For two consecutive weekends, students participated in the St. Mary’s Toughest Student Challenge, a test of physical and mental strength that highlighted the importance of leadership and teamwork.
The event was run by senior Jean-Pierre “JP” Alfred, and aimed to transform the individual mentality of needing to win by transferring it towards group effort.
“We take marathons and turn them on their heads,” Alfred said. “We do marathon distances in packs. You can’t finish without the person to your left and right – it’s geared that way.”
Physically, the challenge involved flutter kicks and push-ups in the river, running 15-plus miles with bricks and carrying a two thousand pound log around campus.
However, the teams were also tested mentally with riddles. Students had to solve problems such as making a gurney out of logs and moving their heaviest member in a wheelbarrow with a flat tire with a light pole that could be no further than six inches away at all times.
“It’s all about mechanical thinking while stress is applied. It’s all mental.” Alfred added. “The first ten minutes of the challenge, you’re cold and wet. That eliminates the guys who think they want to be here, because once you put some of these guys in water, they quit. What you’re left with is the team, and at the end of it, the team comes together. Always.”
“We don’t care if you can run six minute miles. What we care about is leaders. Let’s see how you take the most broken, beat down individual that just doesn’t want to finish and make them finish. Its definitely all about leadership.”
Many of those who participated in the challenge took turns as leaders of the group, motivating and carrying their team through each obstacle. The challenge lasted for each team as long as it took for them to work together as one. The first class started at 10 p.m., and went until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.
“I was in a leadership position for a while,” sophomore Emily Burdeshaw said. “It didn’t strike me until later in the challenge that even as a leader you had to be a part of the team and assign subordinate positions. We had puzzles that the leader had to figure out; meanwhile the team was doing flutter kicks and bear-crawls, which is really painful. That was stressful. You definitely had to think on your feet.”
Students were encouraged to have water, a windbreaker, headlight, some type of “Under-Armour” garment, and a Camelbak. Safety was a priority during the challenge, and those that were underprepared or couldn’t safely complete the challenge were asked to quit. Nonetheless, the two-week event proved to be an unforgettable experience for those involved.
“It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” Burdeshaw said. “You couldn’t be an individual – you had to be a part of the team. It was something we learned pretty quickly.
“The physical stuff was definitely hard, but the hardest part was keeping up the ‘we can do this’ attitude. A lot of the people I talked to on the team agreed: give us a month, and we’d definitely do it again.”