Kyle Reese fights for next goal of being a Navy SEAL
By Marla Ridenour, Akron Beacon Journal
When Kent State students head to Mexico and Florida for spring break next month, senior linebacker Kyle Reese will be sweating through four-hour workouts and trying to go 5 ½ days without sleep.
The latter might sound like the ultimate goal of every collegian partying at the beach, but Reese is driven by a more serious pursuit. He dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL.
Reese, a 23-year-old from Olmsted Falls, wants to push his body and mind past its limits as he tries to re-create the 120 hours of continuous physical labor the SEALs call Hell Week.
Reese vows to do it with a self-imposed ban on caffeine and energy supplements.
“I’m going to fight as hard as I can to not sleep, but I might sneak in a half-hour power nap here and there,” Reese said during a campus interview Wednesday. “It’s a little warm-up/tryout to get ready for the real thing, although it’s not even going to be close to what the real thing has to offer.”
SEAL candidates go through 21 weeks of basic underwater demolition and SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado, Calif., and Hell Week doesn’t come until week four of Phase One, which claims an average dropout rate of 70 percent, according to the Navy News Service. Graduating from the first day of boot camp to a SEAL team assignment takes at least 1 ½ years.
Reese hasn’t even signed his enlistment papers, which he expects to do by early March.
But 12 credit hours from a May graduation, Reese, a walk-on football player, is anxious to begin the next chapter of his life.
He’s always been an underdog who succeeded, arriving at Kent State as a high school center who was projected as a tight end and was switched to defense after his freshman year. He played special teams for two years, then earned a starting job at linebacker and was voted a co-captain as a fifth-year senior.
“My father has always been into politics and taught me what freedom actually meant,” Reese said of Tom Reese, a retired UPS employee who now has his own business. “My interest in the military started to pick up during high school. I’ve always wanted to be part of preserving freedom for the citizens of this country.
“About three years ago, I decided the SEALs would be the right branch for me. They’re a tightknit brotherhood, and I want everything to be a part of that.”
His mother, Diane, doesn’t know where Reese got his drive, but she believes nothing will stop him.
“He jumps in and shoots for the stars, and most of the time, he’s up on a star,” said Diane, a nurse.
A military family
The Reeses will soon have three sons in the Navy. Ryan, 27, is a reservist on active duty as a funeral director in Akron. Joining as an aircraft mechanic two years ago, Ryan handles funerals for veterans and those killed in combat. Evan, 20, is at boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., beginning five years of service as an electrician.
“My husband and I are very proud. We’re not sure how all this came about,” Diane said.
Tom’s father served in the Army during World War II and two of his brothers were in the Air Force, but Tom was granted a medical exemption during the Vietnam era because of an ulcerated stomach lining.
Diane said Evan’s interest was sparked by his best friend, who lives two doors down and joined the Army. Diane said Kyle began focusing on the SEALs after counterterrorism came up in classes for his major in justice studies.
“I eventually want to get into the FBI or CIA and do counterterrorism work,” Reese said. “If I am fortunate enough to make the SEALs, I’ve heard if you have that on your resume, that’s like a fast track into those two departments.”
What Reese seeks from the SEALs is the adrenaline rush.
“The SEALs throw you right in the face of danger. But that’s something I need. I can’t imagine myself sitting behind a desk all day,” he said.
“I think that’s why I enjoy sports so much, I enjoy competing, anything that has to do with physical fitness. There really is no better feeling than an adrenaline rush. Playing in football games, that’s all it was.”
After Reese signs his Navy papers, he can’t be shipped out for six months. But two weeks to a month after he enlists, he’ll take the first SEAL fitness test, which includes pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups, a 500-yard swim and a 1.5-mile run in boots and pants. All the categories have minimums and suggested target numbers; all but the pull-ups have a time limit.
What worries Reese most is the swimming, which must be done using the combat side stroke or breaststroke. The combat side stroke will take a long time for him to master, and he’s open to help from anyone in the area.
“You’re laying on your side and you can only use one arm to propel yourself forward,” Reese said. “The other one has to stay straight to guide, and it’s like a scissor kick.”
Reese has been training for six weeks with Kent State assistant strength and conditioning coach Ryan Gearheart and hasn’t missed a workout. Reese has modified his diet and given up eating at Chipotle, which he frequented four or five days a week. He’s down to 203 pounds from his playing weight of 220 and is shooting for 190. When he hits that, he’ll begin SEALFIT workouts and increase his caloric-load to Michael Phelps’ proportions.
Gearheart has no doubt that Reese will succeed, even with his Hell Week plan.
“Kyle is putting his heart and soul into it,” Gearheart said. “He’s an amazing kid. If he puts his mind to it, he will achieve it.”
Reese works out five or six days a week, and Gearheart trains with him for two of those. To add a competitive element, they’ve entered a Tough Mudder event April 15 in Amherst. Designed by British Special Forces, the 12-mile race includes 25 obstacles and incorporates running, swimming, climbing, being shocked by 10,000 volts and crossing through barbed wire and creeks. Reese and Gearheart have formed a five-man team that includes former Kent State linebacker Howard Bowens.
“We’re going in with the mindset we want to win the whole thing,” Gearheart said.
Arriving at KSU in August, Gearheart was impressed by Reese during camp, when the seniors gave presentations on what they had learned at Kent State. Gearheart said Reese used PowerPoint to relate football to how SEAL teams work.
“That’s where I knew Kyle was a special guy,” Gearheart said. “You can tell he’s very confident. He’ll look you straight in the eye.”
Kent State linebackers coach Marcus Freeman learned much about Reese during the captains’ vote before Reese became a starter.
“A walk-on voted a team captain, that means you’ve got the respect of your teammates,” Freeman said. “You don’t see him hanging out with tons of guys, so it wasn’t a popularity vote. He was probably one of the best leaders I’ve been around.
“If I could pick one person on this team who could be a Navy SEAL, it would be Kyle Reese. He has the mindset, and that’s half the battle. I told Kyle, ‘Physically, I think you’ll be able to do it. But mentally you’re going to be challenged way more than you’ve ever been challenged.’ That’s the part you don’t know, you never know, mentally can you pass the test.”
Reese knows the tests that lie ahead. He’s spoken to former SEALs and will follow a training program posted on the Internet daily by one of them. He’s read books and articles. He knows all about SEAL Team 6’s raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in May and the January rescue of two aid workers in Somalia. Last week he and Ryan went with their father to a screening of the movie Act of Valor, which opens Friday and stars eight active SEALs.
“It’s a real intense movie and very sad at the end,” Tom Reese said. “After the movie, I’m all tensed up and I asked Kyle, ‘Are you sure this is what you want to do?’ He said, ‘More so than ever.’ ”
When his friends see the torture he’s experiencing in the KSU field house and fail to understand, Reese clings to his determination to preserve freedom and doggedly pushes through.
“The football guys will look at my workout and say, ‘Why are you doing this? This is absolutely insane. This is absolute punishment,’ ” Reese said. “I set my goals high. My motto has always been, ‘Go big or go home.’ I want to be a part of the most elite fighting unit this world has to offer.”