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SEAL OF GODTHE PATH IS NARROW ... BUT THE REWARD IS GREAT
By CHAD WILLIAMS DAVID THOMAS
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Chad Williams
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHINKING BIG
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9
* * *
"I WANT TO become a Navy SEAL."
Dad didn't say anything immediately, but his facial expression did.
Are you really serious?
This was the most important conversation I had ever had with my dad. We talked for forty-five minutes, perhaps an hour, with me sitting on my parents' bed and him sitting at his desk next to me. It felt like we talked forever.
The more we talked, the more Dad could see how serious I was.
Dad is the studious type. He considers all the options, then makes well-thought-out, informed decisions.
I definitely didn't inherit that trait from him.
Dad wanted me to spend another year in college and take more time to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. He pointed out the reasons why he believed I was rushing into my decision:
"You didn't stick with baseball."
"You didn't stick with skateboarding."
"You didn't stick with sport fishing."
"You're not good with authority—and you want to go into the military?"
I didn't tell Dad that I had known I wanted to become a SEAL for all of a few days now. Or that I had reached my decision while spinning my truck in 360s across an empty parking lot at my college, where I had started the morning by drinking and smoking marijuana. Or that after I decided that morning to become a SEAL, I had skipped all my classes. Again.
That conversation with Dad ended like most conversations with my parents—on my terms. I marched out of the bedroom and down the hallway, dismayed once more that I wasn't being trusted. That my judgment was being doubted. That I was being doubted.
I didn't need anyone else to doubt me, because I was already doubting myself.
I was beginning to feel like a loser. The money I had made from sport fishing and filming skateboard commercials was running out. I was making bad grades, and I was sick of college. I was quickly becoming just another guy fresh out of high school who drank, smoked weed, and went surfing. Once the popular, thrill-seeking life of every party, I now feared I wouldn't amount to anything.
I needed to do something big. And nothing sounded bigger than becoming a Navy SEAL.
I'd considered becoming an Alaskan crab fisherman or a coal miner because I had heard those were two of the world's most dangerous occupations. But the SEALs sounded far more interesting. They shot exotic weapons; they were demolitions experts. They jumped out of airplanes into combat, and they conducted covert underwater operations.
SEa, Air, and Land. That's why they were called SEALs. They did it all, and they did it everywhere.
My mind was made up. And all my life, when I had set a goal in my mind, nothing and no one could stop me.
I had, however, developed a habit of stopping myself.
ALL OR NOTHING
My dad was right that I hadn't stuck with baseball, skateboarding, or sport fishing. In my mind, though, I hadn't quit or given up on any of those. Instead, I reasoned with myself, I had simply grown tired of them and had moved on to the next thrill.
I was always a competitive kid, and baseball was my first sport. I started playing in T-ball leagues and made the all-star teams as I progressed through the different age levels. I pitched and played shortstop, and every day after my dad got off work, he and I would jump the fence to a schoolyard behind our house. Until the sun went down, I would pitch to Dad, and he would hit me ground balls. Or he would pitch to me so I could practice my batting.
When my brother, Todd, became old enough, he joined us too. It's a good thing Todd was two years younger than me, because he turned out to be extremely talented. Despite the age difference, he was right behind me talentwise, pushing me. Except being the best wasn't as important to Todd as it was to me. Winning or losing didn't make or break his day. The best way to describe the difference between us in sports is that Todd loved to win and I hated to lose.
I tried out for our high school baseball team as a freshman. I did well during the tryouts but didn't make the roster. "You're just not big enough for the team," the coach told me. I weighed only ninety-nine pounds at the time.
The next year the coach remembered my tryout and offered me a spot on the team. I declined. By that point I had moved full bore into skateboarding.
For a while, I had been torn between baseball and skateboarding and had a difficult time deciding which I wanted to spend more time doing. An unexpected meeting helped make my decision.
One day I was doing some skateboarding tricks at Seal Beach, less than ten miles up the Pacific Coast Highway from our home in Huntington Beach, California. Beatle Rosecrans, a big name in skateboarding, was in the area for a professional competition. He saw some of my tricks and came over to introduce himself. That meeting and my skill level eventually led to a sponsorship from the sports equipment company Vans that kept me in free shoes, clothes, and skateboard equipment for the next few years.
Baseball was officially in the rearview mirror and fading.
