MODESTO — Members of TEAM Phoenix displayed the camaraderie of friends who have known each other for years, not months.
With only two preliminary meetings, TEAM Phoenix came together April 20 to compete in the third annual Navy SEAL Trident Challenge. Designed to test the body's limits and teach teamwork, the daylong invitational offers a glimpse of the training Navy SEALs go through and a look at their bases. It is an honor to be invited to the Trident Challenge, and to be authorized to visit the private SEAL base on Coronado Island in San Diego is nearly unheard of.
While some teams have had the privilege of competing once, Buddy Wesson's TEAM Phoenix has been invited back every year because of its teamwork and communication skills. Carefully chosen by Wesson, Central Catholic's head water polo coach, and aided by Mike Cummins of Cummins Corp., TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) Phoenix competed against nine teams.
Fruitful road trip
With eight members from various high schools, including Modesto Christian, Central Catholic, Downey and Beyer of Modesto, Ripon, Turlock and Manteca, TEAM Phoenix did not have an established relationship or strong sense of camaraderie when entering the competition. However, during the eight-hour drive to the base, the young men became well acquainted and began demonstrating the communication and solidarity needed to have a successful team.
Arriving at the Navy SEAL base on Coronado Island at 7 a.m., TEAM Phoenix was briefed about the competition. After orientation, the students ventured onto the beach and were surprised to find that their warm-up exercise included a daunting 300-pound log. They were required to lift the log, do squats and sit-ups, and walk with it for a total of 30 minutes, all while being chided by surrounding SEALs.
The height differences of the team members made it a demanding task. The log's sheer weight and the difficult task of being able to work as one fluid machine left the young men "broken down to their core," Wesson said
His son, Connor Flynn Wesson, 13, a student at Downey High School, also has a brother who previously competed in the competition. "I thought the log was the hardest part of the challenge. It was a complete surprise to the team."
Meeting the challenges
After warming up, each competing team ran 2½ miles with a 35-pound sandbag, with members taking turns carrying it.
"The 2½-mile run was the biggest challenge for me," said Jacob Alviso, 17, a recent graduate of Central Catholic. This was his third year participating in the Navy SEAL Trident Challenge, which he calls "a rewarding experience."
Seth Mohr, 18, a student at Beyer, agreed. "It (the run) was tough, but worth it. The competition, I think, pushed all of our limits physically."
Buddy Wesson noted that Seth was a strong contender in the Trident Challenge.
Heading toward the ocean on the last leg of their 2½-mile run, one selected member from each team then swam 400 meters from the beach, around a buoy and back. Until TEAM Phoenix's swimmer, Nathaniel Gagnon, returned to shore, his teammates stood waist deep in 61-degree water.
"The sandbag was not allowed to get wet, which was very difficult because the waves were strong," said Shane Nash, 17, a student at Manteca High School.
"The thread of being a team kept them going," Buddy Wesson said. "The strong ones helped the weaker ones, and the weaker ones helped the strong ones in different ways. These young men were able to come together and accomplish something incredible."
Wet, exhausted and feeling extremely heavy from standing fully clothed in the ocean, members of TEAM Phoenix then did a cumulative 300 sit-ups, 300 push-ups and 300 pull-ups. Each member did as many sit-ups, etc., as he could, and when he could not continue, there was a teammate in position to carry on the task.
The team realized that it is not about how much one can do as an individual, but about how much a team can accomplish together.
Finally, TEAM Phoenix ran a 400-yard relay still with the sandbag.
"The hardest part of the entire competition was running those last 10 feet with the sandbag," said Michael Cummins, 14, a student at Modesto Christian.
"I was definitely broken down and it was a struggle to finish strong," he said.
Giancarlo Van Duyn, 15, a student at Central Catholic, said that for him, "the sandbag relay had me dying. After everything we had done earlier it was so heavy and I felt really tired."
Sights on careers
Although TEAM Phoenix did not win the competition, nearly all of the TEAM members say they now are considering careers in the military because of this unique competition.
"Most all of my family has been involved in the military, so I've always thought about it. But the intensity of this experience has caused me to give the option more consideration," said Conner Vance, 17, a student at Turlock High School.
Conner's performance in the Trident Challenge stood out to coach Wesson.
"When the team was in the water, I saw that Conner was running along the shoreline, and I didn't know why. After looking at the pictures, I realized that he was running out to help the swimmer. Nobody told him to do it, and that initiative, that awareness, is something that the Navy SEALs have to have.
"What these young men did was outstanding. Without ever having previous experience with each other, they were able to work as a team, constantly communicating and being aware of each other. And I never heard one complaint, not a single one."
Kaysie Gonzalez is a graduate of Enochs High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.