By Pat Sherman
Photos by Brian Bartolomei
People who have mastered taekwondo, powered through Pilates and turned themselves into human yoga pretzels may think their bodies have endured the ultimate test.
Not so, says Nathanael "Lalo" Roberti, a retired Navy SEA L who gives civilians a taste of the grueling physical and psychological drill SEA L recruits endure while being rebuilt as the ultimate fighting weapons at sea, in the air and on land.
San Diegans seeking their next adrenaline fix can go mano a mano with Roberti and other SEAL instructors during an Extreme SEAL Experience boot camp offered Sunday mornings at Moonlight Beach.
Participants spend two-and-a-half hours hoisting 220-pound logs, rowing against tidal currents and being pushed to the limits of their endurance-all while being yelled at. In the end, they are left drained, yet exhilarated and confident in their ability to take on challenges.
Though the instruction is loud and intense, the words are meant to encourage, not belittle.
"We don't have enough time to break them down and build them back up," says Roberti, 27, who also works for Virginia-based Extreme SEA L Experience, which offers a more intense, two-week boot camp.
"I don't want guys coming through feeling at the end like they just got the crap kicked out of them, and there's nothing positive that came out of it other than sore legs," he says. "We're Navy SEALs, but we have a heart and we're going to motivate you and get you through this course-and you're going to be a better person for doing it."
The three-part course begins with an intense warm-up borrowed from the Basic Underwater D emolition SEALs (BUD/S), including jumping jacks, flutter kicks, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges and other exercises.
After participants are ranked and placed into groups, they spend 45 minutes hauling a giant log around the beach and completing relay races.
"Log (training) is a beat-down," Roberti says. "The second I tell them to get underneath the log, they're just complaining. They're like, 'There's no way we can do this.' When they're done, they're all smiles, and they're like, 'I can't believe we just did that.'"
Though the focus is on individual accomplishment, teamwork is crucial to completing the course. Well-deserved water breaks and periodic rests are provided throughout the training. When the teams are done with the log and left panting and gasping on the beach, it's time for them to get into a rubber boat and paddle a quarter mile through choppy surf to a buoy.
"That, right there, is the deciding factor," Roberti says. "They have to work as a team to get that boat out through those waves. You can't do anything in life without teamwork."
When a team reaches the buoy, they must tip the boat over, right it, get back in and paddle to shore.
"It's extremely hard," Roberti says. "Even if the waves aren't big, the ocean's unforgiving and the currents can shift at any moment."
The course is taught in four consecutive weekends, though people can sign up for single sessions. Those who complete the four-week course receive a certificate of completion signed by the SEALs.
Though it's mostly men who enroll in the course, women are encouraged to participate and almost always meet the challenge. According to fitness instructor Brian Bartolomei, no one has yet dropped out of the course.
"Nobody really wants to quit in front of the SEALs," he says. "I think they want to impress those guys. They know what they've been through and they know who they are."
The class meets at 7:45 a.m. Sundays in the lower parking lot of Moonlight Beach for a briefing. Participants should wear a white T-shirt and running shoes, and bring plenty of water. Camo pants will be provided.
Navy SEAL Nathanael "Lalo" Roberti
Military experience: Involved in Operation Red Wings (inspiration for the book Lone Survivor), a counter-insurgency mission in Kunar province, Afghanistan, which took place on June 28, 2005. Three SEAL s were killedduring the initial operation, as well as several other American Special Operations soldiers whose helicopter was shot down while flying in to rescue the team.
"Five-and-a-half minutes before our helicopter got shot down, myself and seven others got off the helicopter because it was too heavy to get up to that altitude," Roberti says. "We would have been dead as well. I went back in and recovered all the bodies and then got back out of there. Basically, 75 percent of my platoon was killed."
Extreme SEAL Experience When: Sundays, 8 to 10:30 a.m.
Where: Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
Cost: $30 to $60
When: Sundays, 8 to 10:30 a.m.