The Vans sponsorship boosted my popularity. I had their newest shoes before anyone else at school could purchase them in stores, and mine came free. I wasn't just a part of the in-crowd. The in-crowd hung out around me.
As my skateboarding progressed, I became a professional amateur of sorts. In addition to the goodies from Vans, I got to take a couple of all-expenses-paid, out-of-state trips with an extreme sports team, performing choreographed routines with in-line skaters and bikers. That was a blast. We would show off our tricks on half-pipe ramps and tabletop launch ramps while music pulsated in the background.
I remember one really cool stunt. One of the bikers would tow me up a ramp. I would launch into the air. Then another biker would be launched over me while he performed a backflip.
The crowds ate up our shows, and I ate up their attention. I was the team's only teenager—not yet old enough to own a driver's license, but traveling across the country with a group of high-level extreme athletes in their twenties and thirties. It was exciting to be the young gun on the team.
Skateboarding also led me into television commercials. I made eight different commercials, performing with a skateboard in all of them.
One was a SONIC commercial in which I skateboarded past an elderly man and startled him. "Hey, you little hotdogger!" he yelled at me, and then a carhop delivered a SONIC hot dog to him.
I even had lines in a couple of commercials—like the one for Go-GURT, a yogurt product from Yoplait that squeezed out of a tube. For that shoot, I did a few tricks while a young boy watched in awe. He was eating yogurt from a cup, and I was skateboarding with my tube of Go-GURT. I grabbed an extra tube, tossed it to him, and said my line. "Hey," I told the boy, "lose the spoon."
Another speaking commercial pushed Nestlé's new Itzakadoozie frozen treats. I was about fifteen or sixteen at the time, but I was small for my age and looked younger. So I played someone about eleven or twelve alongside a girl about that age. Through trick photography, we looked like we were skating on the frozen snacks. "What is it?" we both asked as a close-up of the treats was shown. "Itzakadoozie!"
I handled those easy lines well enough, but it was my skateboarding skills that had brought the opportunity to be in the commercials. I made good money, too, which was put aside for me until I turned eighteen. Then it helped me buy a brand-new black 2002 Toyota Tundra pickup with big wheels, aftermarket rims, and a suspension lift. That certainly didn't diminish my popularity.
The ability to do the commercials was a definite perk in those days, but it was the skateboarding itself that I lived for. Competitive skateboarding is the proper name for the sport because it's as much about one-upmanship as anything else. When a competitor broke out a new trick, I felt like I not only had to learn his trick and perform it better, but also come up with an original trick of my own that topped his.
It takes countless hours on a board to develop the high level of muscle memory needed to perform the best tricks, and I had the will to consistently put in the hours. I would practice in the morning before school, then as soon as I returned home from school I would grab my board and practice until nine or ten o'clock, continuing under the streetlights after the sun went down.
There is a reason I didn't include homework in that schedule: I didn't do my homework.
TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL
My disdain for losing a skateboarding competition definitely contributed to my poor performance in school, but it wasn't the main reason. Truth was, I strongly disliked academic work and did everything I could to avoid it.
I prided myself on being able to write a complete book report without actually reading the book. I would skim the first sentence of each paragraph because I hated reading. When I didn't feel like skimming, I would cheat. I googled my way through my share of book reports.
Somehow I passed most of my classes—barely. I made mostly Cs and Ds, and that was good enough for me.
One time on a placement exam—one of those Scantron tests where you pencil in the answer bubbles for multiple-choice questions—I went through and randomly filled in circles. I didn't read a single question on the test. I don't know what my score was on that one, but it was poor enough to have me placed into a special development class for students who needed extra help learning how to read. Of course, I could read just fine and didn't belong in that class, but I didn't care.
Part of the learning process was for class members to read aloud. We did it "popcorn style." One student would read aloud until the teacher said, "Enough. Popcorn someone else." That student would point to another student, who would pick up the reading at that point. When the assigned reading was completed, we were given free time for the rest of class.
I was a popular popcorn target because I was good at reading aloud. A student would popcorn me, and I would read as fast as I could until the teacher stopped me, then I'd popcorn someone else. He or she would read for a while, then when our teacher said to stop, I'd get picked to read again. To add some life into the boring texts, I read my parts in different voices. The other students cracked up every time.
Finally, after about a month or so, I was moved out of the special development class. But it was a fun month, and it provided me an opportunity to become popular with a different crowd. And in those days I really craved being the center of attention—no matter what it took.
