Getting folks sleek as SEALs Fit: A former mini-sub pilot and fitness trainer leaves the Naval Academy with his sights set on couch potatoes.

November 26, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

A few years back, an Annapolis priest decided he wanted to be a Navy chaplain.

But before the Navy would consider him, he had to shed 70 pounds.

So, the priest rang up Stewart Smith, a Navy SEAL and Naval Academy fitness trainer who introduced the priest to such staples of Navy life as crunches, push-ups and curls.

Seventy pounds lighter, the priest is now chaplain at a Marine Corps base.

And Smith, realizing the power of the push-up, is embarking on a new career: teaching the overweight and inert what the Navy taught him.

Smith ended a seven-year Navy career on Nov. 2, and dreams of becoming the new Richard Simmons, a modern Jack LaLanne in combat boots.

"I can make more money being out of the Navy than I can in the Navy, and still do something I love," Smith said. "It's not that different, really."

Well, it's a little different. As a SEAL, Smith leapt from airplanes, sneaked into enemy ports piloting a mini-submarine. It was exciting, but he wanted more time at home. More money.

With the backing of a New York company, he's selling his SEAL-ness to a fitness-minded America ever in search of a new weight-loss gimmick or idol.

"There are so many people who do nothing," he said recently, wearing a short-sleeved shirt on a 40-degree day. "I'm just trying to get those people to do something."

Smith doesn't think he's cashing in on what the Navy gave him so much as sharing it with the rest of the world. From a storefront fitness center due to open next month in Severna Park, Smith will train customers using the techniques the Navy used on him.

The timing might be good to market a SEAL. Minnesota just elected a governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who is a former SEAL (and a former professional wrestler), and Hollywood continues to adore SEALs, as in last year's "GI Jane," with Demi Moore as the first female SEAL.

"Some people are really big into the fact that I'm a Navy SEAL," said Smith, who is not above giving customers some authentic in-your-face Navy yelling, if they ask for it. "They really like that. So, for some people, I put on a little show for them, if that's what they want."

Smith grew up in Live Oak, Fla. (pop. 5,000), 10 miles south of Georgia, where the Suwannee River purls lazily through swamplands. "In high school, there was nothing to do. Either you did sports or you smoked dope," he said.

Smith played sports. Five of them. His name landed on the desk of Navy's football coach, who recruited him to play in Annapolis. That coach quit before he arrived, and Smith didn't make the team. So he played rugby, a rebel in his first years at the academy. "I spent most of my sophomore year on restriction," he said.

Then Smith found a goal. He wanted to become a SEAL. He pushed himself, trained harder.

When he graduated in 1991, though he ranked toward the bottom academically, he was one of 18 chosen for the SEALs' daunting training course, BUDS (basic underwater demolition/SEALs). Highlights include five sleepless nights, called Hell Week. The dropout rate is 70 percent. Smith survived to join the elite force of 2,000 SEALs, whose name stands for sea-air-land.

For four years, and all over the globe, Smith practiced his specialty: driving a miniature, two-man submarine, like an underwater sports car, into enemy waters.

"We were training, quite honestly, to take out any Third World navy with just two people," he said. "We never did it, but "

In 1995, he returned to the Naval Academy to serve as fitness trainer in the physical education department and to share his SEAL training with aspiring SEALs.

"It's such a great tool in preparing mental toughness," he said.

But with his three-year tour at the academy coming to an end, he faced returning to the life of six-month deployments. He didn't want to be like his Navy friends whose children don't recognize them after months at sea. For the sake of his 10-month-old daughter, he resigned.

"It [staying in the Navy] was more of a sacrifice than I was willing to make," he said.

But he still feels like he's on a mission. His new book, "The TV Watchers Workout," targets the couch potato. It offers simple exercises that can be done in front of the television, such as "Brady Bunch crunches" and "12-ounce curls." Smith's first book in 1995, "The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness," was aimed at aspiring SEALs and serious athletes.

When he opens his Five Star Fitness Center he'll combine an appeal to the chubby masses with his SEAL appeal. But he's realizing people expect something different from a SEAL. They're surprised to find he's clean cut and doesn't bite the heads off snakes.

"I've never eaten a snake," he said, taking a bite of a burger. "I have to really dispel those images. We're not a bunch of hoodlums and crazy people. It's not mercenary work.

"I'm just a trained product of the U.S. military."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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