I had intentions of treating this challenge like all others, training to prepare me for the ultimate challenge – the Spartan Death Race. I previously completed another similar endurance event on St. Patty’s Day, the GoRuck Challenge, both would help prepare me for the long hours. The major difference that set the two events apart was that during S.E.R.E we would be in small teams competing for Ka-Bar Knives instead of completing the challenge as one, single unit.
Leading up to the event: I woke up at 5am, worked my normal 8:00am-4:30pm day, then drove straight over to my friend Matt’s place, he would be joining me in this night of insanity. This also marked his first endurance challenge what an introduction! I changed clothes with haste and we made our way to Exchequer in Downtown Chicago. This restaurant was a familiar place to me; I attended my Graduate Communications Association meetings here while attending DePaul University. There we met the instructors and the rest of class 006. We were only the sixth class to go through the S.E.R.E. insanity at any level and would be the last class to receive KA-Bars for Top Team. There were definitely some familiar faces in this group. Some ate, while others drank a beer to loosen up. Soon enough we were presented with our first clue that would lead us to the starting point for the night’s festivities. The catch? It was in Arabic and we had to find some way to translate it to unveil our first RP (rally point). We found the answer fairly quick and our hunch was correct; it would be Buckingham Fountain.
We arrived early to the city’s front door located in Grant Park, also known as the city’s front yard. To kill time a few of us bought these cheap lightsabers from a guy selling them near the fountain. We had all the colors. Red, green, blue, and rainbow? Yes, the guy had a multi-color lightsaber. I choose my favorite color, green. We messed around a bit with our lightsabers before it was time to get down to business.
There was a lot of PT throughout the entirety of S.E.R.E. Urban. We did a low crawl from the fountain to the south stair case. On bricks. It sucked. Hard. Then we went down the stairs and we had to do a lunge walk from there to the street. I was tied with Amelia at one point. Her long legs just soared ahead of me as she lunged away. She’s an animal.
We had to do a series of PT around this park; there was low crawling, running, forward rolling, and more. Let me be the first to say dragging a person, lying on their back, hands around your neck, is not a fun exercise. Ever. However, when it was my turn for both the forward roll and the low crawl parts, I unleashed everything I had in me to try to catch up. These two motions are ones I am familiar with. It also helps to be flexible. You can move quicker. Throughout the event there were times where they would teach us survival skills or brief us on our next task. I found myself puking in a bush early on. What the hell? I remember thinking what could be causing this…then it hit me, I over caffeinated. On the way downtown after I work I had stopped for some disgustingly delicious Starbucks drink. Before the event started I drank a 5-hour energy because I was still yawning. My body could not handle all those stimulants on top of this high intensity exercise. Note to self, don’t over caffeinate before any of these races or events. Ever. It sucks.
We then made our way over to a sand volleyball court nearby. I remember we had to throw our white shirts in the middle. We already had written our numbers we were given on the front and on the sleeves. Once our shirts hit the sand they were made unrecognizable so they didn’t know whom they were picking; team leaders dumped water, sand/mud on them. Then the leaders, Todd, Amelia, and Kimmie, were to select teammates at random by pulling shirts from the pile.
Once we were in our teams, I had a bad feeling about making the Top Team – a designation that I wanted so bad. What I learned from this event didn’t process until a bit of reflection time afterward. At the time I was still in an individual mind set. I had the goal of getting Top Team, but is that what my entire team’s goal was? I don’t know. It’s possible that some had set their goal to simply finish all the challenges. Something to consider if you ever participate in a S.E.R.E. event: You MUST work as a team. Your individual goals aside, your TEAM goals need to be the same. If not, there will be constant battles. It’s a struggle I’ll always have. You’re faced with a simple fact: your team is only as fast as your slowest person. It’s one thing to be the fastest person in the bunch, which can suck in it’s own way, but how about being the slowest? It took me a while to adjust my perspective and see how tough knowing you’re slowing a group down could be. Just remember, these types of events require a LOT of team work. If you’re not looking to do a team event, then turn back now.
We traveled all over the city for this event. Hitting a lot of the key landmarks, the museums, Northerly Island, Wrigleyville, etc. For now we were near Northerly Island near the boat docks. This part was exciting for me. We had an entire training session on how to fight. The discipline of choice, one of my favorites, Muay Thai. It’s a style of kickboxing that utilizes stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. Knees, and elbows are used for blocking and attacking. In college my best friend, Erik and I would train in our living room, barefoot, on the hard wood floor. Oh, how I’ve missed this.
After our training and sparring session, we were to split up and sent on a recon mission. Rodrigo and I went with our team’s instructor up toward Northerly Island to scout things out. We had to document everything we saw and report back. Upon our return things got a little chaotic as to not knowing where to go. Once we had things figured out we headed back to Northerly Island. Here we had our first water submersion. Joy. We were to low crawl up a hill, down into the sandy beach, across the rock and shell infested shore all the way into the water. Then we were to turn around and crawl all the way back. It was as relay. I think I was third to last or something like that for my group. That water was freezing. We all stripped down to basically our underwear, to keep our clothes dry. Hope you’re not shy.
