MOLENA Ga. (Nov. 10) -- Uriel Vera, a senior JROTC student at Osborne High School in Marietta Georgia, shouldn't have completed the Ultimate Raider portion of the 2014 Raider National Competition held at the Gerald Lawhorn Scouting Base, an hour south of Atlanta.

He was so exhausted and dehydrated by the last part of the event he couldn't run and could barely walk. He had to drag his 40-pound rucksack to its required resting place, he almost tripped down an embankment into the woods, and there is no logical reason why he made it over a 12-foot wall to complete the event.

Except one--character. And a healthy dose of determination.

It's those qualities that JROTC teaches its students as part of its citizenship program. And it is those same qualities that brought a record number of schools -- 49 with 87 teams and 1,210 cadets from across the United States -- to the 2014 Raider Nationals to compete for best events, overall best teams, and overall Ultimate Raider.

After the final event was complete Nov. 9, and the last scores tallied, Riverside Military Academy, from Gainesville, Georgia, took first place for the overall male title; Smith Cotton High School, out of Sedalia, Missouri, captured the overall mixed title; and Adairsville High School, Adairsville, Georgia, performed a rare repeat claiming a first place for the female division.

Sarasota Military Academy's female team tied the Adairsville Lady Tigers for first, and a tie-breaker using the scores from the physical team test decided the winner.

The Ultimate Raider titles--the best female and male--went to Emily Sexaur of Adairsville and Joseph Poteet of Island Coast High School in Cape Coral Florida.

Emily Sexaur, captain of the Adairsville female team, thought her team's chances would be good because, "We train hard and our times are better then last year, so we thought we would have a good result."

Before the awards ceremony Mallory Latsko, a senior at Sarasota Military Academy in Sarasota Florida and the JROTC Raider team captain, said they felt confident that they could finish near the top because they knew their times were better than they posted last year.

"Regardless of how we finish, we attribute our success to the coaches," she added. "They plan all our practices, mentor and coach us and put in a lot of time with us. We couldn't be what we are without them."

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 competition is similar to a tough mudder or a Spartan Run.

The Ultimate Raider was an individual event. Each team was allowed one female, if they had a female or mixed-gender 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.

Osborne High School senior Nyvia Cruz, and the team's commander, said her team trained every day after school and she knew that since they gave the competition a 100 percent effort, whatever the outcome she would be happy.

"I think being a Raider is about communication and meeting with friends. They are my second family, people I can talk to," she said of being on a Raider team. "It's not about winning but about how much you give it and the bonding you have with your friends."

According to Justin Gates, competition director, the training and time the teams put into preparation for the event impresses him.

"In watching this event I had to think that rarely do kids these days compete at something where you sacrifice of yourself and you work until total exhaustion. They remember the effort and what it took to overcome and succeed and it seems to mean more to most of them then getting an award," he said.

"The level of commitment, discipline and preparation it takes to do this is equal to any high school sport or any extreme training event like a tough mudder or a Spartan. You really have to train for each event."

Although Osborne's Vera didn't win the Ultimate Raider title, and his team didn't win the overall team title, they did take home some event trophies, which is something of which he can be proud.
He said before he joined JROTC he didn't belong anywhere, was always in trouble and was failing school. All that changed when he found "a family." But last year he was in a fight and was suspended from the Raider team just before nationals.

"I felt like I let them down. They trusted me and I failed them and I felt like if I had been there they would have done better," Vera explained. "So I made a promise to myself to be the best and not let my team down."

As medics treated him for exhaustion and dehydration after his gutsy finish, one thing was clear: although he didn't finish first, he kept his promise.