Never judge a person based on first impressions. Because, when former Navy Seal John McGuire walks into the room, he might not exactly be what you expect. Despite being the CEO of Sealteampt (Seal Team Physical Training Inc) and having served 10 years all around the world as a US Navy Seal and a Sniper Instructor from the late 1980s to 1990s, there is no loud booming voice, and he doesn’t have the overbearing air of a “drill-sergeant”. In fact, there is a quiet calm about him.

Today, McGuire is known for his special team-building physical fitness programmes that incorporate the Navy Seal principles of teamwork, leadership, communication and confidence. The 47-year-old develops such programmes for companies, schools and community organisations. He has trained and inspired many to overcome their fears and become more than they ever imagined they could be.

What made McGuire decide to become a Navy Seal? Growing up as an orphan who moved from family to family, McGuire shares that he was always trying to find a place where where he belonged. One day, someone handed him a magazine called Gung Ho and the whole issue was on Navy Seals. The magazine stated: “Toughest men alive. You have a better chance becoming the President of the United States than becoming a Navy Seal.” It showed the men scuba diving, running, push-ups, parachuting … all the things that he imagined any young man would want to do.

But what really sealed his decision was when his karate sensei said that there was no way he could ever become a Navy Seal because he was just too small. McGuire strove to prove him wrong because it was the ultimate challenge to him, to push the boundaries and see how far he could go as a human being on an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual level. But more than that, deep ingrained within him was the desire to serve a higher cause.

McGuire (right) briefing a participant during the Luminox Spec Ops Mission in Langkawi. Photo: CHERYL TAY

McGuire (right) briefing a participant during the Luminox Spec Ops Mission in Langkawi. Photo: Cheryl Tay

Under a code of secrecy, McGuire, who refuses to reveal any details of his actual missions as a Navy Seal, does however mention that he has had many memorable moments as one. “One of them was when I earned the Trident which is the symbol for the Navy Seals. There were 1,000 men who tried to qualify for my class. 200 actually qualified and started, but only 19 graduated. And after graduating, there is still some training before you can get your Trident. It’s quite an achievement to earn it and be able to serve my country with it,” he enthused.

He believes that preparation contributes 90% to a mission’s success, because in the military, lack of preparation can get your teammates or innocent people killed, as the saying goes: ‘The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.’ ”

McGuire clarifies that his classes are not actual Navy Seal training, although they do incorporate the principles which he learnt as a Navy Seal. “When I was a Navy Seal, I was asked to train 75 troubled highschool kids whom everyone had given up on. Although hesitant to do it initially, it ended up being a favourite thing that I did while in the military. I did that every day for three weeks, and even though I could go home at 5 o’clock every day, I stayed until 10 o’clock. I flashed cards, trained the kids, and made sure they had everything they needed. At the end of the three weeks, they had to compete for an academic flag, fitness flag and military bearing flag. My 75 kids won all three flags and I lost my voice cheering them on. Some of them wrote me letters to thank me, and told me that because of the training, motivation and inspiration, they started to believe in themselves and went to college. That was really meaningful.”

He believes we should never put limitations on ourselves or on others. “One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a belief in themselves. I always tell people: ‘Don’t let the world put limits on you and don’t put limits on yourself. We can do more than we think, especially when you work as a team.’ We had a young girl who was very outgoing and had great grades. Her father, who was a coach, wanted her in my class but she was too young. Finally, I agreed, but whenever I spoke to her, she would never respond, so I assumed she didn’t like me. But I don’t give up on people easily, and I kept trying. Well, she graduated from highschool and went to college. One day, her dad wrote me a letter saying, ‘Instructor McGuire, you probably have no clue what kind of impact your training has on other people’s lives.’

“What he told me helped me understand why she behaved the way she did. As a young girl, she would come home from school every day and do homework with her grandmother, who was her best friend. One day, she came home from school and found that her grandmother had died, and it just crushed her spirit. She went from being an outgoing girl to one who was withdrawn and unresponsive, and from having good grades to having bad grades. They tried everything to get her to come around but she wouldn’t. So, he got her in my class, and in my class, everyone has to talk. She eventually came out of her shell, got into college and graduated with honours. That’s when her father wrote to me.

“Years later, I read in the newspaper that this man had died and I went to the funeral to pay my respects. I figured, no one would know me. But this girl, now married with two kids, was at the funeral and she ran up to me and hugged me. I couldn’t believe she actually remembered me. She then told me what an impact I had on her life, but I never realised that! So, never judge people because you never know what someone is going through and what is happening behind the scenes.”

McGuire with Luminox International Sales Manager Martin Grossenbacher. Photo: The Star/Ming Teoh

McGuire with Luminox International Sales Manager Martin Grossenbacher. Photo: The Star/Ming Teoh

Nine years ago, the inspiring trainer was involved in an accident from which he had a miraculous recovery.

“In Oct 2006, I was doing a backflip on a trampoline with my son and I landed on my neck. It took the ambulance five minutes to get there to take me to the hospital, but it felt like five hours. The surgeon said: ‘Look, Mr McGuire is not going to make it through the night. If he does, he will never use his arms and legs again.’

“My brother who’s an attorney even put a pen in my hand and squeezed my fist, signing my house and everything else away.”

But even though everyone had given up, McGuire had not. “I was thinking, ‘Hey, I’m still here!’ I wanted to punch somebody, but I couldn’t move. The strangest thing was, even though I was paralysed physically, I never felt stronger mentally and emotionally.

“We did physical therapy day and night. The progress was slow and hard work, but I recovered. It took about a year for me to walk again, but with a slight limp. Despite that, I can do up to 84 push-ups in two minutes. I can run 24km races with 22.7kg sandbags. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life, and until I run out of breath, I want to help as many people as I can.”

To McGuire, having a mentor is a must. “You must have a mentor, and I have had many mentors, a lot of them Navy Seals who took me under their wing, pulled me aside and gave me extra attention every step of the way. I believe that all the successes I’ve had are because of the bunch of people behind me.”

McGuire goes on to speak about his relationship with Luminox. “It was three to four months of discussions, and when I heard of the vision of the company and how they treat people, I found a really strong connection with them.

“We clicked, and because I’ve been a Navy Seal, I know what works and what doesn’t. I also skydive, climb mountains, scuba dive, and Luminox is all about that adventurous kind of lifestyle.”