"The timorous may stay at home."
~ Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 483 (N.Y. 1929)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cashews, Leadership, and Lessons Learned

[Fair warning: this post may be full of typos and grammatical errors. I'm tired. I'm freakin' tired. 15+ hour work days, pre- and post-S.E.R.E., have left me running on empty. So bear with me.]

When I arrived this past Friday in D.C. to for the inaugural S.E.R.E Challenge, I really had no idea what to expect. And I was excited by that. As the members of Class 001B gathered at our RP next to the Washington Monument at 10pm (or 2200, if I want to go all military on you), I was ready for unknown. But what I didn't realize was that, before all was said and done, the most important thing that I would take away from S.E.R.E. were the lessons that I would learn--about myself, about others, and about life in general.

But because I hate being too serious, I'll give you the "fun" lessons first:

Never underestimate an allergy (a.k.a. "Don't be a freakin' idiot") I have a tree nut allergy. So the fact that unknowingly packed a bar whose first ingredient was CASHEWS makes me retard #1. When our rations were returned to us several hours into the challenge, I tore into the first available thing. And I immediately knew I was in deep shit.

Let's be clear: I've never suffered a SEVERE reaction to cashews; typically, my throat swells and I get nauseous and need to puke it all up, but it clears up after awhile. But for whatever reason, this reaction was worse than the others. But the throat was swelling, and the vomiting began. Leave it to trusty Joel to realize that there was something seriously wrong for me (more than just the "I puke when I'm awake for too long syndrome.")

No, I don't have an EpiPen and I didn't have liquid Benadryl. And neither did anyone else. So at 4am in the middle of Georgetown, I sat on the curb, puking my guts out through a swollen throat. Joel, Cory, and Jon sprinted to the closest 24-hour CVS, and brought me back some liquid Benadryl. (Note to self: biting into LiquiGel Benadryl will immediately stop the reaction. But it also tastes like absolute ass. Or what I imagine ass would taste like.) So Class 001B, thank you. I apologize for the 20-minute delay. And I apologize for the chunky rainbow show. Lessons learned: take your allergies seriously. Come prepared. And for the love of God, read labels.

A pelican case is an awkward thing to snatch. Tee-hee, I said snatch. After leading the team low-crawling through sewage and rocks, I was told to start squatting the pelican case while I waited for my class to finish. Brilliant me decided that the best way would be to snatch the pelican case and dropped it on my pack. With some poor form, the case ended up on my head. Pelican case 1; Amelia 0

I cannot chest to deck with a 40lb ruck on. Well, I can do one minus a half. Time to work on that upper body strength. I can, however, do Hello Dollies ALL. NIGHT. LONG. 

If I had to low crawl over rocks to save my life, I would be dead. JHE, with his sniper skills, would have picked me off in a minute from a mile away. Or less than a minute. The bright teal hat also probably would have given me away.

The occupy D.C. people were not occupying their tents at 4am. As we ran through, nary a soul stirred despite the loud heckling, swearing, whistling, and shouts of "occupy my ruck!" They must go home to sleep at their mommy and daddy's house. 

Always carry ketchup. It would have made those raw eggs taste waaaaaaay better. During our first mission, we were given an egg to carry with us. The only rule: the egg can't break no matter what. Obviously eggs got broken. But even during our low crawls, I managed to keep my egg intact. So when we were told to get rid of our eggs, but that we couldn't throw them on the ground, some dsparkle had the brilliant idea to eat them, shell and all.

So let me get this straight--my reward for not breaking the egg was to pop a whole raw egg into my mouth and eat it, shell and all? Excellent. Yum. So down went the egg, shell and all. At least it tasted a hell of a lot better than liquid Benadryl.

Sherry's own creation
Bacon chocolate pizza is the best thing ever. As is Sherry Post. Enough said.

But S.E.R.E. wasn't all fun and games. I learned a few important lessons, and ones that shouldn't be taken lightly...

Trust in my leadership ability.  I've always considered myself a leader, and a pretty competent leader at that. I prefer the leadership role, and have been one in multiple capacities: sports, school, work, etc. But when Todd was fired as our leader at 2am (WTF--who fires Todd?!), and I was told to take over, panic set in.  I had to fill the shoes of a trained Army staff sergeant? And gain the respect of my 37 member class, a sizeable number of whom were active and former Marines and Army? Intimidated didn't begin to describe it.

And I failed at first. I failed to mobilize my class, and I failed to lead effectively, due to that voice of doubt in the back of my mind.  And that insecurity that crept in: why would any of them respect and/or listen to me, a civilian city-girl that sits in an office for 14 hours day? I believed I was wholly underqualified, and I choked.

But, entering the WWII memorial, and starting our second mission, I was handed a puzzle. No, not a figurative puzzle. A legit 1000-piece puzzle that the team needed to solve to find our next rally point. And something clicked. This was where I excel--I lead with my mind. And, as we made up 2 hours of time through quick-puzzle solving, I began to find my groove.

Nut up. Bad pun? Not really. Nut up, as in "grow some balls and do the unpopular thing." I was told by the operators to peer people out.  (As an aside, I did not know what "peering" someone out meant until last week). Our class was moving too slowly, and we were suffering dearly for it. People were cold, packs were heavy, and I tried to get people to run. But despite my efforts to pick up the pace, I kept being yelled at from the ranks to slow down. Others told me to put the slowest and the injured at the front of the class, and let them set the pace. So I did.

And because of that, much to my frustration, the pace slowed. Class 001B, I love you guys, but I should have grown some balls and peered people out. And because I didn't, our entire class suffered. It's not a popular thing to do, and one that isn't common in other challenges. But S.E.R.E. was a different kind of challenge. And despite being told to drop the dead weight, I chose the path of least resistance.

The smell of the Potomac in the morning...
It's the people around you that make a difference. In a team challenge such as this, you live and die by your fellow classmembers. So thank you, Class 001B. Thanks for listening to me, thanks for supporting me, and thanks for teaching me a lot about myself. I look forward to seeing all you crazies out there again soon.

For more glimpses into our challenge, see here and here


  1. Great write up Amelia. I heard about your reaction from Paul. I also heard your leadership grew as the night wore on. leaders often doubt their abilities, its what gives them compassion but also the ability to lead instead of getting people to follow out of fear.

  2. Really enjoying your blog! My buds and I are entered in our first ever TM event(New England), in May. Besides training, I've been scouring the net for blogs like yours. Nice job, congrats on WTM!! and definitely the S.E.R.E. challenge! Those events are no BS.
    Keep writing, it's very good stuff.
    I hope you don't mind, I wrote about your blog at thecinderblock.wordpress.com



  3. Thanks for the link, Z! I appreciate it!