Surviving the second GORUCK Challenge in Harrisburg


My name is Amy Ladas, I’m 36 years young, and I currently live in Harrisburg, Pa. I love anything that challenges me and forces me outside of my comfort zone… intellectually, emotionally, physically. I love strongman training, heavy weight lifting, the camaraderie of CrossFit, and anything that gets me to move. I’m an artist and musician at heart. I grew up as a tomboy and country girl and determination is my middle name. I love meeting inspirational people that also believe in things bigger than themselves. This was my first experience with a GORUCK event.

Everybody has experienced that moment in time where you’ve agreed to do something completely unique, and you have to keep quieting the thoughts in your head that tell you that you might regret it.

These thoughts will cause you to question your sanity, tell you that you might fall down and possibly not make it to the end and fail.

I used to fear these thoughts and stick to my familiar routines, my comfort zone.

So what better way to shake it up than trying something completely out of your comfort zone?

“Please don’t let my personal experience here frighten you,” Andy Shay told us when we met to consider registering for this GORUCK Challenge. “This is a beater.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Our GORUCK Challenge team of 27 individuals started at City Island, right outside the walking bridge and the baseball stadium. I believe each of us was antsy for the 10 p.m. start.

Number one rule: Never let the ruck touch the ground.

In the vacant field, where the grass was not yet wet with dew, Cadre Dakotah had us do warm-up PT. Squats, lunges, push-ups, overhead presses, bear crawls, team drags, burpees, flutter kicks, hill sprints… all with the rucks on our backs, stomachs, overhead, whatever was asked of us.

We did about 15 total miles – broken into an average, 2.5-3.5 mile trips spanning the capital region (back and forth across the very scenic Susquehanna river).

On one trip we carried all of our normal weight plus a number of sand bags of various weights – from 120 pounds down to 40 pounds.

Then, on another trip we carried all of that plus rocks of varying shapes and weights. One of the rocks required 2-3 guys, and several of the bulky rocks required us to have small teams that could swap out.

We eventually covered the required distance in the middle of the night and were finally put down the sand bags and rocks.

GORUCK BLOG1Next we found ourselves in Camp Hill in the middle of a park where we raced each other pushing picnic tables on the wet grass in the middle of the night.

Then the team pushed a padded football sled about four or five times around the entire football field. Each trip was preceded by a humorous story that Dakotah would pull from his witty brain, all with the biggest grin and a crazy twinkle in his eyes.

We each battled our internal thoughts, exhaustion and cramps, reminding each other to keep fueled and hydrated. Above all we learned to rely and trust each other.

My breakthrough was learning how to not be afraid of asking for help. The reality was that none of us could have done anything we did alone.

At one point before sunrise, we pushed ourselves to make it from the middle of Camp Hill back to the gardens on Front Street in Harrisburg all in 60 minutes – jogging a lot of the time to try to make it.

The penalty for not making it was additional PT when we were “done” with everything else in the morning. We all tried our best and came in close at 64 minutes. The frustration was visible on our tired faces, but we had to keep in mind how to keep the team stronger and more together as one unit.

The toughest leg of the journey was from the gardens on Front Street right after sunrise all the way to the National Civil War Museum and amphitheater … with a beastly telephone pole.

Because some members of the team were too short for their shoulders to help carry the weight, the team carrying the pole was a slimmer crew.

We tried subbing in and out, but it was brutal, painful and agonizing. Some said it was soul-crushing, and it really felt like it.

After getting rid of the telephone pole, we were treated to some burpees and sprints up and down a steep hill. We hooked up with the GORUCK Light team, which started at 5 a.m., and took a break to sit and listen to each Cadre talk about their special operations experiences.

These are amazing men with passionate souls and experiences that far surpass movie scripts. The break was nice, but our adventure wasn’t over.

We were all stiff from sitting still, but now under Cadre Michael’s guidance, we rucked it back to Walnut Street walking bridge.

