About 1,000 Naval Academy plebes fought through 14 hours of rigorous training Tuesday as part of the 2019 Sea Trials needed endurance, motivation and a touch of superhero inspiration.
Through moments of exhaustion, the shouts to keep going and the cheers after completing a course, students experienced one of the final events of freshman year.
The training, which was held from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m., is created to challenge midshipmen physically and mentally while going through multiple stations, all in the effort to build bonds and sharpen teamwork.
“Everyone is pushing each other, even when we are struggling, sweating and feeling like we can’t do it,” said Midshipman 4th Class Emma Kate Cumbo from North Carolina. “You are literally being pushed by everybody else. It’s really awesome.”
As plebes crawled through sandy trenches, lifted logs over their shoulders and climbed ropes, they resembled another team that built strong bonds to obtain a certain goal, to save the world — superheros featured in the recent movie “Avengers: Endgame,” a culmination of 22 Marvel-based movies.
While plebes pushed past exhaustion or frustration, who did they feel like in that moment in order to endure another exercise station?
Midshipman 4th Class Taylor Buchanan thought of the scientist who turns big, green and mean when he transforms into the Hulk to fight when she was at the Ruck Run/Assault station. There, plebes ran a course to save two casualties while trying to avoid becoming being struck with a water balloon, making their team carry them back.
Working with her company mates to get through the station helped keep Buchanan encouraged, she said.
“I think just being around my company mates, knowing that they are not going to leave anyone behind. We mostly stick together and push each other to keep going,” said Buchanan, from South Carolina.
At another station, the plebes focused primarily on helping one another safely get from the beginning of a training course to the end, all while one person is blindfolded and required to hold onto a bag filled with water.
Midshipman 4th Class Courtney Tse, from Ellicott City, went through the course while blindfolded and her two company mates assisted her as she stood on top of a stack of rubber tires then walked her through the damp, muddy field.
“What we learned is that the blindfolded person has to trust the two people, and I trusted them a lot,” Tse said.
“And the people who aren’t blindfolded have to work together on a strategy to get them across,” she said.
Tse, who saw the movie “Avengers: Endgame,” felt like Iron Man especially because of the movie’s ending.
“It’s whatever it takes and in Endgame he gave his all for his team,” she said. “That is what we are doing here, we are working with our company and putting others before ourselves.”
While the students worked with each other to get through each station, upper class mids helped coordinate and instruct the plebes on what they should be doing and how they could improve.
One of the station commanders assisted plebes crawl through the trenches of a wet and sandy course. Midshipman 3rd Class Matthew Christenson, from California, helped them throw on their helmets and vests before instructing them on what to do to get through the muddy terrain.
“You get wet, you get sandy, you get uncomfortable but your whole company is getting wet, sandy, and uncomfortable,” Christenson said. “You don’t want to be the one who holds everyone back so you motivate yourself and then there is a lot of positive energy.”
As students crawl, the song “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne blasts from speakers. When they all finished the plebes run for a group photo — despite the soggy uniforms and the dirt splayed across their faces.
“You stand up, you are covered in mud and someone takes your picture and you feel like you crawled through a trench in Vietnam,” Christenson said.
When asked if he felt a little like a superhero or an action figure, he smiled and cracked a joke.
“I don’t know if I am tall enough to be Thor or Captain America, but it was definitely a cool experience — especially during the trench crawl.”
The companies rotated from station to station through the cold morning to the warm midday as the teams of plebes continued to endure the vigorous training. The event, in addition to the Herndon Climb, finishes out the year for the freshman class.
Sea Trials includes shore defense, combat fitness test, military operations, damage control and more. Some stations require strategic thinking and coordination, while others allow students to tussle and fight.
A station with a wooden ring pitted one of the 30 companies against another company using pugil sticks. After the students received instruction on safety and the proper gear to put on, the whistle was blown and two plebes used the padded sticks to push one another out of the ring.
After Midshipman 4th Class Cade Gelhar, from Wisconsin, exited the ring, he felt exhilarated.
“At the beginning of the day I was kind of like ‘Eh, I don’t know if I want to do it,’ but then you put the suit on and you get in the ring. It is so much fun,” Gelhar said. “Everyone is around you and it is one-on-one combat.”
As he spoke, the students in the background continued to cheer and yell for their side.
Gelhar said he felt like Batman because though he is mysterious and lives in the shadows, the vigilante of Gotham is also smart.
In addition to one-on-one training exercises, the stations incorporate necessary teamwork and coordination. On the banks of the Severn River, students rushed into the waters with their life jackets fastened and their oars at the ready for a race.
Upperclassmen yelled out motivation to help them to go faster as the plebes try to jump onto gray boats and then figure out the best way to row down the river and back.
Though he didn’t feel like a superhero, Midshipman 4th Class Isaac Thompson from California, said instead he feels like Goku from the animated series, Dragon Ball Z.
“He is a strong guy but he is always working with his friends to achieve a greater goal,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t do things just for himself, he does things to protect his friends and for the people he loves.”
Once Thompson was finished with the exercise, he remarked how these events help foster motivation with his company.
“Everybody is motivating each other to push each other beyond their limits — it is a really great environment,” Thompson said. “We are doing things that before today we thought we wouldn’t be able to do.”