What do you do if you are missing a little bit? How do you get over the hump? Athletes all over the world look for that thin competitive edge; I’d be lying if I said we didn’t do the same. That explains why we were in North Conway, New Hampshire with a former U.S. Army Ranger doing burpees in the middle of a frozen lake.
As a member of the Northeastern men’s soccer team, we have been trying to change the culture of the program. We are not going to dance around the fact that despite the talent we had, we could not get the results we needed. You do not lose eight one-goal games for no reason. Because of this, we ventured into the icy, northeastern wilderness with Coach Spaldo to learn about leadership on and off the field.
The challenge started even before the trip did. The preparation was extensive and attention to detail was critical. Two feet, two inches of dental floss. Two cotton balls. Two sections of a foot of toilet paper. This, on top of packing base layers, an insulation layer, a shell layer, snacks, water and an oddly specific 2000-3000 cubic inch backpack. As we were leaving at 3 a.m., we witnessed many people just coming back home from their night out while we wondered what the day had in store for us.
It only got more difficult the moment we arrived. We received plenty of climbing gear, but most notably two 70-pound sandbags to represent our two teammates who were unable to make the trip – thanks guys! Except these teammates could not walk for themselves, so we were forced to carry them around all day.
Right away, we started with an eye opener. We completed 45 minutes of perfect burpees in perfect unison…in an hour and a half. Even though we failed to meet the time limit, we learned to unconditionally trust our leaders and to move as a single unit.
During our next challenge, I was appointed co-leader with Alex Koritsas and we were tasked with a two-hour expedition up a mountainside to plant the Northeastern flag at the top. As the group approached the mountain we were faced with inclines reaching approximately 45 degrees. Since I was a leader, my job was to find the easiest route up the mountainside. Once the incline greatly increased and we were a significant way up the mountain, I turned to witness the same thing Spaldo must have seen during his time as an Army Ranger and the same thing my mom saw when she was in Iraq – soldiers fighting for each other, with each other, together.
I saw Harry Swartz on all fours climbing over a block of ice the size of a refrigerator. I saw Coach Gbandi with a 70-pound sandbag on his shoulders, no jacket on and sweating through his t-shirt. And for the first time, I saw an undistinguishable group – coaches and players struggling together. And succeeding together when we reached the mountaintop with 45 minutes to spare.
“There are no bad teams, just bad leaders.”
Something Coach Spaldo said that I remember vividly.
I’ve been surrounded by an amazing leader since the day I was born – my number one fan, my mom. She has greatly inspired me to be the best I can be, whether that’s on the field or in the classroom. One of the first women to graduate from the United States Military Academy, she ran Division I track and received a Bronze Star. My mother fought not only for this country, not only for me, but for the men and women fighting next to her. A value she instilled in me and reiterated by Coach Spaldo that day on the mountain.
We end our sessions by breaking our huddle with a shout: “Family.” It sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is the most fitting. My teammates are the ones I train with, the ones I study with and the ones I live with. Since many of us live far from home, it’s all we’ve got. Whether we are on or off the field, our mentality changes, but the people we are with do not. As a team, we know the challenges of competing at the highest level. We have dedicated much time and effort in order to prepare for next season.
This spring has been a fight due to so many injuries, requiring us to stay together and find a way to fight through it. Although many of us will be separated for the hot summer days, as soon as we get to preseason we will hit the ground running.
Keep an eye out for us. We’ll see you at Parsons.
Photos courtesy Grant Elgin