Kate Pond spent a recent Saturday hiking 10 miles around town with more than 30 other people, crossing through a stream with knee-high water, helping carry several large logs and several people, occasionally stopping for some pushups, all the while carrying a backpack with some bricks in it.
It’s not how most people might choose to spend a weekend day.
“What appealed to me was that it was basically unknown what we would be doing as obstacles and that we would have to work through it as a team,” Pond said.
GORUCK is a company started by former Green Berets to produce heavy-duty backpacks. The company founder started the GORUCK Challenge in 2010 as a way to test the packs’ durability. Events have spread nationwide and even abroad.
The Nov. 9 GORUCK event in Champaign was organized by Josh Markiewicz of Savoy. Markiewicz, a former Green Beret, has participated in two other GORUCK events: One in June was a special event organized through the Green Beret Foundation in North Carolina, where he was stationed at Fort Bragg when he was in the Army, and the other was this fall in St. Louis.
While most GORUCK events are open to the public, the company also organizes custom events for groups. Markiewicz brought a custom event here. Most of the participants were people he knew from his Crossfit gym, including a ROTC instructor at the University of Illinois who asked to include some ROTC cadets.
GORUCK has four levels of events of increasing length and difficulty — Light, Challenge, Heavy and Selection — ranging from GoRuck Light (the level for the Champaign event) lasting four to five hours, with participants covering 7 to 10 miles, to the GoRuck Selection lasting 48 hours and covering more than 40 miles.
However, Markiewicz said, “One of the company’s favorite sayings is ‘underpromise and overdeliver.’ You can expect it’s probably going to be longer than five hours and you’re going to walk more than 10 miles.”
The Champaign event lasted 61/2 hours and covered 10.3 miles, he said.
GORUCK events are not races, but team challenges. They are led by someone called the Cadre, with Army Special Operations experience.
Then the participants travel to various points around a city, carrying a backpack with bricks in it (the number of bricks depends on the weight of the person — two bricks for those less than 150 pounds, four bricks for those more than 150 pounds), a water bladder and any snacks or other items the person wants. They are given a time frame, within which they must reach each destination, and a problem or mission to deal with along the way.
For example, the scenario may involve several injured team members who must be carried by the other team members. Events also usually involve carrying a log at times, as well as getting into a body of water at some point.
“It’s challenge, but it’s fun to overcome those challenges,” Markiewicz said, adding the activities were similar to exercises he did while in the military.
“People that don’t have that experience see it as completely different than anything they’ve done,” he said. “It’s totally different than going to the gym, totally different than doing a triathlon or a race, even totally different than doing a Tough Mudder.
“I really like to challenge myself and push myself, and I think GORUCK pushes you physically, but it pushes you mentally, too.”
“I didn’t know how much mental strength it was going to take to get through it, and also the level of teamwork we needed to have. The cadre definitely wanted you to see yourself as a team and not just an individual trying to get through it,” she said.
“It’s a total different mindset you have to have.”
Pond said the group had to work together to figure out how to carry the logs most efficiently, and they couldn’t retrieve their backpacks after crossing a creek until everyone was out of the water.
“It’s understanding how others are feeling, reading their actions, working together as team to get these tasks accomplished,” she said. “I’m completely addicted now.”
Pond hopes to do another event in St. Louis at the end of the month, then work up to GORUCK Challenge events.
The Champaign event had 33 participants, 21 men and 12 women. It started and finished at Kaufman Lake, and participants traveled to West Side Park, Memorial Stadium, Mattis Park and Centennial Park.
The group carries an American flag to recognize the event’s military origins. With the Champaign event on the Saturday before Veterans Day, Markiewicz called it “our own mini Veterans Day parade.”
Markiewicz said his favorite part is coming together as a team. Although he knew only one other person at the St. Louis event, he left with 25 friends.
And he enjoys seeing the participants help each other. In St. Louis, team members carried two others during the last hours of the event, one who was suffering from knee problems and another who had developed bad blisters on his feet. In North Carolina, the team rallied around a participant who wanted to quit and helped her get through it.
“The team aspect of it is really cool,” he said. “In order to get through it and be successful, you have to come together as a team and work together. What they are really trying to do is instill teamwork.”
Photos: Top: From left, Shannon Newman, Seth Hible, Josh Markiewicz, Jessica Printz, Britney Anderson,Scott Dixon and Jenny Printz participate in the GORUCK Light event in Champaign. They were completing their final challenge, moving from Centennial Park to Kaufman Lake with 11 "casualties." Middle: Jamie Luedtke does a low crawl through a tunnel created by her teammates during the event's "welcome party." Bottom: From left, Scott Dixon, Tyler Koger, Sky Sanborn and Seth Hible. They were completing their first challenge, carrying logs from Kaufman Lake to West Side Park. Photos provided by Josh Markiewicz.