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By Tom Demerly

It was a pleasant sunrise. I was sitting on a log at the beach with a man I’d call a new friend. The temperature was pleasant and the sun was warming. The sand was very nice. The ocean lay still.

The man had strong eyes. Even though we had just shook hands we chatted like we knew each other. That’s why I call him a friend. He was powerfully built and full of vitality. The sun was low in our eyes but he wore no sunglasses so I took mine off too. He had that engaging manner of looking you in the eyes so you understood what he was saying.

Each time he used the word I made a tick mark in my little notebook. When I reached four tick marks I made a line through them. Five. I made two more marks right after that. He kept using that word.

The man I was chatting with is an endurance athlete named Dave. Dave was second overall at the Ultraman Triathlon in 2006. Ultraman is over twice the distance of Ironman, a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike and 52.4 mile run. During the run he averaged sub-8:30 miles- for all 52 miles. He did four 100 mile running races this month. Dave asked if I was racing this weekend. I told him I was. He was leaving for another 100 miler.

I wanted to learn three things from Dave. I wanted to learn about Dave, he’s a famous fellow we’ve seen in magazines, websites and on TV. A likeness of Dave even appears in a popular video game. I wanted to learn about why he does what he does and I was hoping to learn something about myself.

In answer to one of my questions, he used that word again. Eight tick marks. I turned the page in my notebook for the next set of questions. He used the word again. Nine.

Dave is SEAL Operator First Class David Goggins, U.S. Navy. He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUDS), SEAL Qualification Training (SQT), the U.S. Army Ranger School, The U.S. Army Airborne School, and The U.S. Air Force Special Tactics “P” School. Because of challenges he faced during his Basic Underwater Demolition School Goggins had to go through the most difficult phase of BUDs, Hell Week, almost three times. He may be the only person in history to have done so. Goggins’ Hell Week became Hell Month.

As SO1 (SEAL Operator 1st Class) Goggins and I sat on a log in the obstacle course at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California I inspected his uniform. It looked like the edges were tailored with a razor. On the left side of his uniform was an eagle holding a cocked flintlock pistol, a trident and straddling an anchor. The Navy Special Warfare Badge.

I got interested in meeting Dave Goggins after reading about the SEALs and interacting with them in the military. Dave Goggins is a new generation Navy SEAL, the fittest, best trained, most versatile special operations soldiers in history. Goggins is one of several point men in the current recruiting effort to find qualified candidates for SEAL training. The Navy is offering a $40,000 cash bonus to candidates who complete SEAL training. Other cash bonuses available to qualified SEALs run as high as $150,000. The Navy wants SEAL candidates who have the fitness of triathletes. They sponsor their own athletes like Dave Goggins and Superfrog Triathlon winner Mitch Hall, sending them to high profile events like Ironman Hawaii to generate publicity for the $40K SEAL Challenge. This year’s Ford Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii started with Navy SEALs parachuting into the swim course.

The SEALs need to increase their numbers by approximately 500 members before 2009. Construction on new buildings goes on next to us at the Naval Special Warfare Center to house incoming candidates and a rumored two new SEAL teams.

With the bonuses for SEALs at $40,000-$150,000 and first place prize money for the overall win at Ford Ironman Hawaii at $110,000 I had to wonder: If you were a good male triathlete in your early 20’s you understand winning Kona against the top pros is a long shot. Earning that $40,000 SEAL Challenge bonus is more of a sure thing that provides a steady job in a growing industry, military special operations.

I wanted to find out just how much difference- or similarity- there is between a SEAL and a triathlete. In Goggins’ case there is little; like most SEALs, he is both.

My questions for Dave Goggins were likely the ones he is always asked: “What is it like to be a Navy SEAL?” “How do you endure the difficult training?”
The one word that continued to surface in Goggins’ answers was “honor”.

“It is an honor to be a Navy SEAL.” He said.

How does he endure the hours in freezing water?

“You have to remember the man next to you, he is counting on you. You have honor your commitment to him, to the Navy, to your country.”

What is it like being a very public representative for a military unit with mostly secret activities?

“I’m truly honored to represent the SEALs.”

During our conversation Dave Goggins spoke about his family, about how challenging training is. Training for a Navy SEAL never ends. It is a part of the SEAL ethos that they earn their Trident, the Navy Special Warfare insignia, every day. Goggins told me, “You remember that all difficult things come to an end. You focus on the ending, and then you can take anything.”

Goggins says he never gets tired of the relentless operational tempo of the SEAL training and operations, “It’s my job.” He’s been deployed to the Middle East on classified operations, almost every SEAL has.

In talking with Dave Goggins I sense a character and soul that burns like the core of a nuclear reactor. “If you have a strong heart,” He tells me, “There are no limits… no limits to the human soul.”

