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GoRuck Challenge offers a beast of a bonding experience

Holding heavy rucksacks above their heads, GoRuck Challenge takers do drills at Desoto Park on Friday. Four women and 21 men signed on to the event.
Holding heavy rucksacks above their heads, GoRuck Challenge takers do drills at Desoto Park on Friday. Four women and 21 men signed on to the event.
Published Apr. 9, 2014


Carrying rucksacks stuffed with bricks or sand, four women and 21 men dripped stagnant bay water on the sidewalk. They wore workout clothes and head lamps. At least one carried a kettle bell. • They marched down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on a Friday night, under twinkling white lights past women in short shorts teetering on heels and down a gantlet of bars vibrating with music to arrive at the Bad Monkey just before midnight. • You might wonder about this fluky juxtaposition — the rugged group on the sidewalk counting off pushups in a party zone. But this team had embarked on a grueling all-night adventure in order to experience military-style camaraderie. What better place for them to stop than the Bad Monkey, named for a former Navy SEAL call sign? • It was early yet for them. Before dawn, they would travel 21.5 miles across Tampa with their bricks and ceaseless exercises. At one point, they would take a railroad tie from Cypress Point Park and jointly carry it over their heads. • They call this rucking.

"We want to promote the sport of rucking," said Kit Klein, partnership manager for GoRuck, based in Jacksonville. "We're trying to put it on the map."

The GoRuck Challenge is one of the newest events on the menu of extreme sports.

It started in 2010 with a few events linked to Tough Mudder to market GoRuck rucksacks. The company was founded in 2008 by Jason McCarthy, a former Green Beret, and his friend Jack Barley.

GoRuck now hosts events around the world designed to teach people to navigate forests and oceans and to mountain climb. It hosts spy games modeled after the CIA and an event in Normandy on D-Day. On Sept. 11, there was a New York City event. On May 5, the 1,000th challenge will be in San Francisco.

There are also gatherings for veterans to tell war stories to the public. GoRuck provides the beer and bourbon.

At least a dozen events are planned throughout Florida in May. Find them at

The events known as challenges are designed to be team-building and range from six hours to three days. They aren't races, and no one wins or loses. Challenge takers, as they're called, either pass or fail, with a 93 percent overall pass rate. You fail by quitting.

• • •

On Friday night, a mandate was issued to the challenge takers before the start: If you want to quit, you have to tell the rest of the group.

This was Rick Spear's message to the cluster. Each had paid $140 for the 12-hour event.

Spear, of Jacksonville, served as the leader, or "cadre." GoRuck cadre are 70 Army Special Forces decorated veterans or active-duty members like Spear.

Spear had sent a message to the challenge takers to meet at the flagpole looking toward the pier at Desoto Park at 9 p.m. No one but Spear knew where they would go. Tampa officials hadn't been forewarned either. In past events, when they cross paths with police, the cadre explains the mission.

Spear told the challenge takers that he was on the Special Forces dive team.

"We like to get in the water," he said. "Guess what we're going to be doing tonight?"

Spear had them climb down concrete steps into the mucky bay. They did pushups in the water. Once out, they did a bear crawl and crab crawl. They never let their heavy rucksacks touch the ground.

Five were military or former military members. It was Kaitlyn Bunker's 14th GoRuck challenge. Bunker, a prekindergarten teacher with long blond curls, had completed four other GoRuck events.

When someone struggled and fell behind, they all learned that they would have to work as a team.

"When you're on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan, you have to help your buddy out," Spear said.

After Ybor, the group moved through downtown across Kennedy Boulevard to Howard Avenue, where they stopped at the Lodge for more exercises.

Then they rucked on to Cypress Point Park, where they dipped into the water again. Challenges include an item they find along the way that requires many hands to heave, known as coupons, "redeemable for good living," said Klein, the partnership manager.

Often it's a log. On Friday, it was the railroad tie. The challengers carried it to another park, left it and headed back to Ybor City.

"When you're struggling under that log, you know you're really living," Klein said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at or (813) 226-3431.