Monday, October 27, 2014

A Scar Etched by Sand

A Scar Etched by Sand

It happened so quickly.

One second I was face down in the sand, crawling back through the water towards the other candidates telling Cadre Bert “NO WAY, I WILL NOT QUIT!” The next second I was walking towards the dunes, tears mingled with salt water and hiccups of defeat.

GoRuck Selection 015 came to an end for me around 14 hours when I voluntarily withdrew. To most, it may have looked like I quit because I couldn’t drag dead weight through the sand. But to me, there was more to it: years of preparation, life experiences, and reflection were tied up in that moment. 

Before explaining the end though, I’ll have to explain the beginning.

It was seventh grade and I had just injured my elbow arm wrestling. The doctor made a joke that I’d be fine, but I could kiss my career as a Navy SEAL goodbye. Not liking limitations, I asked my swim coach what a Navy SEAL was, and if I could be one. Always encouraging, my coach told me that SEALS were elite warrior swimmers, but that no women had yet become one. I told him I’d have to be the first; he smiled and agreed.

Life unfolded for me in other amazing and challenging ways and I followed the path of competitive swimming and teaching. I travelled all over the United States in my youth racing other water babies and ended up swimming in college. In adulthood, I chose a civilian life over a military one and travelled the world learning and teaching. All the while, I never forgot my athletic ambitions; though I was done with college sports, I believed that my best days were ahead of me.

After college, I taught in China, Micronesia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and finally Afghanistan. During my sojourns as an expatriate, I lived in simple villages and huge cities. I lived under monarchies, communist regimes, socialist and coalition governments, and chiefdoms; I lived in police states, places at war, and areas that hadn’t seen fighting since World War II.

No matter where I was, I searched for competitions so I could continue to test myself and push my body. However, the places I lived had better ideas. Many times I tried to compete, women were completely barred or when I showed up, an excuse was given as to why I could not be there.

I opened my eyes and learned hard truths, that women were by no means equal to men in most places in the world. During those times, I took everything as a grain of salt, adjusted, and knew that I came from a place where women could be and do anything they pleased. I was thankful that I was born an American and vowed to never take for granted the freedoms I enjoy everyday of my life, because life could be so much worse.

Back in the states, when a friend told me about GoRuck Selection, I immediately wanted to do it. “My standards would be the same as the men?” I asked. “Yes, definitely,” he said. “I get to run and hike and do stuff in the water all night?” I asked. “Yep,” He said. My friend tried to warn me that I should probably do a “Light” first to see what GoRuck was all about. I told him that anything with the word “light” in it was not for me. 

After reading all of the Selection after action reviews and basically anything that was ever written about Selection, I knew it was for me. I admired the cadre for their service to my country and the finishers for their determination. I wanted to be a part of that group of people whom I respected. 

Before I actually entered, I thought about this endeavor deeply. Why was I doing it? If not to make amazing friends and hear their stories, it was to test myself and feel alive. I wasn’t afraid of the physical tasks at hand. I was afraid that by not doing Selection I would never know all of the people tied up in it; I would never know if I could have finished. How would I ever know what could break me if I never was in a situation where I might be broken? I figured the cadre were professionals so they would do their best to teach me this lesson.

In the end they did.

But it was not the end yet.

During our 12-mile ruck march, a blood moon rose over the Atlantic as I quick-stepped to the song in my head. My steady breath mingled with the waves knocking on the shore; run, walk, run, walk, runwalkrun, runrunrunrunwalk. Though I had practiced this many times before, still I doubted my speed and forced myself to run, crunching shells, dodging waves, and passing others, knowing that this was just the end of the beginning. I was in the zone and barely noticed when I ran upon green lights and the cadre lining the beach.

We had finished the PT test.

After that, our “welcome” was warm.

This is what it looked like:

During the “party,” this is what I was thinking:

Keep going. You are strong enough. You trained for this. Whose legs are those? Keep going. Nothing they say can stop me. I’m the girl who chose the baritone saxophone in sixth grade because it had the biggest case. I’m not afraid. Holy shit, I’m afraid. They have weaknesses too. Whoever has his foot on my pack has no weaknesses. Keep going. I can do any of this all night, forever. Put me back in the water. Keep going. There are shells in my ears. Keep going. Get me out of the water. Keep going. Life could be so much worse. I like this sand. He has nice feet. Keep going. Am I ripping his armpit hair out? Run! Keep going.

Then something unexpected happened…
I couldn’t keep going.

When I came to a task that was a bit too difficult, and the cadre said something that really got into my head, I stopped to think. I forgot to tell myself that I was good enough, and that I should just keep going. I forgot that life could be worse, and that this was an opportunity to test myself. At that moment I let my mind wander to the philosophical side of things; I lost focus. By the time I was done thinking, I had uttered the words I never thought I’d say, “I’m done.” The end had come.

Two weeks later, there is a scar on my hand, etched by sand. Though there are other scratches and bruises that linger, they will go away and only these lessons, and most likely the scar, will remain…

I learned that if I give my 100%, it may not be good enough for someone else. This is true in physical events and in life. No matter what we do, it may not be good enough for someone. The choices we make, however, should have reason and behind that reason there must be a drive to follow thorough, carry on, and keep going. 

When I look at the scar on my hand, I remember the lessons I learned at Selection 015 that I could never have taught myself. I thank the cadre, selection finishers, and the candidates for helping me become a better person. Know that I am not done yet; know that I will keep going, and know that the scar on my hand is the shape of Montana.


At 8:39 PM , Blogger Boat Guy said...

"Damn Few"

I see the drive and determination in you. You have the tools and the motivation. Selection is not for the meek or the weak willed. Jaala you are neither. You have impressed myself and so many others. Most people never have to do anything truly hard their entire lives. Their idea of overcoming adversity is to pull an all-night study session, or to work a little overtime, or not be able to afford the leopard-skin pants they’ve always wanted and actually have to save for something. Rather than get the instant gratification for their every need not being attended to. Kids aren’t allowed to lose so there is a trophy for everyone. Hurtful words are now being equated to physical violence, which is comical. We go to war and only.45 percent of the population answers the call over eleven years. There is no rise in taxes to cover the two wars we were engaged in so the average citizen doesn’t suffer at all.

Increasingly, we’re told that we are the smartest, most handsome, most amazing people in the whole wide world. Even if we haven’t done a goddamn thing to earn that status.

In short, people have no idea what sacrifice looks like anymore. Then when their given the tiniest window into the military world and they see kids reaching physical exhaustion, getting yelled at, getting emotionally brought down, they just see cruelty. They don’t see the value, because they don’t know what we know.

That toughness is earned. It has to be earned. You can be naturally smart and naturally athletic. You can be born with every advantage. But when you’re getting shot at, none of that matters. All that matters is the work you’ve put in, the skill you’ve acquired, and your willingness to fight though it all and never quit, no matter what.

In that moment and that moment alone, can you realize the futility of the participation trophy. It’s first place or nothing.

Warriors are not born. They are made through hard work, suffering, and sacrifice.
Jaala. I see it in you. These sacrifices you have made are not in vain.

At 11:36 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Thank you. Everything you said means the world to me. Only someone who has sacrificed so much (as you have) can understand that this single moment meant a little bit more than what was apparent. I respect you and think about all that you do, and have done, often. Keep fighting, keep leading, keep inspiring others, just as you have inspired me.


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