125 students, 25 schools, 23 miles: Hardest race in ROTC

The most grueling competition that the UW-La Crosse military program has kicked off today.

125 students from 25 universities are trying to be crowned the Northern Warfare Challenge champions.

This is a very strenuous race.

Students start at the Onalaska Armory, march up Granddad Bluff and have to conquer several obstacles before heading back down to the Armory.

In fact, it’s so challenging that many students won’t even be able to finish.

Candidates have 10 hours to finish a 23-mile course with 35 pounds on their back.

Lt. Col. Erik Archer, chair of military science at UW-La Crosse, said, “There’s nothing I’ve seen in all of candidate command that is as difficult and competitive as this right here.”

Archer said during this challenge, participants will find out what they’re truly made of.

“Really, the purpose of today is just to give cadets an obstacle, an opportunity to find what their limit they think is and see if they can surpass that,” Archer said.

If they can finish the race, Archer says they’ll have the confidence to overcome almost anything.

“This is an emotional, physical event for them, so in weeks, days, years and decades later, they will remember that I was confronted with this, I didn’t think I could do it and I did,” Archer said.

With snow, wind and subzero temperatures, hypothermia is a big concern.

Christian Filipiak, a senior nursing cadet at Viterbo University, said: “As I see cadets come through with their teams, I’m making sure- ‘Are your feet doing OK, do you look like you’re exhibiting hypothermia symptoms?’ They might not be able to tell us where they’re at or what’s going on.”

Filipiak is one of the ROTC nursing students who’s keeping an eye on race participants at every checkpoint.

“It is a hard and grueling event. It goes up and down the bluffs five or six times, so it’s quite the course. Six hundred feet straight up and straight back down,” Filipiak said.

So far, he’s had to pull eight students from the event for safety reasons, but many more will want to quit on their own.

“If your body doesn’t break down, your brain is going to break down first, but you’ve got to push yourself through it,” Filipiak said.

By pushing themselves through this challenge, Archer says students will be ready to enter the Army.

“They can be confronted with a challenge that might seem insurmountable at the beginning, but with training, effort, teamwork and camaraderie, it can be overcome,” Archer said.

In addition to the race, participants had to complete different challenges, such a pulling a teammate in a sled for miles, starting a fire with limited supplies and completing a weapons challenge.

Schools from as far away as North Dakota and Missouri participated in the challenge.

Get your weather forecast from people that actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.