By Petty Officer 2nd Class Mandy Hunsucker
For those who don’t know, the Wilderness Challenge takes place in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and includes a two-day, team oriented series of six outdoor adventure races designed to enhance camaraderie, competition and team spirit among all five branches of the armed services.
This year’s Wilderness Challenge included an 8K mountain run, a 14-mile mountain bike race, a 14-mile forced hike through the mountains, a 13-mile whitewater raft race on the Gauley River, a half-mile swim in the Gauley River and a 7-mile kayak race on the New River.
After seeing a flyer about the challenge in the gym, Cronin decided to give it try. “This is my third year participating in the event. Last year, I ran it with my dad and two other friends. We ran it as more of a challenge for my dad before he retired,” said Cronin. “This year I ran it with more of a competitive spirit.”
Each team is made up of four active-duty service members, one of which has to be female. Through E-mails Cronin was set up with the “Scorpions”, a team who she’d never met before and whose members were assigned to commands on the west coast.
“When we met Cronin at the race we, as a team, decided to focus on the events and encouraged everyone to do their best,” said Cmdr. Christopher Mills, commanding officer, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light Four Nine and Scorpion team leader.
“It took a lot of courage for her to join a team without meeting them. The team has to work as a group. If it doesn’t, it will fall apart.”
Team Scorpion was comprised of seasoned athletes who train for endurance events regularly, according to Cronin.
“Our team was comprised of primarily runners, so during the 8K- run we ran fast and hard. The river was challenging at times during the rafting portion. We rode well during the mountain bike portion, though the course was very technical and wet. The kayaking event was slow and rainy,” said Cronin. “I think my team would have taken an additional run over doing that part.
“The 14-mile hike was our time to shine. We placed 5th overall in this event. It was definitely the highlight of the race for me,” continued Cronin.
After the race, Cronin reflected on what got her through the Wilderness Challenge. “I think our motivation and our competitive spirit to do well got us through the challenge. A 57-mile race will take its toll on your body. When your body feels it’s reached its end and you hit a wall, you’ve got to find the motivation from within to complete the race,” said Cronin. “Also, keeping in good condition and maintaining good nutrition helps with the recovery.”
When asked why she wanted to participate in the Wilderness Challenge, Cronin said, “I love to compete and feel the challenges of this type of race. It’s also a great honor to run with athletes from all over the world, like the Navy cross-country team.”
Out of the 60 teams from all over the world who participated in the MWR Wilderness Challenge, Cronin and her team finished 15th place overall. Out of the 24 all Navy teams, her team finished 4th place.