7x Human Performance Project: Part One

How I reconnected with an old friend and found myself on a team of special operations veterans and endurance athletes, running around the globe for Suicide research.


A Commitment to Service:

When I left the Navy in 2006, I soon found myself working for AmeriCorps, a National Service agency. My role would be contributing leadership skills I acquired in the Navy to help guide young people through GED programs and to teach basic life skills. It was a great fit for me at the time. Dealing with my own depression, I desperately needed to feel like I was useful and making a difference somewhere. Seeing smiles on the faces of people I’d helped in my community was incredibly rewarding. It was actually medicine for me - I became a part of something bigger than myself again.

Before finding my way to AmeriCorps, I walked a dark road toward suicide in the months after my Naval service. It didn’t take long for me to emotionally deteriorate. I fell hard and fast and felt utterly lost. It was surprising how quickly I lost confidence and faith in myself. I just felt absolutely alone. Had it not been for AmeriCorps and other service organizations, I may have succumbed to my depression like so many others. Finding quality service after the military saved my life.

In contrast, corporate work environments felt very broken and sick to me. They all seemed selfish and vapid. More importantly, they were filled with the most uninteresting, petty types of people. I knew I wouldn’t emotionally survive a workplace that only cares about shareholders or bottom lines. Those things are critically important to American success, but it was certainly not the place for me.

I still had an overwhelming desire to serve people with needs beyond their own capabilities. I wanted to use my body and mind to make a difference while I still had full use of both. Community service gave me direction after transitioning from the Navy into civilian life. It gave me purpose. I would soon discover that many veterans like myself, also found their way to post-military service organizations. It meant I wasn't alone. This was a huge step forwards for me being able to believe I could feel whole again.

After AmeriCorps, I began chasing storms with Team Rubicon, a veteran disaster response organization. With Team Rubicon, I connected with a wide range of veterans from every American conflict as far back as WW2. Every one had different political opinions, religious backgrounds, economic status and personal ethics. None of that ever mattered. We all showed up and bled and sweat together for the sole purpose of being helpful to someone in need.

That is what Service is all about - sacrifice and love.

The Phone Rings

One day in early 2019, just after the New Year, my old Navy buddy Ryan "Birdman" Parrott called me. I always light up when I talk to Ryan. He was a retired Navy SEAL and an old barracks roommate of mine. We had some good times when we were young.

However today, Ryan shared with me that he was grieving a terrible tragedy. His friend and SEAL team sniper partner, David Metcalf, had just taken his own life, leaving behind a wife and young son.

“Fuck.” I think to myself.

I dropped everything in that moment to give him my complete attention. Ryan shared with me all the best parts about his friend, David. His leadership qualities, the love he had for his wife and son, his parents - all of it. For a select group of elite men in the US Navy SEAL teams, David was a guiding light, a compass, one of the most wise, fit and health conscious members of their team.

It broke my heart to hear my friend trying to talk his way into understanding Davids final decision on this earth. But Ryan made it clear he wanted to do something about it. He couldn’t sit back on the sidelines anymore and watch while more people take their own lives.

He was tired of social media trends like “doing pushups for Veteran suicides” or similar campaigns - he wanted to make a real impact. No more talking about the problem - its time to take action on the problem. He wanted to offer usable scientific data to the solution.

Suicide is a problem in my family. My younger brother who served in Iraq with the US Army killed himself after a long battle with heroin. My 17 year old cousin, and his father, my uncle - both committed suicide a few years apart from one another.

I had no answers for Ryan. However I could empathize and identify with that particular brand of grief. We spoke at length and connected over the tragic nature of suicide, and how it affects more than just the person who dies. One suicide creates a ripple effect of grief in a community, and with suicide rates increasing, the ripples are colliding and growing in scale across the nation. Suicide is becoming a social disaster through tidal waves of unspoken community grief.

The way in which Ryan processed and honored his friends loss was to do something epic in his name. But could he somehow contribute something in the way of insight or progress towards alleviating the suicide epidemic, and both honor his friend Davids legacy at the same time? These were the questions he was asking himself.

On the phone that afternoon, Ryan laid out a mission of epic proportions. I remember smiling ear to ear listening to him lay out the idea for what he was calling “7x The Human Performance Project.”

“Im enlisting a team of athletes to run 7 marathons, complete 7 skydives, and 7 cold plunges, on 7 continents in 7 days. The goal is to gather human performance data and biometrics from each athlete and compile an official manual with the teams research findings.” Ryan shared.

“There must be more useful physiological data we can gain insight from in order to mitigate this devastating issue.” he continued.

