SGPT Interviews SEALFIT Kokoro Finisher Matt Wilding

SGPT Interviews SEALFIT Kokoro Finisher Matt Wilding

At SGPT we talk alot about stepping up to the next level. About finding a way to win. At all times you have that ability within you. Your mind’s eye  allows you to see your destination. If you see yourself completing a task – then your mind and body will believe that it is possible.

Check out SEALFIT Kokoro Finisher Matt Wilding about what it takes to get the done and how to use your minds eye to get you to the next level.

“If you think you can complete a Kokoro, you need to consider accepting the challenge. The rewards are more than worth it!” Matt Wilding

SGPT: Tell us about yourself?  Did you have an athletic background growing up?

MW: I have competed in sports since I was about six years old. I was born in England and started rugby at a young age. I moved to the states in 3rd grade and played youth soccer, basketball and baseball in elementary school. In Middle school, I played soccer and ran track. In high school I played soccer and was fortunate to be able to play rugby again. I college I played rugby year round and after graduation continued to play rugby for various men’s clubs into my thirties.

When I hung my rugby boots up, I went back to soccer and started cycling. In my 40’s, I discovered CrossFit and have been at it ever since. CrossFit is the linchpin of my current fitness regimen, but I also do a fair amount of running with a weighted backpack.

SGPT: How did you train for the Kokoro event?

MW: You: I primarily did CrossFit 3-4x per week. Adding in weightlifting and yoga classes occasionally. About six months out I ramped up the workload considerably. I would often stay after class and put in another long grinder workout and then run home (4 miles) with a 20lb ruck. I was doing pushups and pullups periodically throughout the day. On Memorial Day, I ran Murph twice – once in boots with weight and once in sneakers without. At this point I was about 3 months out and tried to keep up the workload.

I had a long family vacation scheduled which was a fantastic time, but it meant I had almost a month of doing exclusively early morning runs and hotel room workouts as the priority then was family time. I took the SGPT Freak Frogman Workouts Booklet with me and took full advantage. I really missed having access to pull up bars during the trip as I was worried about meeting that standard. With a month left to prepare, I focused on body weight exercises and rucking. The last two weeks were basically a taper and pretty tame. I wanted to make sure I had a lot of gas in the tank when I arrived in California for the event.

The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it and then I had an epiphany – go big or go home.

SGPT: Tell us a little about the event?

MW: Kokoro still stands as a big milestone for me. Some people turn 50 and buy Corvettes. I chose to do a SealFit event. The prior summer I had run a Spartan Beast without any special preparation and finished in the top 10%. I decided to look for more challenges. I had read about “20X” and really liked the ethos of mental toughness it espouses. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it and then I had an epiphany – go big or go home. I decided I would take on Kokoro at 50 years of age. From that moment on, I was all in.

I reached out to Melanie Sliwka at SEALFIT HQ in January about registering, turned 50 in February and was off to Kokoro 54 in July. I arrived the night before and met Scott Anderson and Todd Telkamp, two of my teammates that I had connected with via Facebook for pre-Kokoro Pho. The next morning, we met more of our teammates in the hotel lobby and figured out carpooling to the event. We were all milling around like morons at the meeting point when a couple of very serious looking men appeared, dropped off some 1.5L water bottles, and told us to grab one, pick a swim buddy and get ready. Anil Menon and I buddied up and nervously chatted about what was coming. The very serious men returned and took us for a 5 minute jog down to the grinder.

Things got serious right away when we almost had our first drop on the run. Then we hit the Grinder for real and the hoses came out and the beatdown began. The person who had almost dropped was gone in less than thirty minutes. More would drop along the way. The biggest loss was Joe Hicks. He was a true warrior and battled a broken ankle for about 24 hours before dropping. He returned and completed Kokoro at a later date. We suffered and endless barrage of physical abuse for most of the first day and spent all of the first night at the beach and in and out of the surf. I still remember Commander Divine describing the water as a “little sharky” that night.

Fortunately, no one was eaten by a shark. Sunrise brought a burst of energy and we proceeded with day two. Day two was VERY VERY long with endless grueling evolutions that tested us physically and mentally and taught us two things…

1. Team is everything and

2. It pays to be a winner!

That led into night two which was the ascent and descent of Mt Palomar. It almost broke me and probably almost broke everyone else as well. The last day was really special, and I will make a long story short and just say that at the end, we were enduring another endless round of log PT.

