Updated: May 22, 2021
Liz and I laid on our backs, anchored to the ground by our 35+ pound rucksacks, staring at the stars. The night was cool, the sky was clear, and the ants in our pants were getting comfy. We had been pulling an 80 pound sandbag with a 50 foot rope while sitting on our bums for the last hour or so. We’d count down, “3-2-1, pull!” Then lean backwards and pull the sandbag even with our bodies. Every time we completed this movement and leaned back, we got the greatest view of the “Big Dipper” you could imagine. Then we’d crab walk backwards to extend the rope, and repeat the process. Things could have been much worse. Things WOULD get much worse.
This is a moment from GORUCK Team Assessment, a 48-hour long, 2-person team endurance event. Over the course of 48 hours, we’d get less than 45 minutes of sleep, total. We’d eat here and there, but mostly we’d be rucking (walking with a weighted backpack), lifting, carrying, tossing, and dragging sandbags and other odd objects, doing workouts, testing our minds with memory games, submerging ourselves in freezing cold water, and repeating all of those things over and over again. There was not one moment during the event that we were completely dry or warm.
The day before, we started the journey with a physical test of 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 12 mile ruck march. Rucking along rural two lane roads in Ohio is probably as safe as a game of Russian Roulette, but somehow all of the teams made it those 12 miles and were able to start the event.
How did we all get there?
The road to Team Assessment is different for each individual. For me, it started seven years ago when I discovered GORUCK Selection, a 48-hour individual event modeled after Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection where the standards are the same for men and women. When I discovered Selection, there was a 5% passing/completion rate and only one woman (Paige Bowie) had ever finished the event. I looked at the statistics and thought it was absurd that more women had not finished, so I promised myself I’d be the second lady to complete the event. That was 2014. I have participated in GORUCK Selection five times and have not yet finished the event. No other woman has either, so many of us are still trying to crack the code. However, Virginia Nickelson completed Team Assessment this year at the Open Division weight, so she is on her way to finishing Selection if she chooses.
For my sixth attempt at Selection, I decided to change the way I’d train. For starters, I put on 10 pounds this year. Going into GORUCK Selection at 125 pounds never served me, so putting on 10 pounds of muscle this year was the goal. The second objective was to complete at least two “training” events to test my gear, body, and mind. I set out to complete Ft. Bragg Heavy (a 24-hour team event in January) and to complete Team Assessment. In years past I focused on just training for Selection and did not do any other events. I figured that getting into the arena more often would give me more confidence and experience. I put on 10 pounds of muscle, finished Bragg Heavy, then set my sights on Ohio for Team Assessment.
Now we are here.
We are in the river. The water temperature is in the 40’s. The air temperature is in the 30’s and it is raining. We are doing hydro-burpees (completely submerging ourselves underwater and jumping up). My partner gets hypothermic and has to leave the event.
I am alone in a team event now. Through the driving rain, shivering, I pick up my sandbag and begin tossing it backwards over my shoulder with the other teams. I never get a break since I’m doing the work alone. I don’t care. I must continue, this is part of my plan. I can’t stop.
For an hour or two, I work alone. I do sandbag tosses across the soybean fields forever and when that evolution ends, my new partner Liz is waiting for me. Her partner had to leave the event too, due to back pain.
We instantly fall in sync.
For the next 40 hours, Liz and I work as a team. We never argue, we always help each other. Through slosh pipe and bucket carries, more water workouts, every sandbag exercises you can imagine for hours and hours, we are there for each other.
It is the second night of Team Assessment. We are freezing, shivering so badly our fingers aren’t working. I can’t grasp my zipper to get into my ruck. Liz helps me unzip the bag a little, and we pull out some skittles for an instant sugar rush.
We are walking slowly. The grass turns to confetti. The hippos from “Fantasia” are dancing in front of me. The world turns sideways. I’m sleep-walking into the bushes. Liz reminds me to keep moving. Hallucinations take hold and time slows down. We talk about sleeping in the bushes. We stop for a moment and decide it is too cold to sleep.
We make it to the cadre, the men who are leading the event. Now we should carry an 80 pound sandbag until they tell us to stop. We are still shivering as we hoist the weight on top of Liz’s shoulders.
Soon, it is my turn to carry the load.
The 80 pound sandbag wakes me up, but only until I fall on the muddy “hill from hell” and hyperextend my knee. My scream pierces the night. I cry, face in the mud. The cadre arrive to assess the damage. They push and pull on my knee. It is okay, so I pick myself up and keep going. Completely covered in mud, sliding up the incline, Liz is there to hold my hand.
We pause for a break.
