underwater taking no breath as a part of my 1300-yard daily workout.
However, I still cannot do the feat every time I get in the water.
Over the last 3.5 years I have been observing myself and thinking about what makes the difference. I have come up with four success factors: sleep/rest, food/nutrition, skill/competency, and mental toughness.
The Critical Success Factors
I lived a lot of years in my life getting 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night. My body does not function as well under those conditions. The research I have read indicates that our bodies generally need 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night in order to function at an optimal level. Regarding my underwater swimming I find this to be the case. If I have not had a reasonable amount of rest the body does not operate well. Or maybe it is me that is not operating it well.
I have to have fuel in my truck for the machine to work and get me from point A to point B. Our bodies are the same. If we want to be physically and mentally capable we have to consume food that is nutritious and wholesome. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, less prepared or refined foods, less sugar, fewer chemical additives. And stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. And if you have to take prescribed medicines, learn what they do to your body and watch for side effects and interactions. Take stewardship for your body!
Swimming is a physical and mental skill that can be learned. The water is a foreign environment that we must skillfully adapt to. The physical motions of swimming are somewhat complicated and require a careful mind-body coordination. But with practice and feedback, most people can learn them. But learning them is only the first step. Then you have to refine stroke technique so that it is efficient and gives you maximum propulsion. And then there is the breathing technique. Swimming is physical skill, but it quickly blends over into the mental realm.
The most critical component of the success formula is mental toughness. Resisting the gag reflex, balancing your movements, staying relaxed, and staying determined, focused, and fierce are all elements of the mental toughness required. You have to make it all come together.
You have to realize that you have the capacity to do much more than you ever thought you could do.
Victor Frankl Quote: No Limits
“Man goes beyond necessities to the very limits of possibilities because he wonders where those limits lie. And behold, they don’t lie anywhere because, like the horizon, they expand with every step he takes toward them.”
How about you? What gauntlet are you going to take up? How are you going to build your mental toughness?