By Rachael Tolliver, ROTCNovember 10, 2014
MOLENA Ga. (Nov. 10, 2014) -- Forty nine schools and 87 teams from across the United States met at the Gerald Lawhorn Scouting Base, located an hour south of Atlanta, for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Raider Nationals, Saturday and Sunday.
In trying to imagine what a Raider competition is, many people visualize a military competition with sit-ups, pushups, running and other military tasks. However, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, known simply as JROTC, isn't a formal military organization. It is a citizenship program designed to teach leadership, confidence, appreciation for community service, and other qualities that will help young people succeed in whatever they do after high school.
And the Raider competition isn't like the U.S. Army Ranger competition, or even like an Army Physical Fitness Test.
A good way of describing Raider Nationals, said Retired Master Sgt. Antione Clark, JROTC instructor at Cedar Shoals, in Athens Georgia, is comparing it on a team level to a Tough Mudder, Spartan Run, or Warrior Dash.
Clark's JROTC program acts as the host school and prepares the course, provides the signage and the equipment.
"You have to train up, and prepare months in advance, just like any in any sport, Clark explained. "This is an extreme sport that incorporates a lot of critical thinking, mental and physical capabilities that push the participants to the limit, and things like team work and leadership are tested."
But unlike a Spartan or Tough Mudder, a Raider has 12 competitors on a team, and 10 team members compete at any time, and others can be rotated out. This event is about team work, and not one or two people who do it all by themselves.
Bluffton High School, from Bluffton, South Carolina, had two teams in the competition this year. Four of the members of the mixed squad spent most of their summer trying to complete a Spartan trifecta.
A trifecta means someone has completed a Spartan Sprint, Super and Beast in one calendar year, anywhere in the world one of the three races is being held. Sparta's are races with a series of obstacle placed within. For example, a Super Spartan is an eight-mile race that will have more than 20 obstacles across difficult terrain, which test a participant's physical strength and mental resolve.
Cameron Etheridge, one of the four Spartan runners, said when he first saw a Spartan advertisement on the internet, he thought it might be interesting.
"We had done mud races, swamp romps and such, so when we found the Spartan we saw it as a step above that -- something more of a challenge," Etheridge explained. "We did the first one, loved it and went back and did two more to complete a trifecta, in the 2014 calendar year."
Vincent Angelino, whose parents help with carpooling to the Spartan events, said of the three races he liked the Virginia Super the best, because it was, "long and had lots of obstacles."
"It was in the mountains, so it seemed more exciting. It pushed us to our limits. We weren't expecting to go on the second hardest one in the country, but we did and it was really exciting to do that race," Angelino said.
As the four Raider team members were running the Virginia Super in August, Luis Estrada said he remembers the team joking about how the "gauntlet" event at Raider Nationals would be easy, after the Virginia Super.
Each of the Raiders has his or her favorite event, including Roman Castro who said of the Spartan events he likes running, but of Raider events he likes the cross-country rescue because of the mud pit participants must crawl through. But all four cadets agreed that hard work and training for the specific events is a requirement in any of the extreme races.
"I would place the Raider up there with the Spartans at about an eight on a scale of one to ten, because you are going through some hazardous environments," Etheridge said. "People break bones, it happens all the time, and you are carrying weight on top of completing obstacles and running, and it adds to the difficulty, so I would give it an eight."
This year the Raider field is the largest in its history, and there are no easy roads to the top when the best teams in the nation attend this event.
"It's a higher level of competition at nationals, so not only are you training for months, you are training to compete against the best," Etheridge said. "It's all a level playing field when you get here."