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Wilderness challenges military teams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An 8-kilometer run, combined with a 14-mile hike, 12-mile bike race through mountainous terrain, 14-mile whitewater run and 7-mile kayak race down two of the trickiest rivers on the East Coast is challenging even for the military's fiercest warriors.

But they'll take it on this weekend, all for a coin and a plaque. Not to mention bragging rights.

The 12th annual All-Military Wilderness Challenge kicks off Thursday in Fayetteville. Three hundred or more military personnel will descend upon the town to take the challenge.

So far 42 four-person teams from all five branches have signed up for the race, but Mark Piggott, public affairs officer for Naval Weapons Station Yorktown in Virginia, expects a few more to show up.

The event is put on by the Navy's Mid-Atlantic Region, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department, and hosted by ACE Adventure Resort in Fayetteville.

The U.S. Adventure Racing Association recently endorsed the race as a qualifier for its national championship.

"Every year the MWR Wilderness Challenge brings together the best athletes the Armed Forces has to offer and puts them to the test," event coordinator Michael Bond said in a release. "As the competition gets tougher and tougher every year, so do the competitors as more teams battle it out for the title."

The teams come from all over the country and are made up mostly of active duty personnel but have some reservists and retirees on their rosters. Each team also must include at least one woman. Several teams will be made up of wounded warriors who are participating as part of their rehabilitation.

Some teams are joint service teams with members from two branches.

Last year's winners, Team "HT-18" from Helicopter Training Squadron 18 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Florida, was made up of members of the Marine Corps and Navy, Piggott said during a phone interview.

Each participant will receive a commemorative coin. The top three teams from each service branch will receive plaques, and the top three overall also will be honored with plaques.

But the winners also get bragging rights as the most rugged.

The Marine Corps and Coast Guard have won top honors a number of years, Piggott said.

"Army is the only branch yet to win the challenge," Piggott said. "We have one (Coast Guard) team that comes down from Boston, and they zoom through the checkpoints."

The challenge covers a little more than 52 miles and takes two days to complete. The entrants must compete as teams, and the four members must cross each checkpoint and the finish line together.

"This is about promoting fitness and recreation with active duty military," Piggott said. "We want to promote teamwork and camaraderie. These are the same things they use in combat situations."

The first leg begins Friday with the 8-kilometer run though the mountains followed immediately by the 14-mile whitewater raft race down the Gauley River.

The second leg kicks off Saturday with a 12-mile mountain bike race to the New River, where the teams will hop into two-man duckies, or kayaks, to begin the 7-mile ride through Class I and Class III rapids. The 14-mile hike through the mountains to the finish line caps the race.

"These teams are worn out and exhausted as they cross that finish line," Piggott said. "I've seen them carry teammates across the line.

"It's a big thing for them and an accomplishment only they can have."

Piggott said many of the teams train for the event all year. He said about a quarter of the participating teams are repeating.  

"Fifty-two-plus miles over two days over some of the toughest terrain there is," Piggott said to sum up the race. "It is a lot over two days, but these teams put themselves through it and strive for good competition."

Keith Gwinn, state Veterans Assistance secretary, will be on hand for the event this weekend.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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