Look Where There’s Inspiration

I just finished participating in SEALFIT Kokoro Camp, an “intense 50+ hour crucible training academy that mirrors the famous U.S. Navy SEAL BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) hellweek”.  I’ve been thinking about doing this for a year or so.  I had some kind of intuition that it was something that would be good for me, because honestly I went in without a really good sense of what the program entailed.  Similar to when I started CrossFit, I didn’t fully understand it, but was compelled to go.  Who wouldn’t want to forge an “unbeatable mind and spirit”?  When I saw this reading list I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Within the first hour on the grinder, I won’t lie, I questioned what I had gotten myself into.  The volume of work we did, looking back at it, woud’ve been unfathomable to me if you’d told me what we were about to embark on.  I’m not going to give a play by play of what we did- I sort of feel like that’s reserved for those of us who were there and went through it.  Frankly I don’t remember all of it and for me that’s part of the point.  I have no idea how far we ran, how many push ups we did or how may times we lifted the log.  We just did what needed to be done.  This is a giant contrast to training I’ve done in the past where I have a tidy little log book to notate and record my work.  Logging work has its place, but there’s something about taking on each task and each moment individually with the simple requirement of 100% effort.  What I will say is, in the 52 hours we were there, the biggest “break” we had was doing a 2 hour amrap.20131030-092904.jpg

It’s a SEALFIT thing, you wouldn’t understand.

The Kokoro experience is one that I’m not sure I have adequate words to describe, and the more I think about it, I don’t think words can do justice to what this experience means to me.  There are a few things I can share though.  First off, going in I sort of had it in my head that I would see immediate changes in myself, my mindset, etc, like flipping a switch.  Those immediate changes are there- I just told a friend, “I feel like I can do anything!” (except walk right now, but that will come).  More important perhaps than the immediate changes, is this feeling that I’m on the precipice of my own rebirth.  It’s a beautiful feeling.

Second, this experience shed a whole new light on my ideas about fitness.  As I’ve developed into an athlete in “The Sport of Fitness” I’ve struggled a bit with my own ideals vs. my sport’s ideals and the feeling of training for somewhat of a moving or unknown target when it comes to my CrossFit Games goals.  Kokoro gave me a feeling of renewal as an athlete at life, so to speak.  On our second night at camp we were divided into teams of seven or eight to ruck up a mountain with our 20+ pound packs and weapons, complete a mission, then carry an injured group member back down the mountain on a stretcher.  This was an 8-9 hour round trip, I believe about 20 miles.  Yes, I’m serious, we went all night. We were walking up into pitch-blackness at times, and you could basically just see one step in front of you.  How symbolic.  It was an incredibly beautiful star filled night, one that I don’t believe I would’ve made it through without my team.  My stamina, or lack there of, was a problem.  My group had to pace off me on the way up, and on the way down carrying the stretcher I felt that I needed to break and rotate positions more than is desirable.  Basically, this was my first experience in a real life situation where I saw how lack of stamina or lack of strength, or lack of some other physical attribute is a liability not only to yourself, but to those who count on you.  I find this an incredible motivator to get better- not because someone might program something I’m bad at into a competition workout, but to get more awesome, purely because as long as I’m here I’m going to be the best I possibly can be.  It was also amazing to see how the body can perform physically demanding tasks with no sleep and less than optimal nutrition.

“We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

The Kokoro instructors are true master’s at what they do.  Absolute masters.  They each have unbelievable lists of life accomplishments, which I think is a testament to the training and mentality they endorse.  I was blown away on day one, literally within an hour or two of starting, I had already been exposed and called out, and it only continued throughout the weekend.  But also within that first hour I was uplifted. As I stared at the ground and worked while being sprayed in the face with water, Coach told me, “look up, there’s no inspiration down there.”   Simple words, but it communicates what you think about yourself when you navigate your way through the world with eyes down on the ground.  That, among many, many other things, stuck with me and touched me in a way that felt very personal.20131030-092923.jpg

The SEALFIT instructors are unquestionably some BAMF, just look at their resumes.  Mark Divine’s military nickname was “Cyborg” for crying out loud.  I think he’s the closest thing to a Jedi Master that exists.  These guys were running and rucking all night long just like we were, and no offense, but these guys aren’t in their early twenties or anything.  It’s pretty amazing to think of the strength and stamina they have to lead these brutal camps over and over again, and touches the heart to recognize they do it to give each of us this priceless opportunity.