The sheer logistics of what he’d proposed was baffling - the scale of planning required was ludicrous. 7 continent in 7 days? The mental and physical endurance required for each athlete, the oldest in their 50s, would need to be extraordinary. And without asking how he would do it, or if it was even logistically possible - I had every bit of faith in him and volunteered my time to help. If anyone can pull this off - it’s Ryan. He accepted my offer and rolled me into the media department as team photographer - something I’m eternally grateful for. 7x offered me a new way to connect with veterans committed to helping their communities. My excitement was through the roof.

Pictured left to right: David Metcalf and Ryan Parrott while serving together in SEAL team 7. David took his own life Jan 2nd 2019. Photo provided by Ryan Parrott.

Odd Birds: Parrott and Crane

Ryan and I met in Pensacola, FL while attending a Naval Aviation Training school back in 2003. I had been settled in for a few weeks and had already begun my technical training for the Navy “AT” school I was slotted for (Avionics Electronics Technician training.) My barracks room was clean, quiet and centered. Until the day a freshly graduated boot camper strutted in with his seabags, dropped them down and threw out his hand:

“Hi. I’m Ryan Parrott. I’m your new roommate.” He said.

“Parrott? That’s outrageous!” I immediately exclaimed with a big smile, forcing Ryan to raise an eyebrow.

“My name is Matt Crane. It’s like the officer on deck thought it would be funny to put two bird names together. Parrott and Crane.” I quipped.

Ryan smiled as he caught the coincidence.

What school are you here for?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Im going to be a Navy SEAL.” He said with a straight face.

“Oh cool” I said with a nod.

Much the same way you would respond to an 8 year old who told you they were going to be an astronaut. Navy SEAL - we’ll see.

I looked at the intake paperwork he was holding - Ryan was attending the Aviation Ordnance school because it was the shortest and he didn’t want to waste time learning a trade he was confident he would never use.

“But what if you don’t make it through? If you fail this school first you’re going to be chipping paint for the next 4 years.” I asked.

Ryan says: “I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to get to where I want to be in the shortest amount of time possible.”

That response stunned me. He sounded like the driver of a getaway car.

“So you think you have what it takes to be a SEAL?” I asked.

“Oh I am definitely going to make it.” he said without hesitation.

I remember it almost sounded like he was annoyed he had to “try out’.

Now, every kid who runs that pipeline says they’re going to make it, but very few actually do. But Birdman was different.

There was something profound about that first conversation. It was his mindset that astonished me.

His vision was so clear that when he communicated it - I saw him wearing the famous SEAL trident. He believed in himself so much that I believed in him, too. I’d never met someone with such a crystalline vision of where they want to be, and how they need to get there. It was one of the most profound 1st interactions I’ve ever had.

We were assigned to be roommates by some clerical bird-joke destiny, but we connected on a genuine level and instantly became friends. We would train, surf, play billiards, chase girls, mischief, all the normal stuff young men of certain age do. But Ryan always had something bigger on his mind. His eyes were fixed on a grueling horizon. He was never distracted from his goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.

In a great turn of luck, I ended up getting orders to the Naval Air Station Coronado in San Diego. It was the same station that trains and screens SEAL candidates. And in a few weeks time - Ryan graduated his school in Florida and made his way to San Diego to connect with his BUD/s platoon. There he would begin his real training. It was only a matter of time before these warriors would welcome him into their tribe. And yes - he definitely made it through - just like he said he would.

Ryan became a Navy SEAL, and went to Team 7 as a sniper. It was there Ryan worked with David Metcalf and they were assigned as sniper partners, thus beginning their long friendship until Davids tragic death on Jan 2, 2019.

So, when Ryan Parrott called me a few weeks after David’s death and said he’s planning an absurdly epic mission traveling all around the globe, skydiving and running marathons, I said “Roger that - how can I help.” Because I knew in my bones he’d make it a reality - especially when the mission is fueled by the love of one of his fallen brothers. You’re not going to get in his way - and if you do - he’ll just take flight and soar above you because he’s Ryan “Birdman” Parrott. You cant stop him.


Ryan Parrott discussing 7x operations from the Hotel Verde in South Africa one day ahead of mission launch. Photo Credit: Matthew Crane


While the next few issues of my coverage of the 7x project showcases fun, wild times and adventure - we must remember that it’s all rooted deeply in remembering David’s legacy, his approach to life, and gathering human performance metrics to better understand how the human body processes great stress.

Click link to learn more about David Metcalf and to donate to his charity.

Click link to learn more about the 7x Human Performance Project and upcoming events.

Click link to visit Matthew Crane Studio's online store.


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