Synchronized walking lunges for about half the length of the bridge seemed at first impossible, considering how exhausted we all were. But the silent synchronized beats of our footsteps coming together sounded awesome. Like River Dance for GORUCK.

We returned to City Island, to the place where it all started more than 12 hours earlier. The Cadre placed patches in the palms of our incredibly heavy outstretched arms, said we could drop our arms to our sides and remove our rucks for the final time.

Beer never tasted so good. We survived. We each have stories we’ll forever remember. As much as it wiped me out and knocked me down, I know I’ll do it again.

I love the quote that says: “when life knocks you down, do a burpee!”

Whether during an exhausting and liberating GORUCK Challenge, or just going about your daily life in your own little world where sometimes it feels like we are alone in our journey … never forget that: Together … We Are … Stronger!


A “Rare” Perspective on the #IceBucketChallenge

Becky Mayes is the Chapter Manager for Uplifting Athletes, a national nonprofit which aligns college football with rare diseases.

Every person has their opinion about the virality of the #IceBucketChallenge that has seen recent success raising awareness of and research funds for ALS.

I have seen a wide range of support, indifference, and opposition to this movement, which has tens of thousands of people participating and counting.

Working for a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts in the rare disease community, I am in awe of the impact of this campaign.

Now let me explain why I’m a fan of the #IceBucketChallenge.

It starts with an understanding the general landscape of the rare disease community. There are currently more than 7,000 rare diseases that affect 30 Million Americans (about 1 in 10 people). A disease is considered rare if it affects fewer than 200,000 Americans.

Precious few drug companies conduct research on rare diseases since it is difficult to recover the costs of developing treatments for small, geographically dispersed populations. Currently, 95 percent of rare diseases are without an FDA approved treatment.

And any treatment discovered for any disease, rare or not, takes years and year of research to understand the pathology and origin of the disease in order to create an effective treatment option. Not a quick or easy undertaking.

ALS, or Lou Gerhig’s Disease, is a rare disease since it currently affects around 30,000 Americans. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

There is no cure so everyone diagnosed with ALS succumbs to the disease. There are currently a few treatment options to help slow down the progression of the disease and to help manage symptoms.

But there is no cure. And that brings me to the importance of hope.

With the daunting uphill battle that accompanies every rare disease diagnosis, it becomes extremely important to create a network of support. There really is limited impact an individual can have in the research realm since it literally takes millions and millions of dollars to fund a research project.

However, individuals can have a monumental impact just by “being there” for someone suffering from a rare disease. One of the common things I hear from families with a member battling a rare disease is that they feel as though they do not have a voice and that they feel isolated.

It is really amazing how much the human spirit can be lifted by rallying around individuals who need that emotional crutch during especially difficult times.

Something as simple as uploading a video of support – via the #IceBucketChallenge in this instance – can be a much needed boost. In order to fully battle a disease, you need emotional support and you need hope.

With the thousands of video uploads from celebrities and professional sports teams, you would be hard pressed to find anyone battling ALS that feels alone in their fight these days.

So what is the key to this #IceBucketChallenge?

For every nonprofit organization, there are two main pillars: awareness and fundraising. The challenge has accomplished both of these with flying colors. Let’s talk awareness.

Did you know what ALS was before the #IceBucketChallenge? Probably. Did you know how many people it impacted or that it had no cure? Maybe. Does everyone who participated in the challenge actually know more about ALS than before they did it? Probably not.

But I guarantee you what this challenge has done is informed thousands of people about the disease who otherwise would have never known. That itself is a huge success.

The other critical part of this challenge is the fundraising piece. According to ALSA, donations have spiked significantly. Last year during this time, donations were running at about $1.7 million.

This year, it’s a whopping $13.3 million with more than 260,000 new donors in their database that will be provided an opportunity to stay connected to the organization. Many won’t, but opportunity is everything.