That whole bit sucked, if there is one thing at these overnight adventures I look forward to least,, it’s definitely the water submersion. It’s one thing when you are pouring sweat because it is a blazing hot summer day but when it is cold out, still night, and there is no sign of the sun showing its beautiful shinning face, it sucks so HARD. I wanted the event to end. We were only around half way through.
The next part of the event was a simulation of sorts. Throughout the event we would have “lectures’ on survival skills and then we were tested on them. Each team was to have a wounded soldier in their unit. What kind of wound you might ask? Complete, blindness. I was selected as the member of my team to be blind folded. What happened over the next couple hours I have no data on. What I do know is we utilized the two lightsabers our team had as a guidance system. I held the ends of the two sabers and two members of my team held the other ends. I think the may have changed responsibilities a few times but cannot remember. All I recall is running, eyes closed, the only thing I focused on was perfecting my stride and listening for my teammates cues. There’s a step, watch this dip, don’t trip on the gap, etc. I learned to trust them completely. My body just moved, had no idea where I was.
Our mission was to find a pay phone. In case you didn’t realize we are now living in the 21st century. Everyone has a cell phone in Chicago. Find a pay phone??? Right. Sure thing. It took us awhile I think we may have ended up at a hotel. I was blind, I don’t know the details of this section. Haha. All I remember is focusing on my foot placement. Making sure not to trip. Thanks team, for safely guiding me.
The next thing I remember is being back by Lake Michigan. Oak Street Beach, to be exact. I was finally able to take the blindfold off. I felt so lost and out of it I didn’t even feel like talking at first. We made our way to the beach after a short rest on the lakeshore trail and were told to recreate a map using whatever we could, including sand and seaweed, to make a 3D version of our recon map from the mission near Northerly Island. This was a very fun training exercise. I have a somewhat photographic memory and went straight to work. Together we were able to really recreate most of the area, only missing one important factor as I recall. We also went through a card deck and each team would pick a card resulting in various PT exercises, or water submersion, or both.
Then came more PT and more submersion near North Avenue Beach. We had to do a few different exercises in the water, including rocking back into the water with our legs over our heads. Maureen, from another team, almost went hypothermic from all this. It was insane. Now, I just wanted to finish. From here we ran all the way to Wrigley Field. On the way we had to do 5 and 2s. Run five minutes, stop for 2 minutes of PT, and then repeat. When we finally arrived in Wrigleyville, we had to locate a “bomb.” We couldn’t find any of the other teams. Bathroom break! Our team went to McDonalds, soiled and disgusting. At this point the sun had been up for a couple hours. We walked around the stadium to find the other teams and met them by the Subway and 7Eleven. Our next task was to make it back to Grant Park after finding and photographing at least three war monuments around Chicago. We could travel any way we’d like. Thank you Taxi Magic for the cab and Google Maps for routing the monuments.
We arrived and couldn’t find anyone, initially. Soon enough we were with everyone from our team inside a building. After another survival training session we were sent out again. Our next destination, the Anchor at Navy Pier. We had an hour to get there, easy right? Wrong! This time we would have a different injury to deal with. Kimmie lost her legs. Here is where our team united. We were determined to finish at least one task in first. Our team utilized a pick-up and go system of switching bags, and carrying our fallen comrade. The moment someone put Kimmie down, someone else was picking her up while bags exchanged hands. Our system was superior. We were the first ones to make it all the way to the Anchor. At the time we couldn’t even recall where the “Anchor” we were directed to was. We asked everyone we passed and most seemed clueless, even the Navy Pier staff. There was a hunch among our group that it was located at the end of the pier. As we approached the end, I felt my heart beat slow down, as if it was going to stop. Then out of the corner of my left eye I saw it emerge. There it was, the enormous, black anchor at the end of Navy Pier.
We may not have been Top Team, but being the first to finish this task made us feel like we were. The entire evening our team was the underdog. This final round got everything brewing inside us. The power within unveiled itself and that made for an amazing finish. Being awarded our dog tags was awesome. I had mixed feeling about the event as a whole, but I can tell you this, it felt GREAT to finish.
Would I do another S.E.R.E. event? Well, yes and no. I will not be doing anymore S.E.R.E. Urban events. Being in an Urban environment bores me. This, I have realized about myself. They have many other events lined up however, including Woodland and Desert, and these events I most definitely intend to seek out and destroy.
The key lesson I learned during S.E.R.E.: Team. It mean’s everything. It doesn’t matter if you are fast, strong, or capable. What matters is your team and working together to keep moving forward safely. There are so many team aspects I learned from S.E.R.E. Truth be told, if I wrote this right after finishing it would have been a much different story, I learned a lot after reflecting back on what transpired.
My biggest takeaway: Your ability to adapt, as a team is key to your success.