We all knew the end was near but were all going 100% and could have kept going all day if the coaches demanded it. We were one unit and were at that moment unbeatable. When the “K54, you are secured!” announcement came, there were cheers and hugs all around. We had done it! It was one of the best feelings ever. Twenty three of us secured – one of the highest success rates in Kokoro history. I carry that experience with me every day, in particular when I go for ruck runs. If you think you can complete a Kokoro, you need to consider accepting the challenge. The rewards are more than worth it! I plan to return again when I hit 60 to give it another go.

SGPT: What was hardest part of the event for you? You: Two things stand out. The first is the Palomar Mountain ruck which we did on the second night. The ascent was grueling, and the seemingly endless number of false summits was totally demoralizing, but the real challenge for me was the end of the descent. We were all spread out and I had ended up more or less alone and my knees were really killing me. I was totally exhausted and had been hallucinating on the way down watching a non-existent fireworks show off in the distance.

The power and importance of your teammates’ presence and support cannot be overstated and at this moment of loneliness and pain and suffering and exhaustion, I had my only real moment of doubt about finishing. I was really hoping a comrade would see me suffering and come help but no one was right around me and even if they were, we were all DEEP into the pain cave at that time. The coaches definitely switched over from abuse to encouragement at this point – at least temporarily.

“I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself.” D.H. Lawrence

It sounds corny, but I soldiered on and just recited over and over the DH Lawrence poem about wild things. “I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” I also applied the SEALFIT lesson of micro-goals and just hiked to the next tree and then the next rock and then… The end of that hike was most welcome! The second moment that stands out was near the end of an evolution on the last day where we all carried large rocks on a hike. We were told that the rocks symbolized all our troubles in the world and that we could release them at the end of the hike.

It was quite the spiritual experience and each coach, you included, approached each of us and had a pleasant talk about our “Why”. With the end of the hike approaching, I really leaned into the spirit of the evolution. Then I stumbled over a root and almost dropped my rock early. The exhaustion and sleep deprivation were in full swing at this time and for some reason I got extremely emotional at the thought of dropping this (quite heavy at this point) symbolic rock. For a few moments I was totally broken and I broke out into tears.

SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for Kokoro?

MW: More situps and core work. Everyone received some “special attention” at Kokoro where a coach would hammer you personally on some apparent weakness. I still remember Commander Divine singling me out during a string of endless Burpees for my substandard form and diagnosing me as having a weak core. I could have done without that moment, so next time, I will be more prepared in that area!!

SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do Kokoro?

MW: You need to train hard just to be able to survive the physical aspect, but the most important aspect of Kokoro is the mental. Assuming you can handle the physical trials without failing standards testing or getting injured along the way, you must know why you are there and have a strong determination to endure whatever hardship comes at you in order to gain the rewards of completion.

You also need to be ready and willing to put forth effort for the team more than just conquer the physical challenges alone. For me, the big reward was learning that “hard” is just an adjective in that anything can be achieved as long as you are willing to do the hard work it takes to do it. “Hard” just becomes a descriptor for things you WILL accomplish. You can tell yourself that all day, but until you have been tested and emerged victorious, you never really understand what that means.

SGPT: What kind of boots did you use for the event?

MW: I used a well worn in pair of Rothco V-Max lightweight tactical boots.

They are not fancy at all, but as long as they are WELL broken in, they are totally up for the job!

SGPT: Did you use double socks/compression socks or body glide on your feet to prevent blisters?

MW: Fox River Military Mid Calf socks with compression sock liners.

I changed socks EVERY time the opportunity to do so was given!

SGPT: What kind of ruck did you use for training and the event?

MW: I trained then and to this day with a cheap Gelindo hydration backpack I got off Amazon for about $30 6 years ago. It has a 20# steel plate that has taken up permanent residence inside.

I have another 10# plate for occasional use. At Kokoro I used the crappy rucks they issued. ALL Kokoro alumni can remember those tiny uncushioned straps digging into their shoulders if they were lucky enough to have two intact straps.

SGPT: What book are you reading now?

MW: I am a fan of reading pulp fiction on airplanes. Currently reading a Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child, “No Plan B”

SGPT: Thanks for the interview Matt. We greatly appreciate you sharing your story of success. All the best to your son at West Point Academy.

MW: And thank you!! As I said above, Kokoro was a big moment for me and you were one of the coaches that made that experience so memorable. So, a big shout out to you and the other coaches and all of my teammates who I didn’t already mention in the stories above. Hooyah K54!

About the Author:

Are you looking to achieve big goals? Do you have a big event on the horizon and you want to finish the drill?

Wanting to complete a Spartan, GORUCK, Tough Mudder or SEALFIT 20X Challenge?

Get individual coaching from former Navy SEAL Coach Brad McLeod. Check out SGPT coaching here:

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