At 2:30 am on a summer Sunday, Don Shipley bursts into a 25-man bunkhouse in the backwoods of Virginia. He waves his flashlight in the eyes of the exhausted men inside. "Good morning, ladies," he says. "Time to get comfortable being uncomfortable."
Shipley runs the nation's toughest Navy SEAL training camp for civilians. A former SEAL commander and explosives expert, the 53-year-old spends his days sadistically testing the physical, mental, and emotional limits of guys who are bored with beaches and done-that adventures. "These are guys who already climbed the mountain a bunch of times," says Shipley. "They want to feel like their asses are really on the line."
Here's what you'll do at Shipley's Extreme SEAL Experience: hundreds of perfect push-ups, sit-ups, and leg flutters – in one case, while semi-submerged in a scummy pond, with a hose spraying in your face. Or you'll be sent on a mission to hike two miles through dense forest at night, cram into a Zodiac with seven other guys, paddle 10 miles up river, and rescue two hostages the Taliban plan to execute. Shipley also teaches close-quarter combat, shooting, rappelling, and how to move silently from water to land. "The point is to beat them down, to get them to doubt themselves," says Shipley.
But this is not solely a fantasy camp. Guys who want to become real SEALs come to Shipley to toughen them up before the training begins. (Only 25 percent of recruits make it through the SEALs' notorious Hell Week.) Dumb stubbornness is the raw fuel of survival. A slightly twisted sense of humor also helps – especially, for instance, when you're facedown, crawling through cold mud for no apparent purpose. "When you can laugh at yourself through adversity, that's powerful stuff," Shipley says. "That has a lot to do with how you deal with your shit."
The course lasts either one or two weeks and usually includes 25 guys. All of them must pass a physical screening test that includes swimming 500 yards in less than 12 minutes, 30 seconds, and running 1.5 miles, in boots, in less than 11 minutes, 30 seconds. The seven-day program costs $2,050.
"You come out a different person," says Elonzo Coleman, a 42-year-old marketing executive from Phoenix, Arizona, who has done Shipley's SEAL Experience four times. He calls the training sessions, which included 1,500 push-ups during one night alone, "two shoes in the balls." "They are working us until we're puking. It's no joke." Yet it's not anything he'd ever trade. "Before, I had capability but no direction," Coleman says. "Now I have more capability and a laser focus. Whatever comes in my path, I'm going to exceed people's expectations."
. . . or try these:
In Vietnam, Marines called any lousy situation – jungle combat or engine-room duty – "the suck." Now it's a 36-hour, boot-camp-style endurance challenge. The program was designed by Joe Decker, a veteran of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. Expect a nonstop gauntlet of everything from farm chores and trail runs to heavy lifting and calisthenics. [gutcheckfitness.com/the-suck]
Former Navy SEAL Mark Divine puts recruits through grueling drills like sit-ups in the roiling surf and dragging "wounded" comrades across the sand all to develop endurance, discipline, and teamwork. [sealfit.com]