It may feel like the Beijing Winter Olympics just finished, but for some of America’s most elite athletes are preparing for their next snow-covered competition — and they’re doing so with veterans.
Last week, members of the U.S. Ski Team, those that compete at the Olympics and the Alpine Ski World Cup, participated in a program in San Diego with an organization called Deep End Fitness, a group started by military special operations veterans that teaches water survival and fitness skills.
The 14 athletes spent a week of their off-season working on a variety of drills including beach workouts, breath-holding exercises and weight training at a pool, according to Per Lundstam, U.S. Ski & Snowboard Alpine Sport Science Director, who helped organize the program. He added that it ran for a few years previously but was paused during the pandemic.
While this boot camp was not exactly what new recruits may find themselves doing in basic training, for the winter athletes it served as a chance for them to push themselves physically and mentally outside of their comfort zone and grow together as a team.
For an alpine skier like Jett Seymour, 23, working with former service members as instructors was invaluable.
“One thing that really struck me was the perseverance and the drive that those guys have to get through anything in their life,” said Seymour, who grew up skiing at a young age in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
That type of determination did not come easy for MARSOC veteran Staff Sgt. Prime Hall, the co-founder of Deep End Fitness. Hall served in the Corps from 2005 until 2017, when he was medically discharged after being blown up during an attack in Afghanistan. Following, Hall went to business school and started Deep End Fitness and Underwater Torpedo League with fellow MARSOC Staff Sgt. Don Tran.
Deep Water Fitness now runs programs across the country with 200 instructors, roughly 30 to 40% of whom are veterans, according to Hall.
“We’re both kind of fascinated around training and human performance...we started going down the path of performance training and what would make the greatest impact and how we can set up a program that could be what was missing for us,” said Hall, who shared he also deployed to Iraq and parts of the Pacific.
One of the big takeaways for the U.S. Ski team members was an appreciation for the teamwork the former troops build together during their service and learning how to incorporate that into their work as athletes.
“I really appreciate that hard, gritty work that those guys do,” said Luke Winters, 25, an alpine skier on the team from Gresham, Oregon. “I honestly wish that we can bring that into our sport because there’s really nothing like it,”
The U.S. Ski team athletes will compete at the FIS Ski World Cup in Soelden, Austria this October. The next winter Olympics will be in Italy in 2026.
“I think the really cool part, and one of the biggest takeaways that I have from the group, was watching them go through some of the team workouts and team challenges that we put them through.” said Hall, adding, “Marine Raiders we have a saying called ‘gung ho’ — work together — that comes from World War II Marine Raiders. We got to see a little bit of that with this group where they got into that ‘gung ho’ spirit.”
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media