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Taking the SEAL challenge

Hundreds of athletes, from 13 to 70, come to try out the regimen that keeps the elite Navy unit in shape.

February 10, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

She might be 13 and beanpole-thin, but Lauren Hagedorn can compete with any Navy SEAL.

Hagedorn, a runner and swimmer from Manhattan Beach, stuck out in the crowd of mostly muscled, 20-something guys grunting and sweating through a series of grueling exercise events set up by the SEALs for the public on the UCLA campus Saturday morning.

After knocking out a 500-yard swim, 85 push-ups, 58 sit-ups, 12 pull-ups and a 1.5-mile run, Hagedorn panted, smiling at her strong finish. "I'm kind of tired," she said between gulps of water. "But proud."

The SEAL fitness challenge, continuing at UCLA today, is the elite military group's traveling workout road show, intended to promote fitness and offer people a chance to compete against the SEALs' actual strength tests.

The SEALs -- short for Sea, Air and Land, indicating the environments they can operate in -- are an elite, adaptable fighting force with specialized training in unconventional warfare.

"We're always astounded that people really want to come out and do this stuff," said Lt. Cmdr. Ed Rohrbach, one of about two dozen SEALs and Naval special warfare sailors shouting encouragement at stragglers in the pool or people dangling from the pull-up bar.

As many as 700 people, including personal trainers, triathletes and military hopefuls, were expected to compete in the two-day event in Los Angeles, the biggest turnout the Navy has seen since the program began in 2006. Hundreds of people in Boston, Minneapolis and San Antonio have already faced off against the SEALs' tough fitness standards.

Men outnumbered women at Saturday's event 6 to 1, and participants ranged from middle-schoolers to those pushing 70. The standards are the same for everyone -- there are no special categories for seniors or kids.

The point, organizers said, is to get people off the couch -- especially young people, who are at an increased risk of becoming obese, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plus, "if you're going to show up in a Speedo, it speaks volumes about your courage," said Lt. Cmdr. Andy Schreiner, also a SEAL.

Civilians are exempt from one SEAL rule: They aren't required to run in camouflage pants and combat boots.

Patrick Devine, 46, and Stephen Alford, 50, were the only athletes with gray hair in their competition group Saturday, and bonded in solidarity over their elder-statesman status.

"Here's one for the old guys," Devine, a private security contractor from Shadow Hills who runs and does martial arts, said just minutes before his 10-lap swim. Dozens of push-ups and sit-ups later, Devine was disappointed with his finish and joked that the "geezers" in the competition should have a handicap.

"I need a beer and a nap," he said, vowing to compete next year for the coveted blue T-shirt dispensed to top scorers.

The fastest, strongest athletes with the best scores earn a navy-blue SEAL fitness shirt; those who meet basic SEAL standards take home tan T-shirts. And people who simply finish the five events, at any pace, get a white SEAL shirt bearing the force's trident logo. The real SEALs wear similar T-shirts during their training exercises.

About 20% of participants Saturday passed SEAL muster, according to a Navy spokesman. Navy officials also scoured the crowd, clustered near an armored Humvee and an inflatable Navy boat parked on the field at Drake Stadium, seeking out likely recruits.

Determined to become a SEAL, 15-year-old Anthony Leyva hoisted a disarmed M-4 machine gun and grenade launcher that were on display. He had earned a white SEAL shirt with some help from family members who drove to UCLA from Moreno Valley to cheer him on.

Part of the event, Rohrbach said, was to show the public that SEALs aren't superhuman ninjas, but "PTA guys, regular neighbors." Still, most of the SEALs helping out Saturday had made at least one overseas deployment since 9/11, said Capt. Duncan Smith, also a SEAL.

Although the SEALs don't admit women to their ranks, 13-year-old Hagedorn passed the SEAL challenge with flying colors, earning a tan T-shirt.

Endurance and competition apparently run in the family: Her sister Shannon, 14, also finished the SEAL challenge Saturday afternoon -- after wrapping up a seven-mile cross-country practice run that morning. And Lauren was heading off to play a basketball game Saturday evening.

Visit the event's website, sealfitnesschallenge.com for more information.

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susannah.rosenblatt@ latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge

Basic standards:

* Swim 500 yards breast- or sidestroke in 12 1/2 minutes

* Perform 42 push-ups in two minutes

* Perform 50 sit-ups in two minutes

* Perform six pull-ups in two minutes

* Run 1 1/2 miles in 11 minutes

"Highly qualified" standards:

* Swim 500 yards breast- or sidestroke in 10 minutes

* Perform 80 push-ups in two minutes

* Perform 80 sit-ups in two minutes

* Perform 11 pull-ups in two minutes

* Run 1 1/2 miles in 10 minutes

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