Finding success as a student-athlete in today's highly competitive environment means overcoming obstacles and operating outside one's comfort zone. These are also the same requirements of a U.S. Navy SEAL. So when the elite military outfit invited athletes from Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) schools to train with them for a day, Chowan University Director of Athletics Dennis Helsel accepted, and signed up 50 players from the school's football team.
The training--part of the "Mental Toughness, Never Quit" campaign conducted by the SEALs--was attended by athletes from five schools in the CIAA, an NCAA Division II conference composed mostly of historically black colleges and universities (though Chowan is not an HBCU). Helsel did, however, hesitate before agreeing to the program, which was developed as part of the Naval Special Warfare Command's effort to attract top minority talent.
"I was very concerned about the recruiting aspect of it," says Helsel, a graduate of the United States Military Academy. "I did not want to force my student-athletes to hear a military recruiting pitch. The SEALs convinced me that it was more about making our players mentally tougher--and if one of them developed an interest in joining the SEALs, then great."
After waking up early on a Saturday, the student-athletes traveled to the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach, Va. There, for the next four hours, the players took part in sample SEAL training drills, including running through a 17-station obstacle course and participating in swimming drills in the base's 12-foot-deep pool.
"Going in, a lot of guys had reservations, and more than a few were afraid of the water," says Helsel, who accompanied the football players. "Then all of sudden, people started stepping up and taking leadership roles. Players were going into the water, climbing cargo nets, and accepting challenges. They got outside their comfort zones, and afterwards they were excited about what they accomplished. The camaraderie and teamwork was off the charts. I would certainly do it again if offered."