A ruck is a very complex and interesting event, and involves far more than just hiking with a weighted pack. When done properly, the goal is to take a disparate group of individuals, and through hardships and often unpleasant tasks, bond them into a team. As the leader of a ruck (often called Cadre), your job is to put the people through hell, and to bring them out the other side better. It is to teach lessons and leave participants with a sense of pride at their accomplishments and a new understanding of their own capabilities. Recently, I heard from a friend who signed up for an event (Note: not a GORUCK event, which in my experience have always been run very professionally), and was left with a very different taste in her mouth.
This was not my first ruck. The events that I have participated in before were challenging and thought provoking. I usually left feeling empowered and humbled by my experiences and felt that I grew not only as an athlete but as a person. When I left this ruck however, I felt disgusted, disrespected, and demeaned. It felt more like a college hazing than physical training. In fact, if this activity were to have taken place at a college or in the military the event’s organizers could very well have been charged with sexual harassment.
Strong words indeed, and definitely the type of feedback that no event organizer wants to receive. Were they warranted? Here are a couple of activities at this all-women ruck, which was lead by three men.
One of the first exercises was to be in plank position and each person name an item that they’d buy at a sex shop. We went around the circle 3-4 times.
Another exercise was to hike up a steep trail to the Cadre at the top, reach in a bag of condoms and the # on the wrapper was the # of burpees we had to do. Then we had to blow up the condoms and hike back down the trail with a blown up condom in our mouths…
And all while we were doing various exercises the Cadres kept saying that they were going to give it to us long and hard.
Inappropriate much? Now, I’m not the most politically correct guy in the room on most days, and I’ve certainly been known to joke around with double entendres and sexual innuendos on occasion; normally with close personal friends. There’s a world of difference, in my opinion, between that kind of interplay and this directed at least partly at strangers from someone in a position of power.
My goal in writing this isn’t to call out or indict the individuals involved; apologies were tendered and accepted. But I won’t condone this type of behavior and I think it can serve as a lesson in event planning gone bad.
GORUCK (the original and gold standard on these events) has many sayings associated with their events. One of my favorites is “It’s not about you”. This applies to the individuals doing a challenge, and is a reminder that it’s all about the team. If someone quits or fails, the whole team is partly to blame. “It’s not about you” applies double for the cadre. They don’t have you making sugar cookies or carrying really heavy crap around for their own amusement (at least, not entirely); everything works towards a purpose.
In planning an event like this, you MUST keep in mind that it’s not about you. Your job is to provide an experience to those who come out to the event; one that they’ll remember, that encourages them to push beyond their limits, to bond as a team, and to leave with that sense of accomplishment. The activities need to be carefully planned, as do the messages you want people to take from the event. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or engage in silliness; one of my most memorable experiences in a ruck was being lead blindfolded with a soother in my mouth (pic below) to prevent us from talking. You do, however, need to ensure that your audience would also find it funny. If some or many of them are strangers or people you don’t know very well, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If it’s likely to come off to some as offensive, ditch the idea and keep brainstorming. You can do better than that. If you can’t, leave the job to the professionals – GORUCK, SISU, & the Weeple Army for instance.
For the event described, the bottom line is “I thought about what I would have felt like if my daughter had done this event. I would be disgusted. No woman should ever be subjected to such misogynistic behavior.” Guys, if you’d be uncomfortable if your wife, daughter, or mom was taking part, or if you’d find yourself in a meeting with human resources if you tried it at work, don’t do it.
Rucks should be inclusive and empowering to the people taking part. Clearly this one missed the mark. Hopefully those affected will try another event and find out how they’re supposed to work.
*Note that none of the pictures used were from the event in question, but were from previous rucks I had taken part in personally*
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