This year, the Baycrest Foundation launched a new and unique fundraising initiative called the Baycrest SEALFIT Challenge. It supports research into early detection and prevention of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
In its inaugural year, 11 donor-participants (including Baycrest Foundation President and CEO Josh Cooper) took part in a six-month-long journey to transform their bodies and minds in preparation for a training program with members of the U.S. Navy’s Sea, Air and Land Teams (Seals). The participants began their intensive training in November 2017, progressing through guided workouts in the gym, on land and in water right up until their departure from Toronto for the SEALFIT proving grounds in San Diego, California on April 15.
The goal was to not only improve their overall physical fitness levels, but also to raise awareness and critical funds for Baycrest Health Sciences.
During the week of April 15-20, the Baycrest SEALFIT participants found out just how well they had prepared. The SEALFIT coaches put the group to the ultimate test of surviving an intensive “Hell Week” event, which culminated in a final 24-hour long marathon of physical and mental endurance tests. All told, by the end of the week they had survived days packed with hundreds of pushups, sit ups, squats and pull ups, martial arts simulated combat training, jumping out of a helicopter (aka “helocasting”) into the frigid Pacific Ocean, and dozens of kilometres spent hiking up hills and running carrying weighted backpacks.
They also raised more than $600,000 for Baycrest.
David Lewenberg returned from the experience a changed person.
“I trained and trained. I mentally prepared to the point I thought I was ready. Turns out SEALFIT found ways to push all of us well beyond what we thought our maximum effort was,” he said. “I am proud to proclaim that I did 20 times my maximum and learned a very important lesson about what I can actually accomplish. I will never be the same.”
Another participant, Georges Dagher, was given a special shout out by Cooper for going above and beyond in the event, and for “carrying the team spirit right to the end.”
SEALFIT incorporates many of the elements Baycrest science has shown to be beneficial to brain-healthy aging. It is designed specifically to foster the social connections, teamwork and physical grit required to cement lasting friendships and build a healthier body; all of which reinforce the prevention of dementia.
The event’s Co-Chair and participant Evan Green said he had challenged himself to “meet the physical and mental demands of this event while supporting a great cause. I believe that we can accomplish anything. No obstacle is too big.”
Co-Chair Zak Goldman said what surprised him about the event was the realization that it wasn’t just how much physical strength one needed to succeed at SEALFIT, but the amount of mental capacity that was also necessary.
“Which ties back to the reason we all did this,” he said. “The brain is a really complicated thing. You had to be able to get yourself into a certain place mentally while you were in it to forge forward. It was a great experience.”
Cooper said the experience was transformative and thanked all of the participants, their families and everyone who supported Baycrest through SEALFIT.
“SEALFIT was an exciting experience for everyone. While I loved going through Navy Seal Hell Week, I am thrilled and grateful that there are other people who are willing to do this full time,” Cooper said.
“I want to thank everyone who supported us and donated to the SEALFIT campaign… all the families, friends and community members. We could not have done this without you.”