By By Phil SussmanFebruary 6, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The University of Washington's softball team arrived at Fort Lewis mentally and physically prepared for the worst that the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment could throw at them.
For several hours, Jan. 23, Tomahawk Battalion commander Lt. Col. Chuck Hodges and Soldiers led the UW players through a series of obstacles that challenged both their conditioning and their ability to work as a team.
Alyson McWherter, a junior on the team, and Huskies coach Heather Tarr contacted Alyson's father, Len McWherter, a retired lieutenant colonel and former 1-23 Inf. commander, about organizing a team-building event at Fort Lewis. Hodges and his Soldiers were more than happy to oblige.
Tomahawk Soldiers escorted the Huskies to the obstacle course and immediately began barking orders to the college athletes. Soldiers approached them with blindfolds and instructed the Huskies to arrange themselves in alphabetical order according to their middle names. They then walked the softball players through the course and then set them loose.
"We told them to be ready for anything," Tarr said. She told the women "to learn things about each other and about yourself, overcome your fears and work together."
It wasn't long until the girls made an impression on the Soldiers of 1-23 Inf. who had volunteered to help out for the afternoon.
Specialist Josh Adams said that the girls were "fearless." Impressed by their motivation, Adams admitted that "they're doing better than some of our Soldiers do."
While the day challenged the players with events aimed at pushing them to their physical limits, there was also a strong emphasis on the importance of teamwork.
For Huskies' senior Alicia Blake, it was about "knowing when to push each other and knowing that you, too, can do it yourself."
The day also demonstrated the natural affinity between athletes and Soldiers.
According to Hodges, "the parallels between the team sports and what we do in the Army are very close." They each take "sacrifice, hard work, dedication, communication and commitment to excellence."
By the end of the day, the consensus among both Soldiers and players was that the Huskies had risen to the challenge.
"In my military career I've seen a lot of people do these obstacles," said Len McWherter, "and the girls are attacking these obstacles as well as or better than most people I've seen."
While the exercise lasted only one day, the Huskies walked away with lessons that will stay with them throughout their challenging season to come.
"It's always easy to relate back to something like this," said Alyson McWherter, also an ROTC cadet at UW. "Something that's tough, like getting over the fear of heights, climbing one of these really big obstacles and sliding down head first ... you can always relate back to that.
"Suddenly," said McWherter, "hitting a 60-mph fastball in the World Series doesn't seem as hard."
Phil Sussman is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.