The Real Deal

John McGuire’s SEAL Team inspires resiliency.

In October 2006, former Navy SEAL John McGuire broke his neck in a freak trampoline accident and the immediate prognosis was dire: the trauma-care doctor who treated McGuire told his family that it was highly unlikely he would survive through the night, and if he did, he would never regain the use of his arms or legs. This is one of many inspirational stories McGuire shares with his charges at SEAL Team Physical Training (STPT) during hour-long, 5:45 a.m. workouts at the foot of the Washington Monument and in city parks on the James and other scenic waterways: “It’s not what you look like,” he says. “It’s what you fight like.”

Within a year, and contrary to the predictions of his doctors, McGuire was walking unaided; a decade later, he betrays no sign of his catastrophic injury save for some occasional weakness along his right side. He pops out 80 or more push-ups in two minutes and exhibits the energy of a man half his age. In addition to presiding over STPT operations in Richmond, Charlottesville, Washington D.C. and soon, Atlanta, McGuire is also a highly sought-after motivational speaker who imparts his beliefs about the value of resilience and teamwork to NCAA Division I basketball and football programs like VCU and the University of Texas at Austin (Shaka Smart’s a big fan).

McGuire, 48, a father of five (with wife Tracy), is familiar with hard knocks: he was left on a street corner by his mother at age 5 and bounced in and out of the foster care system before his paternal grandfather took permanent guardianship. As impressive as the prowess of STPT devotees may appear, it’s really the focus on mental strength and simple concepts like “leave no one behind” that instills in program adherents the strength to power through. As McGuire is fond of saying, “Self-doubt kills more dreams than failure ever has.” 

John McGuire leading a SEAL Team bootcamp.

The success of STPT was far from assured at the start: Five people signed up for the first two-week training class, none of whom returned for a third week. “I was a little too intense at the start,” says McGuire, who endured frigid Pacific night swims during his own SEAL training in Southern California. “That’s how we came up with the idea of ‘Going at your own pace.’” The workouts are—how should we put it?—demanding, cycling through a number of challenging circuits that run the gamut from dozens upon dozens of push-ups and flutter-kicks to 100-yard “bear crawls” and “crab walks,” augmented with team-building exercises like rafting, log-carrying, and the “Fireman Carry” (i.e. carrying a fellow member over your shoulder up a hillside).

For all of his achievements, McGuire is now primarily focused on helping others realize their dreams, stressing the instrumental role that mentoring has played in his own success. He’s proudest of the fact that four Richmond STPT Team members have gone on to become U.S. Navy SEALs (a typical SEAL class sees 1,000 aspirants, 200 accepted into the grueling training and only 20 or so who eventually graduate). “Their advantage,” he says of the four, “was the teamwork and leadership piece [they got from their STPT experience].”

SEAL Team’s next 2-week introductory boot camp begins April 3 in two Richmond locations (City and West End), Charlottesville and D.C. and costs $250, with discounts for ex-military, first-responders and full-time students aged 15 and older. “We can all do more as a team that we can do by ourselves,” says McGuire, speaking from vast experience. “If you fall down, all you need to do is get back up.” SealTeamPT.com

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