Life is good, but it ain’t easy. It’s filled with false starts, unexpected pitfalls, epic failures and – all too often – attempts to do good that just fall flat. It happens. “The best laid plans of mice and men” and all. But every once in awhile the stars align. Someone comes up with a great idea, a community rallies behind him or her, and – with a little good luck – great success blossoms from the effort. It’s been said that “you make your own luck”, and I think our resilient little team of masochistic do-gooders proved that yesterday.
“I Love it When a Plan Comes Together!” – John “Hannibal” Smith: The A-Team
I am fortunate to be a small part (no pun intended) of a wonderful community that has taken shape in Pittsburgh. We’re a band of friends that push each other to be better, support each other in personal challenges, and – recently – come together as a team to support causes that mean something to each other.
Most of us met through GoRuck events and have discovered the special sense of fulfillment that comes with completing something truly difficult. This common bond inspired the theme of the event we would undertake as a fundraising effort in the city of Pittsburgh.
One of the members of our group, Coyote, is father to a son with autism, so autism research and support is something near and dear to his heart. The idea of us getting together to do a charity event benefiting the Autism Society of Pittsburgh was floated by him, and our community immediately rallied behind him. Coyote branded the event “Ruck for a Reason: Autism Support”. We all paid entry fees to donate to the cause and a few military veterans and a SWAT medic in our community volunteered to lead the charge as “Cadre”: Cadre Jon, Cadre Ralph and Cadre Richard Posterior (*cough*) would be with us the whole way. We all set out on a beautiful Sunday to learn some lessons, to endure, and (we hoped) raise more money for our cause from strangers along the way.
The vague expectation that many of us had was that we would cover 7-10 miles in 4-6 hours. This was accounting for our weighted packs (20-50 lbs. per person) and other gear, and stops for lessons/exercise slowing us down along the way. The Cadre’s expectation was that we would finish when we’d met the standard – however long that would take.
Our mission started at 2 PM on Sunday afternoon with a ruck march at a brisk pace. We covered approximately 2 miles at this pace. Our course took us to a riverbank where we would be taught about “attention to detail”. Get the whole team on the same page. So we unloaded our packs and tried to lay them out uniformly. We tried to follow instructions as a single unit. When we failed we were punished with a grueling assault of PT (Physical Training).
Try-Fail… Rinse-Repeat. This went on for quite some time, until we’d put our hands on the hot stove enough times to learn the lesson. It was a relentless beat down that took many of us to the edge, but we all saw it through as a team and marched on to our next objective.
Our next stop offered us the opportunity to learn about the tools of a SWAT medic and how to deal with common serious medical situations. It was a great addition to our day and offered lessons we’d never been exposed to during similar events. It even offered us the opportunity to see Cadre Rich demonstrate the usage of a nasal trumpet. There was some joy in seeing one of the Cadre share in the suffering. The man’s lack of a gag reflex served him well.
Moving on from this stage of the event would take us to the event’s confluence of genius and luck.
Our primary mission for the day was to fill a donation bucket for The Autism Society of Pittsburgh. A member of our team teaches autistic children and, between her and her students, decorated our bucket – inside and out. It served as a perfect centerpiece for our day. It was decided that we would approach strangers we passed along the way and describe our cause, offering to perform – as a team – 1 round of PT for every dollar donated. So, $10 equaled 10 pushups (for example).
I must admit I had my doubts at first. “How was this going to work? A bunch of lunatics with packs full of bricks walk up to strangers asking for money in exchange for pushups?” How was this going to work Frank? Very well actually. VERY, VERY well. You see, I learned ANOTHER lesson at this moment: If you ever want to raise money for a cause, hand a magic wand to a stranger giving them the right to dole out pain and suffering to you and your friends, and charge them for the right to use it. It’s GENIUS. Just a dead simple stroke of genius.
So where does the luck come in you might ask? Well you see, unbeknownst to our lead Cadre and some other members of our team in the weeks leading up to the event, our Ruck for A Reason charity ruck was to occur on opening day for the Steeler’s season. You may have heard – Pittsburgher’s get a little excited about their football team.
It was a beautiful day, the Steelers won, and people were EVERYWHERE – people having a good time and looking for something to smile about. A bunch of lunatics doing pushups, squats and thrusters for charity? We were ALL the entertainment a drunken Steeler’s Nation could ask for… and boy did they pay. I’ve never smiled so much through so much pain in all my life.
People were having a BALL. It seemed as though we’d whipped the whole damn river into a frenzy. People were giving us beer and water to keep us going and some guys and gals even joined in.
At one point a guy pointed out some less-than-perfect pushup form from one of the members of our team. His own friend reminded him, “they’ve been doing this shit for HOURS. What have you been doing? Yeah… drinking.” I took this opportunity to remind him that we weren’t carrying pillows around in these packs either. “What do you have in there? Beer?” he asked. “No. Bricks.” I replied. He spit up half of his beer. “Seriously??” I handed him my ruck, containing six bricks and 2-liters of water (~45 lbs), and invited him to have a go. EVERYONE was entertained at this point!
I have to give him credit for trying. We all thanked him and his friends for their donations and for the laughs and moved on down the river.
This continued for quite some time. Once the party started it seemed everyone wanted to join in. Boat after boat, fields and bars… it was a relentless pain party for all.
This went on through the afternoon and well into the night. More lessons were taught. Much more pain was dealt by our Cadre away from the crowds at the river as we continued on past sundown.
As our event came to an end all couldn’t help but smile about what we’d accomplished. We didn’t know how many pushups and thrusters and burpees we’d done, but we knew it was a lot. “We could do this again for other charities we care about. This REALLY worked. We’ve got something here”
A local pub was kind enough to donate beer to us tired and thirsty wanderers at the end of it all, and it tasted GOOD. Pizza tasted even better. The best after party of any event I’ve done. We had an amazing time sharing tales of the night and planning future adventures. These are the kinds of events that forge real community.
Our event took us 7 ½ hours and covered 11.5 miles, but that really doesn’t tell the tale.
Before the day had started, we’d already raised $410 for The Autism Society of Pittsburgh. I figured if we broke $550 we could call the day a success. $600 would be great! Our total collected donation was over $1,100 by event’s end. That’s over $690 from good-hearted, fun loving people along the shores of Pittsburgh, just wanting to share in a little of our brand of crazy. We had a few souls who donated a few bucks without accepting our gift of self-abuse, but our team still easily turned in somewhere around 650 reps of PT yesterday – I’d guesstimate about 400+ of which were pushups. It was a resounding success and we all felt great about it.
Many of us plan on keeping this thing going. Plans for Warrior 360, American Cancer Society and Camp Parc events are already being tossed about. We’re onto something here… I bet next time we can break 700 reps, easy.