Airman tests his skill and endurance in "Wilderness Challenge
By Jessica Switzer
FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. – For the son of a Blaine, Minn., couple, the competition was a strenuous test of endurance, teamwork and skill that took him, and 215 other men and women representing all military services and the U.S. Coast Guard, through more than 50 miles of rugged West Virginia mountains and white-water rapids.
Air Force 1st Lt. Wade M. Appel, son of Wayne and Kathy Appel, Tyler St., Blaine, was one of those service members who traveled to this remote resort area to test his skills in a five-event outdoor competition called “Wilderness Challenge.”
Over a two-day period, competitors mountain-biked over a 13-mile uphill course, paddled seven-miles in a two-person combination kayak, canoe and raft called a “duckie”, ran an eight-kilometer (five mile) mountain trail, hiked 15-miles and raced whitewater rafts over 10 miles of rapids. Appel was part of an Air Force team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio, one of 54 teams to compete in this year’s challenge.
“I kind of got roped into competing here,” said Appel, a research and development engineer with the Air Force Research Laboratory. “My office mates trapped me in an office and wouldn’t let me out until I agreed to participate. This is my first ‘challenge,’ but it’s been a lot of fun and I’m meeting a lot of good people.”
The competition, coordinated by the Navy Mid-Atlantic Region, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown for the last nine years, is a little different each year. However, while the distances and routes change, core events have remained in place giving teams an idea of what to train for. Some trained together before arriving and others chose their own training regimens. “I worked a lot on my running,” said Appel. “I ran the Air Force Marathon in September, and that was my way of preparing for the distances we would be running and hiking during this race.”
Fighting cold, wet elements, uphill runs, walks and bicycling, and racing river currents, the competitors and teams highlighted their strong points and shored up their weaknesses to become competitive during the race.
“The rafting and ‘duckie’ were the hardest part of the competition for me,” said Appel, who enlisted in the Air Force in 2000 and received an Air Force commissioning scholarship in 2002. “I separated my shoulder in a motorcycle accident back in June. The hike was the easiest event for me. I just found the ‘zone’ and the world fell away.”
Appel and the other competitors in Wilderness Challenge received a special event coin commemorating the competition and walked away with the knowledge they put their endurance and willpower to the test.