This is one of my fears.
During the second GORUCK Selection I attempted in Bozeman, Montana in 2015, I was medically dropped because I had hypothermia. I wasn't able to regulate my body and warm up for hours after the cadre put me in a warm car, heater on full blast, blankets wrapped around me. I shivered most of the night, even after I was in a house inside of a sleeping bag. For many months after the event, I had dreams about being hypothermic and would wake up shivering.
Later, I asked my husband how he dealt with hypothermia throughout his military career. He told me that it was easy: get dry, or stay wet and keep moving.
I thought, "Mother f*****. That is your answer?"
But then I started doing research and studying Wim Hoff (the "Ice Man") and realized that yep, people breathe, keep moving, and warm up (or die). So, if the cold wasn't killing me, I might as well just breathe and get on with life.
For years (6 to be exact), I avoided winter GORUCK events because I'd be wet and cold. But isn't that exactly where I needed to be?
So, this year I stomached my butterflies and went for it.
Bragg (Double) Heavy 2021 would be my testing ground.
The first 24 hours of Bragg Heavy (1.0) were cold (lows in the 30's, highs in the 40's), but we didn't submerge ourselves in water.
Bragg Heavy 2.0 (the second 24 hours) kicked off with that special type of pain. Within the first hour of the event we were neck deep in the freezing cold water (air temperature still in the 30-40F range). Everyone was near hypothermic. At least I wasn't alone.
At first we we were all terrified of the water. We entered slowly and didn't get our heads wet.
Then, shit got real.
We did "I'm up, he sees me, I'm down," drills until we were soaked. After that, we low-crawled through the puddles. Then, just when we thought we were done, we did push ups and just LAID in the water.
We could hear each other shivering.
Then, the coolest thing happened.
The cadre, who had just forced us into this hypothermic state, got in the water with us. But they didn't cry and grunt and make noises. They were stoic, happy even. They laid in the water with us, quietly.
Cadre Chuy started talking slowly, deliberately. He said, "When you SURRENDER to the cold, and don't give a f*** about anything, then nothing will bother you. We can do anything to you and it won't matter."
I looked at him and smiled; this was the lesson I came here for.
I was cold as cold could be, but I surrendered. I took deep breathes and tried to relax my face and limbs. I told myself that I'd be okay. My mind was hacking my body, and I wasn't going to die.
When we got out of the water we walked very fast for about a mile, then stopped to change into *some* other clothes. Most of us only had alternate base layers and a dry hat, but that was enough to raise our core temperatures. We did jumping jacks and silly exercises to warm up, then walked another few miles.
I'm happy to report, I didn't get hypothermia.
I had gone through 30+ hours in the rain, cold, then soaked wet to the bone and survived.
I surrendered to my fear, and controlled my thoughts.
What I mean by this, is that I decided that I would allow my body to feel that extreme cold in a safe environment. I'd listen to the advice I was getting, observe myself in the coldest moment, and breathe (thanks Jason).
The lesson here is that when we take the time to confront our fears and understand what the outcome CAN be, instead of what we are afraid of, we can harness that and control what happens.
I now know that I can survive being cold. I know what to do when I experience that fear rise inside, and can recognize symptoms in myself and others when it is time to call it a day and get warm.
These are the lessons we learn when we face our fears.
Note: Later in the night, I would pull out of the event. I was feeling some sharp pain in my back and didn't want it to get worse. When I stopped, I was actually happy. My biggest fear was that I wouldn't finish the event because I'd get hypothermia. But I didn't. That, my friends, is what a win looks like.
*All photos courtesy of GORUCK