MOLENA Ga.--Had he not stopped to help a competitor who fell and broke his leg, JROTC Cadet Manuel Angel from West Creek High School, Clarksville, Tenn., probably would have won the male Ultimate Raider in the 2013 National Raider Championships. But even with that act of selfless service he ended up placing fourth overall.

It was that kind of dedication and perseverance that brought many of the competitions 1,100 JROTC Cadets -- a record number of participants--to the Gerald Lawhorn Scouting Base, an hour south of Atlanta, to test themselves against the best Raiders from throughout the United States.

When the dust settled and the mud was washed away, Adairsville (Ga.) High School found itself standing in first place for the overall Female Division Raider Championship, and a first place for the Ultimate Raider female, while Campbell High School, Smyrna, Ga., captured first place for the overall male division.

Smith-Cotton High School, Sedalia, Mo., fended off fierce competition to take home the first place trophy for overall mixed division, and Paulding County High School, Dallas, Ga.,took the Ultimate Raider title in the male division.

Alexandria Stewart, captain of the mixed team, thought her team's chances would be good because, "We gave 100 percent in each event -- no silly mistakes -- so if someone beat us it would be fair and square."

Like many other teams, Stewart said her team trained during the summer, and five days a week at school once summer vacation was over.

"The (cross-country rescue) was our favorite event, not during it. But after it we thought it was cool," she added. "We had good times in all the events and if had any issue it would be in the (physical training challenge)."

Going into the awards ceremony, Adairsville female team Captain Chrissy Shook said they thought they might beat their placing last year.

"When the competition started we thought our chances were higher than last year--we took third last year," Shook said. "We practiced in the summer and at school once it started."

"This is just a good example for us on how you have to push yourself--you have to work hard and realize that you can do anything you put your mind to," said teammate Abbey Ranic.

The National Raider Competition is a two-day event that challenges cadets mentally and physically in five events. They compete in a team 5K run, set up a rope bridge and cross a creek, the cross-country rescue, the gauntlet, and team physical training challenge that includes a low-crawl, and carrying a weighted canoe around one side of a pond.

The Ultimate Raider was an individual event. Each team was allowed one female, if they had a female or mix team, and one male, if they had a male or mixed team. Participants ran with weighted rucksacks for more than a mile, then ran through the woods-- females dropped their packs before entering the woods -- on the CCR course on which they had competed the day before.

The course followed the river and included a vaulting obstacle and a tunnel. When participants emerged they had to complete a low crawl, males would then drop the rucksacks and everyone had to climb over a 12-foot wall to finish.

For some teams the competition was all about bonding, and gaining confidence, but for others it was a first-time event from which they can learn for next year.

Estill County High School, Irvine, Ky., was competing for the first time and Cadets were looking forward to it. But the opportunity almost slipped away when the team bus broke down on the trip.

"It took us about 14 hours to get here," said team member Sylvia Bowman. "We sat for a while before the bus got fixed. We got in around 2 a.m. the morning we were supposed to compete. We didn't get much sleep."

But she said the Cadets learned two things at the event.

"We learned that we want to come back next year," she said. "And we learned that we should leave a day early."
For Sarasota (Fla.) Military Academy, last year was their leaning year. Cadets said they didn't do as well as they wanted so they took notes.

"We took the times of everyone who won last year and trained to them," said retired Master Sgt. Johnny Browning. "We came back this year, gave it all we had and our female team tied for first. Unfortunately the tiebreaker went to the other team, but I can't but be prouder of their performance. So we thank the Lord and are proud of these kids!"

Francis Lewis High School, Fresh Meadows, N.Y., is always a powerhouse at Raider Nationals, and while finishing second in the male division, and third place in the female Ultimate Raider, they didn't recapture any of the first place trophies they have won over the last several years.

"We train hard, and we train as a team," said team captain Dennis Wu. "So going into the final day we felt very good about our chances."

But the quality of competition gets better every year as more schools and more students enter the event, according to Justin Gates, competition director.

"Throughout the competition the scores were never very far apart, which might indicate the level of training the schools are doing," he added.

But Adairsville offered words of encouragement to the teams around them who came to compete but went home empty handed.

"You should never give up, and you can accomplish anything you want to with the help of your teammates," said Tara Rollins. "These teams tried hard and gave their all, and they should come back next year and try again because a few years ago that was us."