This campaign is all about options, opportunity and involvement. A donation wasn’t required, rather encouraged. And since charitable donations are personal in nature, many of the participants in the #IceBucketChallenge probably did not or do not have ALSA on their list of favorite organizations but that does not mean they aren’t still able to be a part without opening their wallet.

One of the biggest demographics to take on this campaign full throttle is the millennials. Because of this generations overwhelming presence on social media, it should be no surprise the #IceBucketChallenge has been a smash for them.

This demographic –  many in their 20’s or early 30’s – do not yet have a disposable income or savings accounts. They do, though, want to help and be part of social movements by using their hands.

For most nonprofit organizations, trying to figure out how to mobilize this base to support an organization has proven to be extremely challenging. Most organizations can’t invite people to plant trees or clean up a local park, so being able to find an activity for them to do that positively impacts the organization and helps execute its mission tends to be difficult.

The #IceBucketChallenge is brilliant in the fact that it allows everyone who has ice, water, and a bucket to participate. It’s free, easy, and not time consuming. There really isn’t much else you need to say to a millennial for them to participate in a great cause.

To all ALS-focused non-profit organizations, I say thank you and congratulations on taking the #IceBucketChallenge campaign to a more cohesive and united front that brought together supporters across the country to bring awareness (and raise funds!) for ALS.

We truly appreciate your efforts and want to thank everyone who has participated in the #IceBucketChallenge. You have made a positive impact and helped to create a stronger community in the fight against rare diseases, including ALS.

Together…We Are…Stronger!


Now you can view us participating in the #IceBucketChallenge and asking our pharmaceutical research partners Shire, PhRMA and GSK to join the campaign.

Colgate Football Update: 12 Days Until Kick-Off

Your Raiders have been grinding through preseason practices for two weeks now – we continue to improve every day. My injury has allowed me to experience camp through a new perspective and I am encouraged by what I see. 
Coach Hunt’s practices certainly have a different feel from Coach Biddle’s era, but the hard-nosed Colgate football culture remains at the core of our routine. All team activities incorporate enthusiasm. We approach meals, workouts, position meetings, team swims, community events and practices with an eagerness to be better. Practices have been fast-paced and thorough but the coaches are giving our bodies more of a break than past years. Coach Hunt hopes that this method will eliminate injuries from overuse, while encouraging an eagerness to not hold anything back come August 30th.
We held an inter-squad scrimmage yesterday, which was the first indicator of what type of team we will be this year. The contest featured several big plays from the offense and a handful of defensive stands. Sophomore quarterback Jake Melville led our first offense effectively all day long. Jake is very confident at the line of scrimmage and his style of play is reminiscent of Gavin McCarney’s dual-threat athleticism. In our third drive of the scrimmage, freshman quarterback Bret Mooney found senior tight end CJ Stempeck for a 65-yard scoring bomb (which Coach Hunt overruled due to excessive celebration). Juniors John Wilkins, Meach Russell and James Travellin are proving to be a healthy stable of running backs that each run with a different style. 
Despite several big offensive plays, the defense played soundly for the better part of the day. Veteran safety Mike Armiento is the confident leader of a very athletic unit. Sophomore Chris Morgan has emerged as a starting cornerback and freshman linebacker Pat Afriye will play a major role on special teams and in several defensive packages. 
This freshmen class has done a great job quickly learning their assignments and adjusting to the speed of the game. A lot of young players are maturing into contributing members of this team. I am excited to watch these kids emerge into playmakers as the season progresses. 
In summary, these past couple of weeks have been full of enthusiasm, competition and passion for the game. I think we have all of the ingredients for a successful season. I am excited to see what this team becomes as we steel ourselves for Ball State on August 30th
I am happy to host any questions. I look forward to seeing your support this fall! GATA!
Go ‘gate!
James Decicco HeadshotJimmy DeCicco ’15
Colgate University Football
Vice President Delta Upsilon
Vice President S.A.A.C.

