As Soldiers’ thoughts turn to the weekend, they may envision sleeping in, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, and perhaps catching up on their favorite television series.
When a company NCO suggests participating in a trail run on a Saturday, many would politely decline. Yet when Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Swink asked if any of the Soldiers of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat team, were interested in participating in a rugged trail race in the mountains of Vermont, 15 Catamount Soldiers answered with a resounding “heck, yes!”
Sgt. Jeremy Maners said he was not surprised to learn that several Soldiers in the company were eager to step up to the challenge.
“We’ve all been working together for about three years,” he said. “We’ve trained together, deployed together and we’ve built a bond – a brotherhood. When one person said they were in, the rest of us just knew we wanted to do this as a team.”
For Spc. Mackenzie Gray, the ultra-marathon provided an opportunity to challenge himself.
“I wanted to run the race because it’s something that not a lot of people can say they did – a 30-mile event in the mountains,” he said.
As the Soldiers gathered May 5 to discuss logistics, their commander – Capt. Andrew Boyle – told them that he, too, would be participating. Spc. Logan Ivester said that Boyle is an inspiration to Soldiers within the unit.
“He’s definitely always been a source of motivation to us,” he said. “Anything that we are doing – whether it’s everyday work or training – he’s right there with us.”
The Soldiers arrived in Vermont in high spirits, but some said that they were a little concerned about the difficulty of the course, said Spc. Victor Cerda.
“We were joking on the drive there that 30 miles wasn’t that bad,” he said. “Then we got there and saw all of these people who had been training for this for a while. We realized the race was going to be tough.”
Maners, whom the other Soldiers unanimously agreed was a huge motivator for them throughout the race, said that he knew they were up to the challenge.
“Some people train their whole lives for events like these, but it is really all heart that gets you through a challenge like this,” he said. “We left with a goal that we were all going to finish this, no matter what.”
The Soldiers began the grueling race together, and then gradually broke off into smaller teams. It wasn’t something they discussed in advance, they said, but rather a decision that just made sense at the time.
“We paired off with our battle buddies,” Gray said. “I did the race with Pfc. (Nicholas) Wise. We went through basic together, we’ve been stationed in the same unit – there was no question that we were going to finish this together.”
As the hours wore on and the Soldiers began to feel the effects of the steep and muddy terrain, they recalled yelling encouragement to each other.
Cerda said that hearing the voices of his comrades gave him the motivation to keep moving forward.
“I remember at one point I turned the corner and I thought, ‘OK, it’s flattened out – I can handle this,’” he said. “Then I realized I was starting up a second mountain – you just couldn’t see it because of the fog.”
Nevertheless, the Soldiers pushed forward. At the finish line, they were greeted by a familiar face.
“Our commander finished the race second – in about six hours,” Maners said. “He stood at that finish line and cheered us on until every one of us completed it. That is the kind of leader he is – he’s out there with his guys doing the same thing we are doing. That’s the kind of commander I’ll follow anywhere.”
All 16 Soldiers completed the race, and Cerda said that while they went home tired and sore, they were all very proud of themselves and their battle buddies.
“We have blisters and bruises, but those heal over time,” he said. “The pride that comes with finishing what was basically a 30-mile ‘mudder,’ running up the side of a mountain in Vermont – that’s just unbeatable.”
“It helped build cohesion among the Soldiers who did it, and it also helped to build pride in our unit,” Ivester said. “We were out there representing not just ourselves, but an organization back at Fort Drum.”
The Soldiers said they are looking forward to participating in Fort Drum’s upcoming “Mountain Mudder,” and they agreed that they would willingly take on another ultra-marathon – with one caveat.
“It was the hardest thing – physically – that I have ever done,” Maners said. “I couldn’t have done this without my battle buddies beside me.”
“With this group of guys – I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Ivester added.