My ruck is sealed shut with mud entangled in grass gluing all zippers firmly in place. I’m shivering so badly I can’t remove my gloves. Liz and I go to the bathroom, eat some of her food, then huddle under her hypothermia blanket for a few minutes until the cadre yell, “On your feet!”
We are now carrying a slosh pipe, a bucket of water, and our rucks. Up and down the mudslide hill. To the river, fill the bucket, back up the hill. Repeat.
Being outside for two complete days allows a human to become one with the cycles of the moon and sun. Light slowly leaves and returns, all before your eyes. The body wakes as the sunrise begins to illuminate the horizon.
It is the second morning of Team Assessment. We will be done with the event today.
Liz and I talk about why we are doing Team Assessment. For her it is to prove to herself and others that she can do it. It is for her wife, because she has sacrificed so much time with her in order to train. She has to finish to honor her.
For me, it is multi-faceted and complex. I need to finish to get more confidence for Selection in the fall. But I also have to finish because I have NOT finished so many GORUCK events in the past. By now most people think I will never complete anything. I have to prove them wrong. I have to do this for myself as well. I’ve always believed that I am capable, so it is time to get a slash in the win column. I have to do it because I’ve never done it before.
We continue walking.
The rest of the morning is a blur...dunks in the river, low crawls in deep mud, moving sandbags, water and sand in our faces, a false finish, move more weight, crawl, on your feet, on your faces, move!
When it was said and done, we stood in front of the American flag, belted out the National Anthem, honored our country and the men leading us, and yelled, cried, and relished in that moment. The sun hit our faces, warmed our spirits, and we lifted each other up.
We finished Team Assessment.
The cadre lead us in a toast, and recited this quote :
“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.” ~Konstantin Jirecek
Finishing GORUCK Team Assessment means more than anyone looking in on the event can know.
It is the culmination of years upon years of dedication.
It is a moment in time when triumph fills my heart.
It is the sunrise on the second morning, flowing on the heels of grass-confetti hallucinations.
It is Liz’s hand in mine.
It is the man who couldn’t believe he was seeing us on the second morning, still there, surviving. Surprise cockbag! We are much stronger than you thought.
It is the sun on my face, melting the mud in my ears and the doubt in the air.
It is the river flowing around and through me, reminding me I’m alive and able.
It is years of consistency and relentless forward movement that will get me where I’m going to end up.
It is my husband, hugging me, telling me he is proud.
It is learning that my mind will pull me through the darkest hours, but that it is also easier to persevere when you have a partner to help remind you of your strength.
It is knowing that we CAN DO ANYTHING with nothing.
Indeed, we have.
GORUCK GR1, 21 Liter (Java)
GORUCK Padded hip belt
GORUCK 20# ruck plate (with 2.5# plate taped to it)
REI hiking pants
Champion sports bra, padded
Swift Wick cycling socks (thin), smart wool socks (thin)
Altra Escalante running shoes
Outdoor Research hard shell jacket
Patagonia nano puff jacket (synthetic fill)
REI capeline thermal weight base layer
GORUCK half zip base layer
Under Armor brown short sleeve shirt
NRS neoprene gloves (clutch!!)
Patagonia wool beanie
Belt (cordura, sliding, no-clip buckle)
Black Diamond headlamp
Source 3 liter water bladder, twist mouthpiece
Extra gear/items that were helpful:
Two 4-foot long sewn runners
Hypothermia blanket (mercy me this was a life saver!)
2x MREs (including: elbow macaroni in tomato sauce, bread, skittles, cheese spread)
4x energy bomb “Your Super” bars
2x Skratch Labs energy chews
4x CHOMPS turkey sticks
2x SaltStick fast chews (packs of 10) (magnesium, salt replacement)
2x Drip drop hydration powder
4x Liquid IV hydration powder
1 quart zip lock bag of raw nuts (walnuts and almonds) and dried mangoes
Feet; no blisters, no problems
Deltoids where they connect to the pit (from ruck straps)
Legs everywhere, but not road-rash level
Hundreds of ant bites on legs
Hands; water-logged, but no cuts or any other chafing
Frostnip: Toes and fingers are still tingly
Slightly swollen knee (from hyperextension in the night; possible PCL strain)
Sore lower back (nothing major)
Changes to gear for next event:
Wear long silk underwear to protect legs and for further warmth
Apply chapstick during event
Learn how to tie quick-release knots so that when fingers don’t work I can still untie things
Extend zipper pulls with p-cord on ruck
New headlamp that doesn’t suck
More food, PBJ not thinly spread
Get a bite-pull mouthpiece for source bladder; twist one didn't work once it was muddy