The morning came quickly and started as dark as the evening before. Everyone slowly gathered their things. By the time we arrived at the VIP parking area at Amelia Earhart Park, the sun brightened the sky and the boys spilled out of the van. We made our way into the festival area, and after walking inside no more than thirty yards, people noticed our jerseys. "HEY! It's THE GIVE TEAM! We follow you guys on Instagram." The guys had FANS!
We set our stuff under the tent next to Oscar Mike, and enjoyed the festival area all morning. We met several people who connected with us from all over the country through social media, relationships that remain today and have strengthened with time. It was a relaxing morning with Akim, Jean, Rome, Paul and Jeff.
Just prior to our start time, Lopez gathered us to meet with Earl Granville and Rick Kolberg. We were told our primary mission was to escort Redzuan Razak, a Marine infantryman and paraplegic, through the four mile course with over twenty obstacles, and make sure Razak conquered every obstacle safely. We were also to carry the Oscar Mike flag and make sure it didn't touch the ground. Finally, for our third task, Earl presented us with a forty pound cinder block wrapped in chains. "I'm going to tell you what this is, man. This is Cindy the cinder block. What Cindy represents is the adversity we all face at some point in our lives - that heavy weight that holds us down. The idea of Cindy is when we race, we all take turns carrying her. It's a metaphor - you don't have to carry all that bullshit by yourself. I had someone very close to me take their own life, and that was the inspiration for Cindy. Don't let your ego get in the way. It's ok to ask for help."
We ran the race, inspired by Razak who conquered every obstacle, some obstacles with assistance and many on his own. Other members of Team Oscar Mike inspired us by nailing the obstacles while carrying scars and physical challenges. We were also inspired by those around us, strangers working together to make sure every member of the group finished the race and overcame every obstacle. It was an incredible day where an incredibly diverse group of people came together as a team to accomplish a common goal.
After the race, Earl pulled The Give Team aside one more time and shared with us the full story of Cindy. Nearly ten years earlier, Earl was serving our country in Afghanistan. His vehicle hit a roadside bomb, and Earl was the sole survivor. Two of his buddies died that day, and Earl nearly lost both his legs. They saved one leg, and Earl returned home to recover. He impressed everyone with his resilience, learning how to snowboard, play ice hockey and live life on one leg.
Earl's greatest challenge came two years later when his twin brother Joe committed suicide. The tour in Afghanistan was the first time Earl didn't serve with Joe, and when Earl came back with his injuries it was too tough for Joe to handle. Earl beat himself up over his brother's suicide, having his own suicidal thoughts and regressing into alcohol. It wasn't until someone approached Earl about his brother, telling Earl how Joe used to brag about how proud he was of Earl's progress recovering from his injuries that Earl wondered, "Would Joe be proud of me now?" And that snapped Earl into the second phase of his recovery.
Earl re-acquainted himself with the importance of moving, being active, and challenging himself. During a race, he found half a cinder block and strapped it to a chain he was wearing and vowed to not put the cinder block down the entire race. People started asking questions. That's when Earl realized this cinder block could serve a greater purpose, helping send a strong message: there will be challenges in life, but nobody has to carry hardship alone.
After sharing his story, Earl presented Cindy to The Give Team. She continues to play a prominent role in our workouts and our races. She ran with us at the Spartan Race at Fort Benning in April. She ran with us at the Green Beret Challenge in Atlanta in May. And she runs regularly with us on our weekly Saturday morning workouts. On June 3, five members of The Give Team gathered at 4:00am on a Sunday and ran ten miles with Cindy - one mile for every year since Earl nearly lost his life, and when he lost two of his buddies in Afghanistan.
The weekend after our ten-miler, Paul mentioned he wrote a paper about The Give Team. Paul had some challenges this past school year revolving around his grandmother's death in the fall and difficulty getting on top of school work from the time he missed, almost getting kicked out of the magnet program at his school. He did a great job turning things around in the spring, rebounding with impressive grades. Paul was reluctant to share details about the paper.
Coach: "C'mon. What was the paper about?"
Paul: "I don't want to say."
Coach: "Why not?"
Paul: "Because you're going to want to see it."
Coach: "Nah. Just tell me about it."
Paul: "Well, our teacher gave us a chance to earn extra credit by reading our essay in front of class, so I did. She told us to start with a 'grabber,' so I started with 'The best teacher I ever had was a cinder block.' Then I talked about Cindy and our trip to Miami. Everyone was quiet so I couldn't tell how they were taking it. Then at the end, everyone clapped. They clapped louder for me than anyone else."
- LONG SILENCE -
Coach: "You HAVE to send me that paper."
veterans to help them get active. They invited us to run with them, and before we started the race they told us our primary mission was to help a paraplegic Marine infantryman named Redzuan Razak through the course. We also were told we had to carry an Oscar Mike flag and a 40 pound cinder block with a chain named Cindy. Mind you, the course was 3.7 miles long and had over 20 different obstacles along the way. That's already difficult but on top of that we had the cinder block, the flag and Razak. When we started, I thought the course would be impossible with these different challenges assigned to us. But as we went along I realized I didn't have to do this alone. Everyone took turns passing the flag (making sure it didn't touch the ground), and the cinder block and whenever there was an obstacle ahead everyone got in place to make sure Razak got through it.
At the end of the race, Earl Granville explained to us why we ran the course with the cinder block, flag and with Razak. Earl also ran the course as part of Team Oscar Mike and conquered all the obstacles, including the rope climb, even though he is missing a leg. But it was after the race he shared his whole story and the role of the cinder block. Ten years ago Earl was serving in Afghanistan when his Humvee was hit by a bomb. He was the only one to survive, but he lost his leg. He returned home and realized he needed to adapt, so he learned how to ski, how to play hockey and how to function with one leg. But his twin brother who wasn't with him in Afghanistan was having a tougher time. Two years after Earl returned, his twin brother committed suicide. His name was Joe. This hurt Earl, and Earl's recovery went backward. After a while, Earl realized his brother wouldn't want him to quit, so he worked to get stronger. During a race Earl picked up a cinder block and finished the race with it. That's where the idea of running with the cinder block started. Cindy became a metaphor for life, and represented the challenges Earl and his brother faced. We all carry burdens, and we have to be strong to carry them, but sometimes those burdens are too tough to carry by yourself. We don't have to deal with our problems on our own and there will always be people willing to help carry whatever is holding you down.
The day I spent running the Spartan race in February will be in my memory forever. I learned so much from everyone who ran with us. Razak inspired me and taught me there is no excuse to move and get strong. He was in a wheelchair and completed the obstacle course race with strength. And Razak wasn't the only one who taught me something that day. The Oscar Mike Team taught me how important it is to move and to be there to help others, and how strong you feel when you help. They also inspired me to never quit, no matter how big the challenges. And when you have a lot to handle or a lot weighing on you, you never have to deal with it on your own. You always have people around you willing to help. When the person carrying Cindy got tired, he handed the block to someone else on the team, so no one had to carry it on their own. While we all had to be strong, and carrying that weight did make us stronger, no one had to depend on themselves alone. Whenever there is a block in your life holding you down there are always people around to help you carry it and lift you up.
Brad Mason is head coach of The Give Team, and a firm believer that no matter how little you think you have, you ALWAYS have something to give. So give more. Give more smiles, more compliments, more focus, and more effort.