Former and future members of the armed forces, as well as citizen participants, gathered in a 100-athlete mass of jumping jacks and flutter kicks to mobilize the 9th annual Navy Seal Benefit Challenge Sunday, Sept. 8, at the VFW Post 7293 in Egypt. The event raised $8,700 dollars so far, with more donations expected. All proceeds will be given to the Navy SEAL Foundation, which will dedicate the funds to the children of fallen Navy Seals.
Organizers from the UDT-SEAL Association and Hoover Karate Academy dedicated the local challenge to Brett Shadle, who died March 28, 2013 after a highly decorated career. The 31-year-old Chief Special Warfare Operator grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Upper Dauphin Area High School, near Harrisburg. His parents, Dave and LuAnn, drove from their home in Elizabethville to watch the event, the third memorial fund raiser since Brett’s passing.
“The events help a great deal,” Dave Shadle said of managing his grief. “Being around people is the best medicine.”
Studies show that physical fitness and humor can keep most people healthy. The participants in the SEAL Challenge brought both to the event. They shouted out plenty of jokes while doing pushups, sit-ups and 50 additional exercises for the first part of the event, a PT (physical training) Grinder session, the same one SEAL candidates perform in their 6th week of BUDS training in San Diego, Calif. Next, the 13 teams of 7 members, plus several individual participants, ran 4 miles in team formation.
Finally, participants grinned and grimaced through a 13-station obstacle course behind Hoover Karate Academy. They lifted and rolled truck tires; pushed a pickup truck; picked up a Zodiac boat provided by the Telford Diving Unit; carried logs over their heads; challenged opponents in a tug-o-war; ran while carrying wooden pallets; climbed ropes vertically and horizontally; did more pushups, pull-ups and kicks; and carried teammates on a stretcher.
Every year, Lieutenant Commander Bob Hayman, a former SEAL, brings a busload of ROTC students to participate in the event. He teaches them plenty of chants as they run and students create their own humorous lyrics. They were fully prepared for the singing station at the obstacle course, where they belted out, “Anchors Away” and “Proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Observers said they were impressed with the way students supported each other and kept the banter lively. When they finished competing, several members changed into dress uniforms to provide the color guard in front of the F14 fighter jet at the VFW.
“We have 138 students in ROTC at Boyertown,” Hayman said. “We send about 40% of our senior class every year to college ROTC scholarships as well as enlistments. There’s no obligation and it’s more of a citizen development program.”
Seven teams represented Hoover Karate Academy, including the Teen Team of Jane Barnes, Kamal Bookwala, Sean Warrington, Ryan Searcy (all of Parkland High School); Gavin Wood (Whitehall); Alexis Rivera (Breinigsville) and Steve Donchez (Catasauqua).
“We are having loads of fun,” said Gavin.
“We love PT,” added Alexis.
One of the adults from Hoover, Hoang, beat out retired Special Ops Mike Galler in triceps pushups, much to the pushup king’s surprise. Rich Bausch of Northampton, and Hoover’s, enjoyed the event, but said it was hard. “Anytime you exercise you should make it hard,” he said.
Dan Ray of Hoover’s works as a Division Chain Manager at Lehigh Valley Hospital, so he recruited two physically fit doctors and other family members for his team. Dr. Lorraine Dickey, of the Palliative Medicine Division, graduated from the Air Force Academy, along with her husband. They knew the PT routine well. Their daughter, Anna Dickey, flew in from New Mexico, where she works as a vet-tech. She was impressed with the intensity of the workout. Dr. Ben Wilcox, a nephrologist at LVH, and Vivian Foulke, a seasoned runner, also helped the team.
Another set of medical professionals from the St. Luke’s Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery unit sent a team to the event. Nurse Mark Moitzan led the spirited group. Organizers said they were happy to see health care professionals practicing what they preach.
A women’s team from Wellfit Express in Broadheadsville entered at the urging of Chris Galler. “She told us this would be a Zumba class!” one of her teammates said, laughing.
Congressman Charlie Dent arrived in time to present the Shadles with an official letter recognizing Brett’s service and dedication. While the event offered participants a taste of the physical fitness involved in being a soldier, everyone also appreciated the purpose of honoring those who gave all.
A number of retired SEALS from the mid-Atlantic area report to the event every year to mentor participants. The group is tightly connected and supports many events that support the families of fallen SEALS.
“This benefit challenge event is all about team building,” said Dr. Ray Fritz, retired SEAL of Allentown Family Foot Care, who directs the annual event with Steve Turoscy of Hoover Academy. “Team members become closer and more connected and these teams that work together in everyday life really connect during this event. I sponsor a team every year and I can see the members really bond. I see the difference when they return to work the following week.”