By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterOctober 31, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 31, 2013) -- As two competitors raced neck and neck up a hill near Beaver Lake Oct. 24 it seemed that a tie might be in order for Team 3 and Team 8. That was until one competitor collapsed from exhaustion just 50 yards from the finish line.
The Iron Aviator, a Captain's Career Course class cycle event, was livelier than usual with large, themed and energetic pit crews and a dramatic finish by two teams that gave it their all in the spirit of friendly competition.
"I think it is really important to relax with friends after such a hard course, and I love to bike so doing the race was natural and really fun for me," said 1st Lt. Gabriel Czapiewski, Polish Armed Forces.
Czapiewski's team, Team 8, was in the lead 99 percent of the race, but ultimately claimed second place by 23 seconds when teammate Maj. Egrul Altun from Turkey fell a few yards from the finish line.
"The hills on the route really made me tired and on the last 100 meters I felt my legs begin to give out and got discouraged when I saw (Kendz) catching up to me," said Altun. "I couldn't feel my legs at all and when I tried to speed up, my legs just gave away."
There were ten teams this year and only three individuals who competed for the ultimate title of Iron Aviator, but the honor went to Capt. Anthony Tankiewicz from Tacoma, Wash., who will transfer to Fort Carson upon graduation Oct. 30. Tankiewicz finished with a time of 1 hour, 53 minutes and 17 seconds.
"I was just glad to finish, I didn't even realize that I had won," he said. "The run was so hard because I am not a runner and I was exhausted by the run anyway; but having everyone here to support me was amazing. It was a good competition overall because it was challenging in the first place and there was some great competition out here today."
During the event, Soldiers endured a 4.5-mile ruck march, 300-meter swim, 10k bike ride and 2.5-mile run that tested everything from endurance to mental toughness. The ruck march required Soldiers to traverse a knee-to thigh-high swamp.
"It is a morale boost at the end of the course. It is one way to decompress and release all that stress that has built up over the last couple of months in a safe and productive way," said Maj. Brian Major, A Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment company commander, adding that the participants learn more than just camaraderie and teamwork.
"Triumph through adversity is one of those things that the Army always encourages, and this is a very tough event," he said. "Understanding the team's strengths and weaknesses prior to the event helps each Soldier build up their confidence to tackle this very tough course."
Family involvement at the competition was also larger than life this year with dogs, children and spouses on scene cheering on their friends and loved ones.
"The Families do not get to see most of the activities that we do during the course. So this is one of the few times that we want them to take the day off and encourage them to cook out here and celebrate in each other's company the rest of the afternoon," said the company commander.
Winning Team 3 consisted of Capt. Jeff Epps, Capt. Steven Wisniewski, Capt. Phil Leathead, Capt. Kendz Toussaint, and the team was ecstatic that they pulled off a win at the last second.
"The best part of the entire thing was our entire group supporting each other and everyone getting involved. We had a great team setting and construction and it paid off in the end," said Epps. "It's great to do things as a collective team and we had the backing of our class. Their cheers made you want to push yourself even harder."
"It was pretty tough being neck and neck with the other runner, but I knew when I saw his legs trembling and when he started to reach for the ground that I'd catch him," said Kendz.
Out of good sportsmanship, Leathead helped Altun up so he could finish the race, and everyone celebrated the competition with burritos, corn hole and a cold one.