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Goruck Challenge tests Orange County crew in 12-hour special ops training
While most of us slept in the dark of night, a group of determined men ran through the streets of Orange County with 40 pounds of bricks attached to their backs.
The 20 men crawled into the ocean off Newport Beach, kicking their legs until they burned in the chilly waters while at the same time getting slapped by waves. When they came across a 10-foot long tree trunk in the Back Bay, they lifted it and carried it on their shoulders for five miles. When a comrade slowed down, they didn't let him quit.
This is the Goruck Challenge – a 12-hour long test of endurance, teamwork, physical and mental strength that gives civilians a taste of what military special ops training is like for a night. It was created by former Green Beret Jason McCarthy in 2010, and has caught on around the globe with nighttime challenges held everywhere from Germany to Australia.
So far, there have been about 345 challenges held worldwide. The event is also a fundraiser for the Green Beret Foundation.
"He created this to bridge the gap between civilians and special operations. We try to push them, we try to get them to work as a team," said Cadre Michael Stewart, who flew in from Boise, Idaho, to lead the group in the challenge. "These guys pulled together really strong. They kept motivated, they kept strong."
Stewart, who was in Air Force Special Operations and a Force Recon Marine before a severe spinal injury last year, said one team member had to drop out within five miles because of knee problems. There were nine checkpoints along the 18-mile route to assess how the team was holding up.
Reggie Escalante, of Aliso Viejo, had been training for months with bricks in a backpack for the challenge. He tried to eat healthy and avoid injuries as the challenge approached.
"It helps push me to a different level. I'm 41, but I have two active kids, and I'm always running around with them," he said. "I'm always up for that next physical challenge. And I really wanted to do a challenge I've never done."
It started at 1 a.m. at the Newport Pier; the team immediately getting soaked as their first challenge. Then they made their way through the quiet streets of Newport to the Back Bay, then through Costa Mesa and eventually near the Huntington Pier before turning back around to Newport Beach toward their finish point.
As they approached the Santa Ana River mouth at noon, they thought about trying to wade through the waters after seeing a dog paddle across. But after seeing a group of surfers – chins barely above water – trying to make it across, they decided trying to do the same with bricks on their backs wouldn't be easy, and instead were forced to figure out a different route.
Escalante wasn't without physical difficulty during the Goruck Challenge, with cramps that pierced through his legs so bad he thought he'd have to quit. But his teammates refused to let him, hoisting him above their shoulders for parts of the trek and carrying his 40-pound ruck, in addition to their own backpacks filled with bricks.
"They decided to not leave me behind," he said. "They are an amazing group of guys. As long as you put in your effort, they want to make sure you finish with them. We all had to finish as a team."
As the group staggered along the sand near the finish point in Newport north of the pier about 1 p.m. – 12 hours after their start – Escalante led the group hoisting an American flag high.
Natalie Gattrell, of Costa Mesa, was on the sand cheering and shaking a cow bell as they neared. She was there as they started as the bars closed and stuck with the group until 3 a.m., before going home for a nap and returning at 6 a.m. to support boyfriend Chris Guardado.
"They are building a brotherhood of guys who love their country, but aren't in the military. It's 12 hours of guts and glory," she said. "I'm so proud of him. I just love seeing them test each other and push it to the max."
Earl Averill, of Irvine, said a friend from the Crossfit Newport Beach gym "suckered me into doing it," and he was glad he did.
"What a great experience – the camaraderie, new friends, new experiences," he said, proudly clutching a patch that read "Goruck Tough."
"You gotta earn this."
Costa Mesa's Dan Hartloff said he just kept thinking to himself "keep going, keep going, keep going."
"I feel amazing. Maybe it's tired, exhausted, but it's almost borderline emotional," he said.
And how will he celebrate his extreme accomplishment?
"Maybe take nap and have a big cheeseburger or a steak – and a cold beer."
Contact the writer: Lconnelly@ocregister.com