I'm sure the kids who weren't in my circle of friends didn't think too much of me, though. I could be mean to kids in what I considered a "lesser" group. For instance, I thought nothing of throwing a slice of pizza at someone in the school cafeteria. It was an effective way to draw laughs.
I never started fights or anything like that. Remember, I was small for my age. But I had big friends, and I was a big talker. I knew that, if need be, my buddies could finish with their size what I could start with my mouth. We never wound up in anything more than a harmless high school tiff, but I look back now and wonder how I could have been such a jerk.
Most of the problems I caused in school were what you might call disruptive behavior. I knew well the routes from my classrooms to the principal's office. Mostly, I would get sent there for cutting up in class too much.
My junior year at Marina High School in Huntington Beach, the principal warned my parents that I was down to my last chance. One more foul-up, he said, and I would be booted from the school.
Maybe my parents were fed up. Or maybe they didn't think I could keep a clean record the rest of the school year. Whatever the reason, they decided to take me out of Marina and put me into a Christian school—Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. My parents were Christians, and I guess they hoped that a Christian school would help straighten me out.
I was a poor fit at Calvary Chapel High School because I felt different from the rest of the students. I did like the fact that they had a surfing team. I enjoyed surfing, although skateboarding was still my main sport. Skateboarding, with the commercials and freebies from Vans, is what made me popular and gave me my identity.
Most of my time at Calvary Chapel was spent trying to get kicked out so I could rejoin my friends at Marina. I acted up in class, disrespected my teachers, and didn't do my homework. I constantly hounded my parents, too, telling them I didn't want to attend that school.
"You guys shouldn't have taken me out of Marina. That's where my friends are," I would say, trying to put a guilt trip on them. "How could you do this to me?"
The final semester of my senior year, my parents relented and said they would take me out of the Christian school.
Yes! I thought when they told me. I pulled that one off. (Calvary Chapel teachers probably celebrated as much as I did.)
My grand plan hit a snag, though. My old high school wouldn't take me back. So my parents enrolled me in Huntington Beach High, and I finished out my final semester there. I didn't get to graduate with my friends, but at least I was out of Calvary Chapel.
I did make one decision during my final semester of high school that turned out for good, though. On a trip to Disneyland with a couple of friends, we snuck into the park for free through a secret location. Once we were in the park, my friends and I took a seat on a ledge to begin planning out the time we had left. At that moment I noticed a girl who caught my eye like no one else ever had. I watched intently as she got in line with a friend to ride Space Mountain.
Without saying anything to my two buddies, I jumped to my feet and ran as fast as I could to get in line immediately behind her. The wait for the ride was about an hour. I figured that would give me plenty of time to work up the courage to talk to this girl, who I was basically stalking.
Her name was Aubrey. She was three years younger than I was. And let me tell you, it was love at first sight! As it turned out, she lived in Huntington Beach too. We spent the rest of the evening together at the park, and I still remember the spot where I made my first move to hold her hand. After exchanging phone numbers, we parted ways, but I knew it wouldn't be the last time I saw her. There was something special about this girl.
I was right. The next thing I knew, I was asking her something I had never asked anyone before: "Will you be my girlfriend?"
Periodically throughout my high school years, I worked as a deckhand on sport-fishing boats and continued to do so into my first year of college. I would go out on multiple-day trips, fishing for albacore, bluefin, and yellowfin tuna. My parents would drop me off at the boat on Friday night, our crew would head out onto the Pacific Ocean, we'd fish all weekend, and my parents would pick me up Monday morning back at the harbor. Our boat would dock around five in the morning, and I would be on my way to school by seven thirty. Sometimes I still smelled like fish when I walked into school.
To spend three nights out on a fishing boat at that age was exciting. It wasn't anything near as challenging as what you might see today on the Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch, which chronicles the lives of Alaskan crab fishermen, but there were definitely some similarities. For instance, we would sleep only two or three hours per night. Looking back, I can see that learning to deal with sleep deprivation on those fishing boats helped me in my SEAL training later.
During summertime, when I wasn't in school, I spent even more time on the fishing boats. Sometimes we would take fifteen-day trips, come home for a day off, then set out for another fifteen days of fishing.
Excerpted from SEAL OF GOD by CHAD WILLIAMS DAVID THOMAS Copyright © 2012 by Chad Williams. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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