ÖTILLÖ Legend #2: Navy Seal Joe
Intro by Michael Lemmel
In 2007, Michael Lemmel and Mats Skott worked with one of the Sweden’s biggest companies on a business incentive trip, which took them to Bermuda, and Annapolis, Maryland, in the US. Annapolis serves as base to the US Naval Academy and one of the team activities was with Drill Instructors from the Naval Academy. Michael and Mats took the opportunity to talk to them about their race, ÖTILLÖ, which had been held for the first time in 2006, saying that it would be the perfect event for a Navy Seal team. The Drill Instructors liked the idea and put the ÖTILLÖ founders in contact with the Navy Seals in San Diego. A team was going to come. Wow.
Michael recalls, ”I went to pick up Tom and Joe* [*not their real names] at the airport, as they had just come off a long flight from a mission in an undisclosed location. Straight away Joe said that the flight had been good but he’d been throwing up the entire time.”
The trio travelled to Årsta Brygga and took the ferry to Utö. “Joe slept the whole way,” Michael describes, “and looked like he was having a rough time, but there was not one word of complaint. Once we arrived at Utö, they both ate and then went to bed. I’m pretty sure it was a very difficult night for Joe. The next morning, the team got up, came to the start and went for it, without a second thought.
“At Ornö Church – we were going north – our medical team took Joe off the course. He was causing himself severe damage, vomiting while running all the way. Some of the most humble and poised guys we’ve had on the course. We hope they come back one day.”
Swimrun Life Magazine’s revisits ÖTILLÖ 2007 with Joe, our Legend this issue.
Hard to believe it’s been ten years since my ÖTILLÖ experience. Back in 2007, I found out about the event only two weeks before race day, through my roommate, who was working at one of the headquarters for Naval Special Warfare (NSW). He was supposed to send an email to all NSW members on the West Coast, but asked me since he knew I might be interested. The email stated they were looking for two Navy SEALs to participate in a new swimming-running race in Sweden.
I immediately said I was interested, asked my close friend and teammate Tom to be my partner, and sought approval from my command leadership, which wasn’t granted until about a week before the race. At the time, Tom and I were just excited to be going to Sweden and weren’t too concerned about the race distances, even though we had not been swimming or running very much over the previous year due to deployment and training. Also, our free-time activities that summer included weightlifting, surfing, and some hiking. We realised it was too late to get any swim or run training in; however, we were in our mid-twenties, had strong swimming backgrounds, and looked forward to the challenge.
About four days before the race, we tested our gear in the ocean. Immediately afterwards I came down with a fever and slept most of the time until we arrived in Utö the day before the race. There was a nice dinner that night where some local journalists asked how we found out about the race and our preparation. All I recall is being able to stomach a little orange juice and wanting to head back to bed.
The next morning Michael expressed some concern about my condition; however, I was determined to start the race no matter what since we’d travelled all the way from the States. There were about 13 teams on the starting line with various fins, shoes, wetsuits, and packs. Back then there wasn’t a consensus as to the best strategy. The only rule was no large floats due to the previous year’s winners using air pads to float on.
Once the race started, I was taken by the natural beauty of the region and how challenging the course was. I was also struggling to muster up any energy to keep up with Tom. I felt bad because I knew he wanted to race and have a good showing as the only Americans in the field, but there was nothing I could do. Only a few hours into the race it was suggested I stop and take a support boat back to Sandham to rest. Tom was paired up with another racer whose partner had to pull out as well, and they ended up finishing the remainder of the course.
Immediately following the race Tom and I began talking about coming back the following year, what kind of gear we would use, etc. We had caught the ÖTILLÖ fever, which I still have to this day. Since then I’ve raced triathlons from Sprint to Iron distances, various obstacle course races, and other events. But nothing compares to the ÖTILLÖ. It’s a unique and special race due to the geography, course design with respect to the local environment, and people. Everyone we met that weekend was really friendly and accommodating. I can’t wait to get back and have another shot at the ÖTILLÖ.
Article first published in Swimrun Life Magazine Issue # 2 (Apr/May 2017)