Infantryman sets out to be all he can be
June 14, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- One Fort Drum Soldier is setting out on a quest to test his brain and brawn during The Death Race this weekend in Vermont.
As a former drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Joshua Swink always found satisfaction in challenging his Soldiers by pushing them to their limits. He carries that mindset with him in his personal life too, constantly pushing himself to -- and beyond -- his limit.
Swink, an infantryman with 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's Pathfinder Company, became interested in adventure races about five years ago, when his company commander offered his Soldiers a four-day weekend if they ran in and finished the National Marathon in Washington, D.C.
He completed the race in just less than five hours. After crossing the finish line, Swink decided he was never going to run a marathon again.
Swink said he was roped into running another National Marathon in 2009, and 13 races later, his mindset has changed as he strives to better his time in each race.
Wanting to continue to push himself to the limit, Swink embarked on adventure races -- pursuing obstacle courses, mud runs and trail runs.
Continuing to seek a challenge, he signed up for The Death Race, an annual 24- to 48-hour race held in Pittsfield, Vt., which tests participants' mental and physical ability.
"The idea behind the race is to see how far you can push yourself," Swink explained. "This race is designed to not have a finish line; I want to see where my finish line is."
The Death Race, which is in its eight year, varies the obstacles and challenges each year. About 300 participants will head into event, held Friday to Sunday, unaware of the obstacles and challenges they will undergo until race day.
Swink -- who began training six months ago -- said when preparing for the two-day event, he could only go on the previous years' challenges.
"(The race) normally has a version of running up and down mountains, wood chopping, and swimming across a river. They just keep you moving, and they give you tasks," he explained.
Swink said he believes there will be a lot of swimming during the competition, which he is apprehensive about because he describes himself as an average swimmer.
"Hopefully I can keep a humorous mindset and just know that it has to end," Swink said. "I'm hoping I can find enough (in me) to get to the finish line."
In addition to physical challenges, participants also are given mental tasks, such as memorization problems, to perform.
Participants will only be able to move onto the next challenge after they complete the task at hand.
"It's a big mind game," he noted.
The "mind games" really began months ago, and will continue throughout the race, from fake forms to assigning participants bizarre mandatory items they must bring with them to the race.
"One of the mandatory items is knitting needles and yarn, so now I'm currently learning how to knit," he said. "That could be part of the race, or it could just be something to keep me busy while I'm supposed to be training."
In the past, about half of the participants quit within the first eight hours.
Swink said he feels prepared physically, anticipating the most challenging aspect of the race to be the mental tasks.
"The mental battle is probably going to be the hardest part," Swink said. "At any time, (I) can just walk away."
Swink, who has been deployed three times, said he is going to treat this race similar to a combat patrol.
"The military prepares you to be flexible -- to just do anything," he explained.
He said he will be able to use his land navigation skills, mental toughness and resiliency training, and physical fitness skills -- all thanks to his Army training.
"If I can keep telling myself to keep going and to keep taking another step, I should be able to finish -- I hope I can finish," Swink said. "It's not me versus the race or the time -- it's me versus myself."