Never Too Late
Not many people get a second chance to live out their dreams. For one former Navy SEAL, the thought of playing college football at the age of 34 seemed impossible. Or so he thought.
34-year-old JP Bolwahnn, a 5′-6″ former Navy SEAL, is now living out his long time dream as a running back for the University of San Diego (USD). JP developed a strong love of the game of football as a boy, playing through high school.
“My earliest memory of playing football was playing on a team in the park. I was a quarterback who never threw the ball,” laughs Bolwahnn. “I remember getting sick the night before my first game because I was so nervous.”
Nerves and all, Bolwahnn became a true asset to his team during high school. Playing tailback and cornerback at Albuquerque’s Eldorado High School, his future in the game seemed bright. Known for his speed and determination on the field, he was certain that his dream of playing football in the future would come to fruition. But when colleges came around, no one picked up the then 5-’4” 140 lb player. He was heartbroken. Bolwahnn wondered what else he could do. He didn’t feel he had many options. He couldn’t afford college, so decided to join the Navy at the age of 18.
He meant to do his tour of 6 years and get out, but ended up joining one of the most elite forces in the military, the US Navy SEALs. Following the infamous 56 weeks of training, Bolwahnn, who was among an entering class of 160, was one of only 16 who graduated and were able to call themselves SEALs. He became a Sniper in their special forces unit and began the journey of travel and training for the SEALs. He even experienced the height of the war in Iraq in 2003.
After serving an honorable 13 years in the military, JP retired and began going to school at USD, where he volunteered as an assistant strength coach. He stayed fit during his service with the SEALs, and had grown 2 inches. But playing football again never crossed his mind. As he watched the football team head out and play time and time again, he found himself reminiscing about his days on the field. While Bolwahnn didn’t think he would be playing again, there was someone else who felt differently.
The strength coach at USD saw the fire in Bolwahnn, possibly more than he saw in himself at that time.
“One day we were just joking around about playing ball and he asked me why I didn’t try and play at USD. I started laughing because I thought there was no way I would be able to do that,” says Bolwahnn. But after finding out that he was still eligible, Bolwahnn decided to go for it. “I made the decision to go after the dream I let go earlier in my life.”
Bolwahnn was nervous because there was such a long period of time where he hadn’t played, but his age nor his size has stopped him from trying. And as it turned out, his fears of not being able to keep up with the younger players were unfounded.
Now a running back for the USD Toreros, Bolwahnn spends his time training with and motivating the team with SEAL-like tactics for game strategies, and plays along with fellow teammates as they jokingly call him “Grandpa”. But the moniker doesn’t bother him; he says he’s appreciative to be there, and along with being appreciative, he says he feels he wants to help others seek the same success.
“Don’t live your life according to what other people think you should be doing or what they think your capable of,” says Bolwahnn. “People are to quick to give up on things just because someone tells them they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it.”