This program isn’t some kind of meat head beat down.   It is a beat down, but like a PhD version (do they give PhDs in ass-whooping?).  It felt like a higher order of training- very pure, grounded and broadly applicable.   No fuss, no lights, no crowd.  Certainly gritty, real and basic.  So many things these days feel like they’re more about hype than substance- more self promotion, less production.  “Fitsporation” in the form of picture after picture of abs.  There comes a point when that stuff just isn’t enough, and then you go to Kokoro.

Beyond the instructors, it was my fellow participants that made this program amazing.  Never in my life have I fallen down so many times and picked myself up again- but not one of those times did I get back up without a helping hand.  I helped others up.  Held their arm tighter when they were afraid.  Said thank you and was thanked.

Something else of value that came out of this experience is an increased appreciation for our military.  I noticed my emotional reaction to the idea of not having any phone or communication for a few days- and can only imagine what it’s like for families who are going to have inconsistent or no contact for months on end.  A couple days before I left for Kokoro I  talked to a girl at my gym and learned that she had a brother who died in Afghanistan. As a result,  the sacrifices our servicemen/women and their families make was very much on the forefront of my mind during camp.   I also spent many of those night hours especially, thinking of my grandfather William Farrell who served as a U.S. Marine.  Thinking of him gave me an abundant feeling of strength and courage. As my grandfather put it, “After you’ve been in combat, you settle down and things aren’t so wild.”  Kokoro has given me a completely new perspective on challenges, and what happens to you as a person when you rise to meet those challenges.  I couldn’t be more grateful.20131030-092848.jpg



Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • WOW! In reading this I felt emotional as if I were 21 years old again on the gridiron facing the giants once again.nice very nice write.

    • Absolutely amazing experience. I wish my mind could hold onto every single detail. Funny little details, stories and revelations are coming back to me a few days out. Kind of feels like raising a kid, wanting to hold onto every moment of it.

  • Wonderful reflections. Thank you so much for sharing. We need to live our lives this way every day:

    “Never in my life have I fallen down so many times and picked myself up again- but not one of those times did I get back up without a helping hand. I helped others up. Held their arm tighter when they were afraid. Said thank you and was thanked.”

  • Thank you for sharing. Its rare to find a person who tries to become a better person each day. I’m not talking about someone who is only trying to improve their performance for the WOD but all aspects that make us who we are. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m sure I’m watching someone special.

  • Akinwale,

    Great recap. Thanks so much for letting me share the Kokoro 30 experience with you and our amazing crew/coaches. Stay in touch – I’ll get your info from Fogarty.

    // Naedele

  • Elisabeth, please keep writing and posting your thoughts- like many others, I may only ever know you through your writing, but my life is richer for it-understanding what gives your life meaning, where your passion lies, what you are grateful for, what makes you feel vulnerable. Your courage in sharing all of this encourages each of us to live more vibrantly, and I truly appreciate that!

  • Hooyah Akinwale. You are a true warrior and I have no doubt you will move with purpose and not accept mediocrity in any form as you go forward. I wish you all the best and look forward to staying in touch…

  • Fantastic post. As a graduate of Kokoro 29, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Reading this gave me chills. You also helped me remember parts of camp I’d forgotten. Congrats on completion!

  • I am so happy that you did this. I used to be in the Navy, and I remember feeling resentful that there were no women in the Seal program. At the time, I was physically fit enough to do the land exercises, however swimming and me? Forgetaboutit!. Still, I knew that there were probably other women in the world who could become a Seal, and you have just proved my point. I know it’s only a matter of time until getting one’s body in the best physical shape possible and strength is no longer a gendered pursuit, but a human one.

    Keep up the great work and being such a wonderful example of what is possible.

  • The Kokoro training looks insane, and I’m sure it’s really difficult to describe your experience in words. Did CrossFit help in anyway prepare for Kokoro?