With over 28,000 Service League members in the HYLETE community, we are passionate about amplifying the voices of those who train to ensure our health and safety. We asked high-performance consultant, Olympian, national champion, and retired U.S. Air Force Special Warfare Combat Controller, Mike Hazle, about what has motivated him throughout his career. Here's what he had to say.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from? How did your life growing up influence your career?
I was born and raised in Texas, and still consider myself a Texan and definitely not a Californian. I lived in Texas for 28 years before I moved to San Diego (Chula Vista) to be a resident athlete at the US Olympic Training Center in 2005. I grew up playing football and baseball, as do most Texan boys. I worked several small jobs throughout my younger years. I had my own lawn mowing business, as well as, worked on small farms in my county bailing hay. It was back-breaking work, but great physical conditioning for my athletic sports, and a way to make money. Developing a solid work ethic in my younger years definitely helped shape and form my athletic and military careers.
Can you tell us about your experience as an Olympian?
My “Olympic Journey” was 8 years in the making. It was 8 years of training and preparation for about 30 seconds of work in the Olympics. I was fortunate to be able to compete in over 23 countries over a 10-year career, which culminated with some amazing statistics, medals, and accolades all of which I am very proud of. Being a US Olympian is the #2 accolade that I value most in life right behind being a Dad. Only 300 people out of 350 million get the right to claim that every 4 years. That's .00008% of the US population. My Olympic journey yielded experiences in different countries, cultures, and places that not many people get to experience. However, being an Olympian has its fair share of struggles and hardships. You're almost always burdened by financial hardships and injuries. I racked up 10 surgeries in my 10-year career. The exit or retirement from the Olympic Dream and journey also almost always is accompanied by depression and a search for what your next life’s sport is. Fortunately for me, I had the military to turn to when I retired, but most people are forced out of athletics due to injuries or age. I consider myself very lucky and blessed to have had the career that I had and I was able to bring the life lessons that I learned along the way into the military and give those lessons to my military teammates.
What can you share about your experience in the military?
My first step in the military was to commission in the US Navy as a SEAL officer in 2013. In August 2012, I was awarded a billet for fiscal year 2013 but soon lost that billet due to the government budget sequestration passed by Obama. I opted to enlist as a SEAL operator and commission at another time but was denied the option to enlist due to my age waiver for SEAL officers (I was 33). I subsequently opted to enlist as a USAF Combat Controller (CCT) in January of 2013 and retired in January of 2019. I spent my entire enlistment with an Air National Guard Unit that was pretty lackluster as I never had an opportunity to deploy as a CCT due to the implementation of the 2030 Special Tactics Vision. I spent all of my time overseas (11 deployments currently) as a contractor supporting kinetic and recovery operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. The military has its pros and cons obviously. I had the privilege to serve with some of the finest men and women I know, but that service and high impact stressful environments and Special Operations Training certainly takes a toll on the body and the mind. I am very happy to be out and on with my life. It was a pleasure to serve in the finest military the world has ever known, but the job I was trained for is a young man's game, and I am no young man anymore.
How did your life in the military differ from life as an Olympian?
It's about as opposite as any two careers could be. The analogy I try to use is as an Olympian, you are designed to operate like a formula one race car. You are highly tuned, well-rested, well-fed, and you often have the best equipment, coaches, and training modalities at your immediate disposal. In the military and Special Operations in general, you're programmed to be a tank. Programmed to be able to perform in any condition in any circumstances. You're designed to be able to operate overworked, overstressed, underslept, underfed, and completely exhausted. You are designed to ignore every external condition, ignore pain, hunger, heat, cold, and stress in general. The one biggest difference between the military and the Olympics is… In the Olympics, if you mess up or fall short you often can regroup and try again at another competition. In the military, lives are at risk including your own and there is no room for error, no second chances.
How has training and competing been valuable to you in your career and your personal life?
For the last 20 years of my life, I trained my body to be able to accomplish certain physical tasks. In my athletic career, I needed to be able to produce the most amount of physical force and power as humanly possible in under one second. In my military career, I had to completely re-engineer my body to essentially become an endurance athlete. It was not fun or easy, or even anything that I enjoyed, but in order to be able to meet the standards and accomplish the mission sets, I had to change. Having 20 years of knowledge and education on how to train the body (and the mind) were crucial to my success. Now that I am retired, I realize I spent the last 20 years destroying my body with the intent to be able to do my “job” be it Athletics or Special Operations. Now, the next 20 years of my life are going to be spent repairing and recovering from that damage. I believe there is a paradigm shift in every former athlete or special operator's lives where they realize they have to shift their training in order to live a longer healthier pain-free life. The sport that I’m training for now, is to be able to dance at my daughter’s wedding in 20-30 years.
