Fitness buffs falling for SEAL-mania

Navy’s grueling program is all the rage since the daring raid that killed bin Laden

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ENCINITAS, Calif. — Joe Stumpf snaps the 115-pound barbell up to his chest and swiftly lifts it over his head, holding it while gritting his teeth and locking arms as sweat streams down from his gray hair.

The barbell hits the ground in a clang seconds later. After eight reps, the 54-year-old businessman dressed in camouflage pants rushes to the next excruciating exercise.

Mr. Stumpf is one of a growing number of Americans putting themselves through grueling fitness programs modeled after Navy SEAL workouts as interest in the elite military unit has soared since one of its teams killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Everyone these days seems to be dreaming of what it’s like to be a SEAL, know a SEAL or at least look like one.

Book publishers say they cannot order printings of the memoirs of former SEALs fast enough, while people are dialing 1-800-Hooyah! like mad to get their hands on T-shirts emblazoned with the SEAL insignia and sayings such as: “When it absolutely, positively must be destroyed overnight! Call in the US Navy SEALs.”

Awe over the covert operation is even putting the city of Fort Pierce, Fla., on the map. The city’s National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum - the only museum dedicated to the secretive SEALs - has been flooded with calls from people planning to visit.

But nothing short of joining the SEALs offers a more true-to-life taste of their toughness than the workout programs run by former Navy commandos.

“Every little boy has got a SEAL in him,” Mr. Stumpf joked after completing one of the workouts in Southern California.

Former Navy SEAL Cmdr. Mark Divine said his business has been inundated with inquiries since the raid. Most have been from the general public caught up in the excitement over the surprise attack on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. He said military candidates aren’t showing greater interest, and Navy officials say visits to recruiting centers have not spiked since the May 2 operation.

“Certainly a lot of corn balls have called for sure - people who wouldn’t stand a chance of making it through our training,” said the brawny accountant-turned-SEAL who founded NavySEALs.com, SEALFIT and US CrossFit gyms in the beach town of Encinitas, just north of San Diego. “I had an email today from a kid asking if I could train him from home because his parents don’t want him to become a SEAL.”

Mr. Divine started SEALFIT to help sailors and Marines interested in becoming special forces members by giving them a peek at the Navy’s notoriously brutal basic training for SEALs. His tough workouts, he said, also save the dreamers “from four to five years in the Navy chipping paint for the USS Never-Sail.”

Mr. Divine soon discovered even people who will never be a SEAL could benefit from his training, which runs the gamut from daily hard-core workouts to a month-long live-in academy involving 10 hours of exercise a day, seven days a week.

The fittest can move on to a SEALFIT camp, which is based on the Navy’s “Hell Week,” the defining moment for SEAL candidates who must endure more than five days of constant exercise - including swimming, running and slogging through mud - on less than four hours of sleep a day.

Campgoers exercise for 50 hours without sleep and get to go out on a mock SEAL-type mission.

“It’s not easy to determine who is going to make it through SEAL training or not,” Mr. Divine said. “The secret sauce is inside of you. It’s mental toughness and unbeatable spirit.”

Mr. Stumpf wanted to find out if he had that “sauce” long before the national euphoria erupted over the SEALs.

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