At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose

Stephanie Shirley, the wife of Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Scott Shirley, shares and enlightening and personal story about her passion for fitness has reached new levels and is now intersecting with purpose by taking on the Uplifting Athletes GORUCK Event and raising money for rare diseases as a member of the Light Team!

At the Intersection of Passion and Purpose.

A message from outgoing Colgate Chapter President Jimmy DeCicco

I’d like to get you all caught up on the latest Colgate Football news, prior to the start of preseason camp on August 3rd.
Defensive captain Mike Armiento proudly told me that there are close to 40 players on campus right now. Each class is well represented and there is a healthy number of incoming freshmen getting acclimated with the lifestyle of college football. Mike said that freshman quarterback Brett Mooney has been impressing everybody. He is a tall, strong kid with a mind for football. I texted sophomore quarterback Jake Melville, who is at home working out and taking a summer class, to let him know that he’s going to have some competition. I am excited to see this QB battle unfold over the next few weeks.
In other news, I am proud to pass down the title of Uplifting Athletes President to junior wide receiver Brian Lalli. Lalli played a major role in UA over the last year and he certainly deserves this position. We will kickoff the 2014-2015 campaign this Tuesday July 29th, with our 7th annual Lift for Life. The boys will host a 225-pound bench press competition in the weight room. Anybody is welcome to attend and if you’re interested in donating to this year’s campaign please visit:
It is with a heavy heart that I inform you all that you won’t be seeing number 5 on the field this fall. One month ago today, Mike and I were in a go-kart accident at my uncle’s home in Tarrytown, NY. Thankfully, we both walked away from the crash. Mike has fully recovered from a gash in his shin and I am on my way to a full recovery from a fractured C7 vertebrae in my neck. I am fully functional and will be fine in a few more weeks. Because it is my neck, the doctors are being very cautious, and understandably so. I intend on returning to full strength within the next few months, and upon doctors’ clearance, I will buckle that ‘gate onto my head again soon.
We have patiently waited and worked all year long for next Sunday. Football is back, ladies and gentlemen, and your 2014 Raiders are ready to show the country what we’re all about. Please stay tuned for my mid-camp update! Keep fighting the good fight. GATA!!
Go ‘Gate!
Jimmy DeCicco ’15

Colgate University Football

President Uplifting Athletes

Former Penn State DT Devon Still and Bengals aim to sack pediatric cancer

Former Penn State DT Devon Still and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis high-five.

Former Penn State DT Devon Still and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis high-five.

Two months has felt like a lifetime in some respects for former Penn State and current Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still.

Since he was told his 4-year-old daughter Leah has neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer, Still has asked a lot of questions where there are no answers.

But the massive 6-5, 310-pound second-year NFL player, who is an Uplifting Athletes letterman, has been publicly open and transparent about his journey inside the rare disease community.

“Two months ago I found out my daughter has neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. Kids always look up to their parents, but in just a matter of a week that all reversed for me,” Still said. “I can honestly say I truly look up to my daughter now. Her courage, strength and high spirits through it all is nothing short of inspirational.”

One avenue Still chose to support his daughter, and help others in a similar situation, is to use his platform as an NFL player to shine a spotlight on pediatric cancer.

So during the 2014 season Still and the Cincinnati Bengals are running a Pldgit campaign called Help The Bengals Sack Pediatric Cancer.

For every sack the Bengals register in the upcoming NFL season, fans can donate an amount of their choosing with the proceeds going to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“I’m dedicating my season to her and inspiring others like she has inspired me,” Still said. “Please join our team by pledging to donate for every sack our defense has this season.”

As a member of the Penn State football team, Still participated in the Uplifting Athletes PSU Chapter Lift For Life to support kidney cancer and the larger rare disease community.

Uplifting Athletes has been able to use our experiences and relationships in the rare disease community to help one of our own.

Together … We Are … Stronger!