How does having the right performance apparel impact your training?
There is something that the Olympics and Special Operations have in common. You will no doubt have access to the latest and greatest technology and equipment. I spent the last 20 years with my hands on the most high-speed gear on the market, some of which wasn't readily available to the general public. This is one of the reasons why I love HYLETE. The technical advantage and design of the gear HYLETE produces proves to not only be stylish but also extremely functional. A lot of the time, you can't have the best of both worlds. When you find a company or product that combines functionality with style and cutting edge technology, you really find yourself as a frontrunner in the marketplace. I can't wait to get my hands on the latest HYLETE technology and put it to the test! There is a saying in the Special Operations community, that, “if you take care of your gear, your gear will take care of you.”
How do you overcome adversity and challenges?
Mindset is key to navigating adversity and challenges. I personally view challenges and adversity as an opportunity to grow, get better, and learn. I have developed a long list of tactics and checklists that I like to employ when met with challenges. These tactics are all good in “theory” unless you have real-world adversity that you have to face that allows you to practice those techniques. The more you practice them, the more they become second nature and no longer something that you have to “try” to do, they become part of your operating system. For example, I try to employ the below techniques when faced with adversity or challenges in my life.
The first step is gratitude. No matter how bad of a deal you get handed, if you can find a way to be thankful for the opportunity to use what you have been taught, and find out what works and what does not work, the better you will be when a similar issue arises.
The second is perspective. No matter how bad you think you have it, I guarantee there is someone that has it worse than you. Give thanks for the good times, and give thanks that it could be worse.
The third step is Ownership. If the challenge you face is a direct result of your actions, then you HAVE to own it and understand what you can do to get better.
The actual navigating of the issue may take hours, days, weeks, or even years to undo. No doubt your stress levels will flux as the challenge does, it's at that time that stress mitigation techniques come into play. My favorite quote about stress is “stress is dictated by penalty.” No doubt, there will be times when something happens that triggers you. You then have two choices on how to react. The first is how do I react, physically, verbally, emotionally, and the second is how long am I going to let that stressor affect me. The technique that I try to employ is based on an ancient philosophy that basically states, “There are some things that I hold intrinsic to myself, and my thoughts belong to me. No one or thing can get between my ears in my head and MAKE me think or feel a certain way, how I think or feel is up to me and me alone.” If you can accurately employ this technique, which obviously takes time and practice, you will always be in a conscious state of action, not reaction. End result, when adversity arises, you will be in the best mental state possible to deal with that adversity, and eventually, make you better at navigating similar issues in the future, thus making you wiser, and isn't that the goal in life?
Who has inspired you the most in your life?
My parents. Who I am today and all the accomplishments and accolades I have are a direct result of how I was raised and the values that were instilled in me when I was growing up. Work ethic, the value of a dollar, integrity, faith, morality… all of it, I learned from watching my parents navigate everything that we went through as a family growing up in a very conservative Christian home, in the greatest state in the country. I had a fantastic childhood and I'm very blessed as a result. I think the #1 threat to America is the breakdown of the family. A lot of the issues we face as a country today can be traced back to terrible parenting skills or lack thereof completely.
What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a career as a professional athlete?
Go pick up a golf club. Unless you're looking to try to make one of the big 4 sports your life's profession, then I seriously would suggest against it. The physical and mental toll oftentimes outweighs the very brief athletic careers that most have. If you are one of the extremely lucky ones that does make it to the big leagues or to the Olympic Games, I suggest you get a good health insurance plan and financial advisor, because you're going to need both of those to make it last.
What do you train for now?
I train strictly for aesthetics and longevity. The saying I like is, “If it's going to make me look good naked and still be able to walk tomorrow, I'll do it.” I have no more physical performance goals that I have to maintain as part of my day job anymore and that feels amazing. Being able to walk into a gym and do what I want to do, not have to do, is a beautiful thing and I think at some point when athletes or special operators retire, they will get to experience that.
I currently train 5-6 times a week for 1-2 hours max. I train upper body on Mondays and Thursdays, and lower body on Tuesday and Friday’s, with Wednesdays and Saturdays being for functional fitness workouts such as climbing the stairs at the beach or surfing and spearfishing.
I have found a way to maximize the physiological response to training with the least amount of impact and damage to my body, and I look forward to sharing that with the community as time goes on.
Keep up with Mike and follow his journey at mikehazle.com.
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