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Baycrest SEALFIT will make you sweat for your donations

From top, left: Zak Goldman, Josh Cooper, Derek Frankfort, Evan Green, David Lewenberg and Georges Dagher Bottom: Corbin Seligman and Peter Seligmann. (Jonathan MacIndoe photo)

California dreaming? Here’s an all-inclusive trip to San Diego with a few spots left at press time. The first day of the itinerary is on the beach, but if your idea of fun involves lounging poolside while sipping cocktails, best walk – no, run – the other way.

Running is probably something that takers on this trip will do a lot of; also combat shooting and Krav Maga. Coaches and cameras will follow five days of endurance culminating in a 24-hour challenge. During this event, a team of retired Navy SEALs, members of the military/special operations community and SEALFIT-certified coaches will push participants beyond their perceived limits.

Welcome to a new style of fundraising. This is not your Zaidy’s honouree dinner. The Baycrest Foundation has partnered with SEALFIT, one of the world’s premier performance training companies, to give participants an experience modelled after the U.S. Navy SEALs’ “Hell Week” training program – all in support of Baycrest Health Sciences.


Baycrest SEALFIT isn’t just a five- day event – it’s a six-month journey to transform the body and mind in preparation for a custom-built, Navy SEAL training program. Baycrest SEALFIT is rooted in the concept that we’re all capable of doing 20 times more than we think we can –physically, emotionally and cognitively. Can scientists discover ways to push the capacity of our memory as well? Hopefully, funds raised through this initiative will help achieve just that.

When Baycrest Foundation president and CEO, Josh Cooper, approached Baycrest SEALFIT co-chairs Zachary Goldman and Evan Green, they had already completed two charity/adventure endeavours: climbing Kilimanjaro for Mt. Sinai and undergoing the IDF experience in support of injured IDF veterans through Brothers for Life.

Goldman was immediately attracted by the SEALFIT element and the cause. He recalls that he previously thought of Baycrest as a home for the aged, but had no concept of its full scope. His friend’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at age 52. “I see the emotional impact on the whole family, on her relationships with her grandchildren. The physical and mental challenges of the trip are a perfect fit for me, but deep down, my motivation comes from the hope that funding this research will uncover ways to identify the disease earlier and deal with it more effectively.”

With no firsthand connection to Alzheimer’s’, co-chair Evan Green was simply looking for a way to give back and was similarly drawn to the physical and mental challenge. But at the very first meeting, Green was deeply struck by one of the attendees. “He spoke about looking after his father from the time his father was 50 years old. This was a real eye opener. Memory loss doesn’t just strike older people. It made it real. Hopefully, we can lessen the burden through what we’re doing.”

The cost is $10,000, not including flights. More importantly, there is a minimum fundraising requirement of $35,000 per participant, although many have set their personal goal higher. Overall, the event is expected to raise over $500,000. To date, the participants have raised over $370,000. All funds raised by Baycrest SEALFIT participants will support research at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, including research being done by Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at the RRI. Ryan is conducting critical research that will pave the way to preventing and diagnosing early onset Alzheimer’s.

Early or young onset dementia is an important area of brain health with symptoms starting before the age of 65. Currently, this form of the disease accounts for an estimated 2 per cent – 8 per cent of all dementia cases in Canada – that’s around 16,000 people. When asked how she ended up in this area of research, Ryan says the origins lie in watching soap operas with her mother and grandmother. “There was always a case of amnesia in the plotline,” she laughs. She focused on amnesia in graduate school and when she moved to Baycrest, extended her research to memory problems in older adults. She uses an eye-tracker to find out how people look at the world – literally. Without having to ask questions, thereby making subjects self-conscious or nervous,  Ryan is able to index memory through changes in eye movement. This provides an early glimpse into memory loss. She may detect changes in eye movements before the person notices changes in their memory. While there is still no cure, Dr. Ryan hopes that earlier detection will create a better hope for existing drugs to be more effective.

Twelve Toronto men have already met several times in preparation for the trip, slated for April 15 – 20.  The trip was designed to be co-ed but there are no women registered this inaugural year. The group is made up of lawyers, real estate agents, partners at financial companies, business owners, and builders/developers, aged from their 30s to early 60s. The social aspect of training together is important, just as the social element can be important in staving off Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Turning 30 on the eve of the trip, Corbin Seligman is the youngest participant and part of a father and son duo who signed on together. “Honestly, I’m a bit nervous – more for the psychological challenge than the physical one. I look forward to pushing myself to places I haven’t in the past and helping others on our team to do the same. I think it will be a great bonding experience and opportunity for growth – that’s what I’m most excited about…My grandmother and her sister both suffered from Alzheimer’s. It’s a terrible disease that wreaks havoc on the brain, essentially taking their souls before eventually taking the body. It’s as if they die twice.”

“This is not another golf tournament or hockey game- not that there’s anything wrong with that – but we’re really putting ourselves out there,” says Goldman. “We have an email group to share our workouts and preparation. I called Evan and said OMG, what have we signed up for? Friends may think they’ll take it easy on us. Not so. This will be the toughest thing we’ve ever done – both physically and mentally.” Green jokingly suggested an “intellectual embargo” on Navy SEAL training videos making the rounds among participants.

Goldman describes a meeting where a Navy SEAL trainer Skyped in. “He told us, when you compete, our goal is, whatever obstacles you encounter, we will give you the tools to face them, and use them, on whatever obstacles you’re going to face in life.” This is a compelling parallel between Navy SEAL training and Alzheimer’s. The obstacles are a certainty. There is as yet no cure, so our best bet is earlier detection and creating tools to deal with its obstacles – and the sooner, the better.

Learn more, support a participant, or register to join the challenge: http://baycrestsealfit.baycrest.org/

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