Saturday, February 23, 2013

GoRuck Challenge

Ever heard of the GoRuck Challenge? I confess - I had never heard of it until one of our former WOOT members sent me this story about it. Well hold on, I'll back up a minute, I had previously heard about it, because my husband has mentioned it as one of his "bucket list" goals - I just didn't realize that it was the same challenge that Amy Hester recently completed in Florida. 

Here's how Jason, former Green Beret and founder of GoRuck, describes the challenge:

Inspired by the most elite training offered to Special Forces soldiers and led by Green Berets, the GORUCK Challenge is a team event and never a race. Challenge cadre build each class into a team through collective conditions of mental and physical exhaustion. Classes are small, camaraderie is high, smiles are plentiful, and teamwork is paramount.

I'll let Amy explain the rest and share her story with you, which by the way, is a must-read if you're a challenge-seeker (and I know many of you WOOT ladies are!!!)

GoRuck Challenge 
01/05-01/06/2013            10PM – 10AM    CLASS 373            Distance Covered:  22+ miles
Amy D. Hester  Photo Credits: Andy Farina and Greg Stroud

What an incredibly amazing experience! I have never felt so accomplished and powerful!

We began our adventure at Norman Field on the University of Florida campus. The event began at 10pm, but our group arrived at 9pm for some strategy talk and intros for those that couldn’t make it to the RuckOff (the RuckOff is an informal night of drinking the evening before the event). Our group started with ten people – George, Jeff, Pat, Remus, Robbie, Rob, Nick, James, Pascale, and me. The incredibleness of the adventure started immediately. I wasn’t expecting the turnout, but there were 30-40 people at the start to support us – former GoRuckers and friends of teammates. The positive energy was bouncing off the walls of the parking garage. It was like the starting line of a big marathon, but more intimate and, for me, more powerful.

At 10pm we got in formation and opened our rucks for brick inspection. Part of the challenge of the ruck is carrying weight. If you weigh <150 pounds, you get 4 bricks, over 150 pounds and you’re carrying 6 bricks. I just met 6 brick standards – DOH! All bricks must be wrapped (light layer of bubble wrap and duct tape) and labeled (name and phone number). With the bricks, hydration pack, fuel, extra socks, etc. my pack weighed between 35-40 pounds.

After the brick inspection and introduction of our cadre – Garrett Noon – we were ready for the welcome party. That might be the biggest misnomer ever because what happens for the next 2-3 hours is anything but welcoming. All cadres assigned by GoRuck have some kind of Special Forces military training. Garrett is a Green Beret. They take their Special Forces training to make a hellacious boot camp to open the challenge. Welcome party, my ass.

I’m not sure of the time frame because no watches, phones, etc. are allowed, but for what I think was 2-3 hours, we did push-ups, squats, flutter kicks, bench press with ruck, military press, bear crawls, monkey f**kers and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. And all of this is done with your ruck on. During the welcome party was the only time I would question myself to why I was doing this, but quitting never entered my mind.

Some of the hardest parts of the welcome party were the ranger push-ups and the centipede. For both of these your feet are on someone’s shoulders and someone’s feet are on your shoulders. We couldn’t stop doing them until everyone was able to lift themselves off the ground. The welcome party also included a couple runs around the neighborhoods near Norman Field and a dip into a retention pond. The water was chilly, but not bad. Half of us did push-ups while the other half did deep squats so we were all wet up to our chests.

On the run back from the pond our formation had too many gaps (you must be next to a person and the person in front of you must be one arm’s length away) so upon returning to Norman Field we got to work on teamwork. This entailed working with a buddy. The first drill included you and your buddy sprinting for 3-5 seconds and then face crawling for 3-5 seconds the length of the field and back. After that we got to buddy carry our partner the length of the field and they carried us back. I now know I can buddy carry about 200 pounds and that getting carried sucks way more than carrying – so uncomfortable.

Once the welcome party was over we were given our mission. In our scenario the Florida Gators had lost the national championship and the locals are rioting. We’ve been called in to support the National Guard. For each leg of the mission the cadre assigned a troop leader and an assistant troop leader. This was a great leadership opportunity. On the first leg of the mission we had to make it from Norman Field to Kanapaha Park in under 2 hours. I think it’s a little over 7 miles so if you consider that we’re on foot with weighted rucks, a team weight (an additional 25 pounds just because), a large American flag displayed on a pole, and that we needed to stay in formation, we needed to really hoof it.

Within the first mile and a half our cadre determined that our formation wasn’t tight enough and we needed to work on our teamwork. We buddied up again and did the alternating sprints and face crawls for the length of a football field and back. We hadn’t quite learned what teamwork was at that point so we had to buddy carry our partner with their rucks the length of the field and they carried us back. I felt bad for my partner Pascale because I have about 6 pounds on her plus 2 additional bricks, but she was a beast.

After team building we carried on down Archer Road (a main thoroughfare in Gainesville). We must have been quite the sight marching down the road in formation with our flag sometime after 1am. We alternated fast walking and shuffling until we arrived at the park. We got in formation and learned we made it in 1:59.48. Whew! That was close.