What I learned about Navy SEALs and their relationship with endurance sports is a matter of motive and depth. Dave Goggins is motivated by a pervasive sense of duty and honor. In a different way than you and I are beckoned to the finish of an Ironman Dave Goggins feels a higher purpose to swimming four miles in cold, dark water in the middle of the night or running 100 miles across an open desert. For a man like Dave Goggins there is a sacred trust to being an endurance athlete and a SEAL, a trust that must be honored. That sense of honor runs deep. Most of us do endurance sport for selfish reasons. Goggins does them out of a sense of stewardship for the insignia on his uniform and to honor the boundless depth of the human spirit.

This thing that David Goggins honors is the inner strength that all humans possess, but few harness. Goggins believes we have an obligation to go deep into ourselves to explore our strength, our soul. Goggins sees endurance sports as an insight into himself as well as the extent of human capabilities well beyond the physical.

“You can push yourself past physical limits.” He told me.

Another thing that pushes Dave Goggins is the legacy of the Navy SEAL. A relatively young military unit the SEALs were born from the World War II Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Teams popularly referred to as “frogmen” because of their black wetsuits and swim fins. The frogmen evolved, as amphibians do, into the Underwater Demolition Teams or UDTs. In 1962 they became the United States Navy SEa, Air and Land forces, the SEALs. These were the men who rescued the astronauts after splashing down during the Apollo space missions. Because of concern over a mysterious “moon virus” the Apollo astronauts were quarantined after returning to earth. The SEALs who pulled them from their capsule were the only ones to risk contact with them before they passed quarantine. I can remember watching the return of the astronauts from the moon in grade school. The other kids thought the astronauts were heroes- they were. But I thought the Navy SEALs who jumped from a helicopter into the ocean risking the unknown and pulling the astronauts to safety were the real heroes.

SEAL history is filled with acts of unbelievable heroism, bravery and valor. This history is part of what Dave Goggins and other Navy SEALs honor today with their service. Goggins is soft spoken and humble. Outside of his uniform he does not advertise that he is one of the most highly qualified special operations soldiers and endurance athletes in the world. Instead he directs the accolades to men who have given their lives for their country, honoring their commitment to team members, the Navy, their families, their Country and their God.

The list of names every SEAL honors with his service is long. The depth of stories is unbelievable; stories of Men who have done incredible things to save others, sacrificing themselves in the process. They’ve demonstrated endurance and toughness that transcends any Ironman.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy is one of those men. This year he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lt. Murphy was part of a four man reconnaissance patrol inserted by helicopter into the Afghan mountains to locate a high ranking enemy official. Their covert mission, Operation Redwing, was compromised when they were discovered by a civilian goat herder. The team did not harm the goat herder, but the herdsman reported sighting the SEALs to Afghan insurgents. The four SEALs were pursued and attacked by a vastly superior force. After inflicting numerous casualties during their attempts to evade contact the team members were out of ammunition and wounded. Lt. Murphy was attempting to establish communications via radio and satellite phone to request an emergency extraction. He had to use a radio that required a clear line of sight to the sky. Lt. Murphy calmly stepped away from cover into the hail of fire from the Afghan insurgents and called for extraction of his team. He was hit twice while he made the call. After he finished the call he calmly replaced the radio handset, and fell dead. Two other SEALs died in the incident and another 16 were killed when a rescue helicopter en route to the scene was shot down. Army Rangers rescued the only surviving SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell. Luttrell’s book, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” is Luttrell’s account of the tragedy. Luttrell’s incredible escape, during which he drank his own urine and crawled half naked in freezing temperatures for miles, makes our Ironman dramas trivial.

There are many more SEAL names that inspire Dave Goggins and other SEALs to endure their day-to-day training, racing in endurance events like Ironman, a double Ironman and 100 mile ultra-marathons and to conduct their dangerous operations around the world: Neil Roberts, Michael Monsoor, Dan Dietz, Matt Axelson... I could just as easily be sitting on a log at the beach in California chatting with one of them, except they gave their lives in defense of the ideals we hold near and dear. So part of what drives an endurance athlete like Dave Goggins is honoring the memory of those men and continuing their legacy of selflessness, courage, sacrifice and honor.

I learned a great deal chatting with Dave Goggins at the Naval Special Warfare Center. What makes a man reach so deep? How can a person be so brave? How can a man stay so motivated and focused?

The answer I came away with is one I have suspected for some time; that these things come from something bigger than us. These motives to endure, survive and excel are carried within ourselves but come from outside. They must be internalized before they can be harnessed. It is the word that Dave Goggins kept using, “honor” that drives him.

If we all had something like honor driving us then perhaps we could dig as deep. Perhaps…



© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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