By Scott Prater
Airman 1st Class Cory Marion had no idea how he and his 2nd Space Operation Squadron teammates might fare at the Wilderness Challenge adventure race. In the span of a month, he watched as two of his teammates went down with ankle injuries, one… two days before the Fayetteville, W.Va. competition.
An inexperienced team, battling against 54 other military teams in five outdoors events, with two of its four members hobbled by injuries didn’t seem so promising.
His expectations for success took a further blow after two events, when the team suffered a devastating setback beyond their control.
But in an awesome display of courage and tenacity, the 2nd SOPS team recovered and went on to earn sixth place overall in the two-day event Oct. 4-6 in a time of 8 hours, 38 minutes, bringing a trophy and second place among Air Force teams back to Schriever.
Airman Marion, the team’s most experienced adventure racer, heard about the all-military Wilderness Challenge this past spring. He then informed Capt. Joseph Reveteriano, who jumped on board almost immediately. Together they recruited Capt. Stephen Toth and 1st Lt. Caitlyn Diffley.
With the team complete they gained permission from 2nd SOPS commander Lt. Col Deanna Burt, made their travel plans and began training.
For this particular adventure race, teams would compete in five events: an 8-kilometer trail run followed by a 12-mile river rafting adventure on day one. On day two, teams would start by traversing a 15-mile mountain bike course, kayak for seven miles and finish with a 15-mile hike.
They are all accomplished athletes, but Airman Marion and Captain Reveteriano were the only two who had competed at adventure racing. So there was orientation to go over and training in both mountain biking and river rafting.
The team had limited time and opportunity to train in both, but after a couple of rafting trips and a few bike rides in the mountains, the four were as ready as they could be for competition.
Then disaster struck.
Five weeks out from competition, Captain Reveteriano suffered a severe ankle sprain while playing soccer.
“I could barely stand on it,” he said. “When I showed the bruised and swollen leg to Airman Marion he scurried to find a replacement, but I assured him I would be ready and so we stayed with our original plan.”
Two days before the group prepared to depart for West Virginia, Lt. Diffley turned her ankle while training at Palmer Park. And once again, Airman Marion heard a teammate assure him she would be ready to go.
So they left — battered and bruised, but ready to tackle the brutal course.
They arrived at the course on a beautiful fall day and immediately made the field aware of their presence, finishing the 8-kilometer trail run in fourth place.
“We ran at a good pace, and we saw a lot people slipping over the wet, moss-covered rocks,” Airman Marion said. “And we were very concerned about Lt. Diffley’s and Captain Reveteriano’s ankles, but we managed to get down without significant injury.”
So everything was moving along swimmingly. The team had bested 49 of the 54 teams and had an hour break before jumping into their rafts for the day’s second event.
Brimming with confidence, the team boarded its raft for a 12-mile trip down the Gauley River.
Airman Marion’s heart sunk as soon as the team had team settled in.
“I noticed the raft was underinflated,” he said. “On top of that, there was another problem that we wouldn’t realize until later. We didn’t flip over or lose anybody, but our raft guide couldn’t keep us in the fastest part of the current.”
The unfortunate happenstance succeeded in dropping the foursome by dozens of places.
“It was one element that was out of our control,” Airman Marion said. “You can only do so much with what they provide you as far as guides and equipment. The most frustrating part was that we paddled nonstop for two hours only to watch other teams were pass us without even paddling.”
Upon crossing the finish line they learned their efforts had garnered 49th place. All hope for a top-10 finish vanished instantly.
However, the team somehow managed to find a new resolve. Following dinner and ice cream, they convinced themselves they still had a chance for a good showing.
Then they awoke to rain showers and fresh layer of mud.
The 10-mile mountain bike stage presented the team with a bevy of obstacles. Lt. Diffley threw a bike chain within the first two miles and Captain Reverteriano face planted into the mud after flying over his handle bars. Still, the team passed several competitors and exited the mountain-bike stage with renewed vigor.
With no break between events, 2nd SOPS was building momentum. The team then split up and boarded two rubber kayaks, called duckies. After seven miles on the same river they had traversed the day before the team exited in good form and finished with a 15-mile hike.
“The bike trail started up high down to the river and on the hike, we traveled back up to the ridge line, so we decided the best strategy would be to walk on the uphill portions and run the flat parts,” Airman Marion said. “And we made up a lot of time. We ended up catching and passing several teams and every time we passed another team that gave us a little more motivation.”
With a time of 6 hours and 2 minutes, team 2 SOPS had not only surpassed the teams they encountered on the mountain, they made up most of the places they had lost in the previous day’s river-raft debacle.
“When we crossed the last finish line it felt like your body was made of rubber,” Captain Reveteriano said. “The other teams were giving us high-fives and congratulating us and we did the same for the teams that finished behind us. It was good to see the different services supporting each other. It was proud moment just to even finish the event, and when they called us up to the podium to announce our placement, I couldn’t have been happier.”
Once the team returned to Schriever, Captain Toth, the official team captain, presented Lt. Col. Bart with the team’s 6th Place plaque during a commander’s call.
Although plans aren’t official, the team expects to compete again in next year’s Wilderness Challenge.
“This was definitely a learning experience,” Captain Reveteriano said. “We realized we were only 3 minutes away from claiming first place among Air Force teams and fourth overall. It doesn’t seem that far away.”