The park we were at is a memorial for all those killed at war throughout America’s history. It was pretty sombering and a good reminder of the importance of the flag we were carrying.

We were allowed to fill our hydration packs and fuel up (I was chomping Shot Bloks) and then get back in formation. At this point our cadre drilled us with where our teammates are from, full names, and if they had kids. We were supposed to have gathered this information over the last 2 hours because our cadre emphasized the importance of knowing the people you’re going to battle with. A few members were too slow in recalling names so the disgusted cadre had us run laps around the memorial.

Our next leg of the mission came and we needed to assist the National Guard who was setting up blockades by bringing them a “barricade”. Our barricade was a heavy log that 3-4 of us took turns carrying. I am not sure of the distance, but I believe it was a good 4 miles. We also entered hostile territory and had to remain silent while transporting. This caused us to come up with creative ways to rotate people on and off the barricade. This was one of 2 points I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for my team. I was too short to carry any real weight. The team was also limited because Remus had convinced himself miles ago that he couldn’t do it. Even though the team carried his ruck and tried to help, once those thoughts have entered your head, you’re a goner.

When we got to where the barricade was needed, cadre gave us permission to put down the barricade and prop the flag during our 5 minute break. About 90 seconds into our break (mid-pee squat thank you very much) we were ordered back into formation. Someone had put the team weight down without permission and we needed to be punished. We took turns doing military presses with our logs and our rucks. Yowzers. After that reminder no further break was given and we marched/shuffled on.

During this part of the march Remus was feeling pretty low. I was assistant troop leader at this time and I talked to him, the troop leader talked to him, the cadre talked to him, but we weren’t able to bring him around. With Remus mentally out, our formation started to suffer. The cadre of course noticed this and took away strap privileges. I didn’t even know straps were a privilege, but you sure miss them when you can’t use them. We wound up bear hugging or having our ruck up on one shoulder for about ¾ mile. Soon after we regained our strap privileges the cadre found another retention pond near the Florida Museum of Natural History (where I work) and boy was it chilly. We didn’t stay in long, but long enough to do submerged push-ups and flutter kicks. At this point Remus quit and the rest of us continued to shuffle.

We reached our next destination just as the sky was lightening, maybe close to 7am. Seeing light in the sky is such an incredible mental boost. It just confirms that we are going to make it. After a break to refill water and make adjustments, we were on to the next leg of the mission. But before the next mission our cadre led us in some morning calisthenics with our rucks as the sun came up. This was all courtesy of the Asian influence the cadre received while in the military (he spent time in Korea and Okinawa). Kettle bell swings with a 35+ pound ruck after 10 hours of work is no joke.

After calisthenics, the National Guard was in a fire fight and running out of “ammo”. The ammo consisted of 20 pounds of rocks, logs, whatever for every 2 people in the group. Even though Remus had dropped we still needed approximately 100 pounds of ammo between us. That plus the team weight plus the flag made maneuvering much more difficult. Plus, we needed to hustle because our guys were getting pinned down with no ammo. About a 1.2 mile from our destination the cadre decided we needed more team weight – a 20+ pound chunk of concrete. That weight stayed with us the rest of the challenge.

When we got to Lake Alice, a lake in the center of UF campus notorious for alligators, we threw our ammo in to the lake to see if it caused any movement. It didn’t so in we went. As we trudged into the lake all I could think of initially was the half-eaten Labrador I had seen here years ago. However, after we stirred up the water and the stench hit us, I was just hoping to not catch any flesh-eating diseases. The cadre took it pretty easy on us with some submerged push-ups and then let us out. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want the paperwork involved with one of us getting munched. We went from the lake to the Swamp, also known as Florida Field, home of the fightin’ Gators. This stadium has 90 rows and we covered them all up and down three times arm-in-arm with a buddy and our rucks still on. It was definitely a challenge this far into the mission.

After the stadium we were headed to the end when we encountered “casualties”. Two of our team had “died” and could no longer walk or carry weight. So between 7 people we were carrying 2 people, 9 rucks, 2 team weights, the flag, and a partridge in a pear tree. This was the second time that I felt I was an inadequate teammate. I could carry 2 rucks and the team weight, but didn’t think I was strong enough to carry the casualties. I’m still kicking myself for not trying.

The team trudged on for over a mile with the additional load and finally made our way back to Norman Field at 10am. In those 12 hours we had covered over 22 miles and learned a lot about ourselves. There was an incredible welcoming committee when we finished and a wife of one of the teammates brought out a camp stove and made us all pancakes. She had fruit and hard boiled eggs. The food was amazing and the kindness of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning was truly touching.

When you complete a GoRuck Challenge, you receive a can of Budweiser and a patch, but you come away with so much more than that.

FYI - for those of you interested in doing the Go-Ruck Challenge, there are two events scheduled on Okinawa this year - May 11th, and November 30th. Go to the link below to sign up:

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