Interview with Don Mann
The retired Navy SEAL warrant officer was named Navy Men’s Senior Athlete of the Year in 1997, and has captained adventure racing teams dating back to the 1995 Raid in Patagonia. The soft-spoken, 44-year-old Virginia Beach, Virginia resident has been racing road bikes since the mid 1970s, and currently prefers masochistic 24-hour off-road solo events and adventure racing. He’s competed in over a thousand endurance events including marathons, ultras, adventure races, bike races, and triathlons–which included a 38th place finish at the 1981 Hawaii Ironman. His finishers T-shirt from that race is now part of a finish-line quilt for his bed.
His current project is course designer, race manager and director for the TimeWarner/IMAX production Race to the Pole, and pending a $10 million sponsor, will encompass multiple athletic disciplines that require competitors to start at the equator in Ecuador and finish at the North Pole. Donning the race director cap, Mann is also organizing The American Odyssey which will begin at the Canadian-U.S. border and travel to the U.S.-Mexican border. This race will consist of 22 disciplines, including. skydiving, Jeep driving, diving, rock climbing, mountaineering, mountain and road biking, canoe, kayak and raft paddling, running, and motocross.
Still, its the verbiage at the bottom of his rsum listing his special skills and qualifications that encourages one to affix super to Mann. Viewed in their entirety, these biographical and career details defy conventional human-resources and job-hunting standards: Decorated Combat Veteran; Marine Corps Field Corpsman, EMT, paramedic; personal trainer; SEAL Special Operations Technician; Special Forces Medical Laboratory graduate; static line, high altitude free-fall and advance free-fall parachutist; open circuit, closed circuit oxygen and air scuba diver, diving supervisor; jungle survival, desert survival and Arctic survival instructor; small boat operator for craft up to 65 feet; technical rock climbing, mountaineering; small arms weapons instructor, foreign weapons instructor, armed and unarmed defense tactics, advanced hand-to-hand combat; photo intelligence; Survival, Evade, Resistance and Escape Instructor; proficient in German and Spanish; B.S. International Relations, B.S. Liberal Science, and Masters in Management.
Don’s the kind of guy who would have been a natural for CBS’s Survivor; in fact, hes a close pal of fellow SEAL, Rudy, the unforgettable and straight-talking crusty old sea dog who made that first season such a ratings success. Rudy is a god, a legend, among SEALS, says Mann. He works with us at our SEAL Adventure Challenges which put participants through a single day of SEAL Hell Week.
Now retired from the SEALS, Mann had served in numerous hotspots (Serbia, Philippines, Somalia, Colombia, El Salvador, Panama), but post 9-11 he returned to the active, patriotic fold of the SEALS, and spent time in Afghanistan for what he euphemistically calls continued service to his country. He deliberately avoids mentioning exactly what this type of service entailed, nor did we choose to press the issue. The SEALS, Americas most elite fighting unit, prefer it this way, covertly, culturally and institutionally situated far from the glare of publicity.
Yet he offered this candid observation, “We in America treat our pets better than the Afghans treat their own people. I can’t tell you how many one or no-legged young and old men I saw who had lost their limbs from stepping on land mines, but seemed to be happy that it was their leg(s), and not their military trucks, that got blown up.” Sad, grisly, horrific, true.
On a much less somber note, however, Mann, who owns a closetful of RailRiders back home, mentioned that he has worn his RailRiders during many of his SEAL missions. In many of these places we deploy, it’s hot and dusty, so you need a shirt that is cool and well-ventilated. My Expedition shirt is perfect for this. And when I am racing, training, or being a race director, I live in my RailRiders. I have worn my Weatherpants for the longest time, year after year. They don’t rip, dont tear, don’t snag on thorns, they dry quickly, bend in the right places, and are bombproof.”