FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- Austin Peay State University had started the second day of competition at the 7th Brigade ROTC Bold Warrior Challenge Nov. 3 hovering in about the 5th place position.

After accomplishing four previous events, they arrived at the "Resupply" mission intent on closing the gap between fifth and first.

Halfway into the course, disaster struck.

One of the cadets, senior Wesley Gray, dropped his load of tires so he could switch out with a teammate struggling with a heavier load. Testers reminded him that equipment can't touch the ground, and he was forced to haul a tire back to the start of the course and then to the end as the rest of the team continued on to the finish and waited for his arrival.

"We went under an obstacle and I was going to switch out with one of the boxes since it had some weight inside of it. I wasn't thinking," said Gray. "I was just going to throw them to the side and didn't think about the penalty."

The regional-level Best Ranger challenge at Fort Knox pitted 18 university teams against one another in a head-to-head matchup involving 35 mission site tasks that tested their physical, mental and military abilities.

The teams spent Day 1 of the competition at the Disney Barracks Complex, performing a series of physical exercises at an obstacle course. The two-hour course started at 7:30 p.m., but the cadets were kept awake well into the night accomplishing other tasks and preparing for Day 2.

Throughout the day Saturday, teams raced around a 31-mission course, facing timed obstacles along a wooded road that were designed to test them physically and mentally. Each team had to decide who and how to accomplish each mission and in what order.

Land navigation points dotted the surrounding area, which provided extra points. The missions required a majority of each team to accomplish them together, with two alternates able to sit out, so teams also strategized how best to utilize the alternates.

Some teams sent their alternates to find all the land navigation points. Others changed up alternates at each mission, allowing some members a break from challenges and the team to pick which members to face each challenge depending on their strengths.

The University of Louisville chose to rotate their alternates.

"We try to keep people fresh for every event," said University of Louisville cadet Paul Wallenhorst.

Chosen as alternates at "The Pit of Misery," he and Nolan Wesley, both juniors, relaxed while their teammates faced the deep, steep depression, which requires teams to drag several roped tires up and down the depression and negotiate two suspended ropes, all within 20 minutes.

"We kind of smoked ourselves on some upper-body stuff earlier so they set us out and we'll switch it up at the next event," said Wesley.

The earlier upper-body smoker was the nearby resupply mission, where Gray had dropped his tires.

Shortly after the U of L successfully negotiated the pit in 17 minutes, the University of Dayton in Ohio prepared to tackle it.

Dayton's team took advantage of a log-jam at the pit to get some food and rest before taking it on. Freshman Rachel VerDow said the rest was helpful because a lack of sleep from the night before made the challenges more difficult for her, as did her size.

"The hardest thing has been the rucking," she said. "I don't weigh that much, I'm pretty small and my legs are short, so it's really hard to keep up with some of these guys. It's been exerting that energy between challenges that has been the hardest."

For Chase Lorenzo, a cadet from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, the whole competition proved harder than he initially expected.

"It's been pretty challenging," said Lorenzo. "There have been some mental challenges, but mostly it's been like a lot of tough physical challenges that get to your head as well."

At the beginning of Day 2, Bowling Green took on the nearest point from the starting point. At that event, teams were blind-folded and driven to an unknown point, where they were then dropped off -- blind folds removed -- and given a short time to make it back to the start.

"Initially, when we got out of the van, there was confusion trying to get our bearings and figure out where we were," said Lorenzo.

A big part of what they tried to decide was which reference point to use to get back. They thought about using the main road as the reference point at first but changed their minds.

"We turned back and figured the thing that made the most sense was the simplest, and that was a huge wooded hill that we had to go up," said Lorenzo.

Although the hill turned out to be difficult to climb, they realized once they reached the top of the hill that they had found the trail leading back.

By Sunday morning, Bowling Green finished 15th at the competition; U of L reached the 10th spot; and Dayton earned 13th.

Austin Peay overcame the earlier penalty to reach second place -- just behind Central State University.

Central State's win earns them the right to represent the brigade at the U.S. Military Academy's spring 2019 Sandhurst event, where as many as 70 teams from West Point and Cadet Command's brigades will compete against other service academies and international teams for the ultimate bragging rights.


2018 Bold Warrior Challenge teams ranked in order of points earned:
1. Central State University
2. Austin Peay State University
3. Ohio University
4. Michigan State University
5. Purdue University
6. University of Notre Dame
7. University of Akron
8. Ball State University
9. East Tennessee State University
10. University of Louisville
11. Vanderbilt University
12. Indiana University -- Purdue University Indianapolis
13. University of Dayton
14. Indiana University
15. Bowling Green State University
16. Eastern Kentucky University
17. Xavier University (Miami)
18. University of Michigan