GORUCK events evaporate individual mindset with powerful team building concepts

GORUCK BLOG1Uplifting Athletes staff member Andy Shay wrote this first-hand account of his GORUCK experience last year when he was a sportswriter for PennLive/The Patriot-News.

Coming full circle to the exact spot where we started nearly 12 hours earlier on the steps of the state Capitol Building, our 2013 Uplifting Athletes GORUCK Challenge team of 29 members knew the moment was upon us.

When our GORUCK Cadre, a military Special Operations veteran named Silver, said “class 723 remove your rucksacks and put them on the ground you are finished,” I hesitated for a second.

I knew the rule – one of five we had to follow the entire 12 hours – your rucksack may not ever touch the ground.

When Silver said put them down, I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss or jump up and down with joy. So I just stood there for a second and soaked in what we had just accomplished.

After nearly 12 hours of physically exhausting and mentally punishing missions, our entire 29-person team was officially GORUCK Tough.

These missions saw us carry more than a ton of weight nearly 15 miles in and around Harrisburg. We lugged concrete parking dividers, rocks and a ridiculously heavy telephone pole.

We made a visit to a nasty pond in Wildwood Park, but that dirty water never felt so good. Our team also took a dip in the Susquehanna River on City Island then played in the sand.

The finisher was bear crawling and sprinting across the Walnut St. Bridge from City Island before carrying eight of our female teammates through the city back to the State Capitol.

Somehow, summing this grueling adventure up in three paragraphs makes it sound pretty simple.

Trust me, it wasn’t.

But part of the magic of what GORUCK has forged through these challenges is the concept of teamwork.

We started this journey several months ago as 29 individuals. We formed bonds and friendships along the way in training. And we solidified those ties that bind at another level by coming together as one team over the course of 12 hours.

Military Special Operations is a brotherhood that GORUCK gives civilians an opportunity to taste for one day. And our 2013 team was drinking the Kool-Aid.

Our private Facebook page was filled with hundreds of post-event comments, jokes and memories. Each of us in GORUCK Class 723 now looks at those other 28 members of the team as our brothers and sisters.

During this grueling and demanding 12-hour stretch we formed a unique bond that’s hard to replicate in the civilian world. Each mission started and completed together.

Early on in our 2013 challenge my body threw me a nasty curve. For some reason my blood sugar, I think, bottomed out. I’m not a diabetic, but I do have low blood sugar.

And mine went south on me after two hours. I was dizzy, light headed, weak, pale, suffered from the cold sweats and was in no condition to help carry those heavy cement parking dividers.

My teammates recognized I wasn’t doing well. Several offered to hump my nearly 40-pound ruck for stretches and had me just carry the flag and walk. I ate peanut M&M’s and drank water for an hour.

Cadre Silver kept shining his light in my eyes and asked me if I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to quit, but I knew if the worm didn’t turn soon I might not have any choice.

Eventually my body cooperated, and by the time we reached the Farm Show Complex I was feeling strong enough to join the cement parking divider lifting party.

I will forever be grateful to my teammates for picking me up and allowing my body to recover and finish this challenge.

We started with 29 and finished with 29. We raised more than $22,000 for rare disease research through Uplifting Athletes.

And we literally, for 12 hours lived the motto “Together … We Are … Stronger.

The patch Cadre Silver gave each of us is stitched with the words “GORUCK Tough.” You have to live it for those 12 hours to fully understand it.

The bond we formed as a team has stayed strong over the course of a year. We still have plenty of lively Facebook conversations about almost anything. Nearly a dozen members of our team went out for a night together at the Uplifting Athletes Gridiron Gala earlier this year.

And as we embark on putting together two teams in 2014, plenty of 2013 team members have already answered the bell again in the fight against rare diseases.

Spots for the 2014 GORUCK Challenge and GORUCK Light events are open and available for registration. It was a rugged 12 hours finishing a Challenge event, but that wasn’t the hardest part. Having the courage to say yes and sign up takes courage. The training and team building takes care of the rest.