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In a little over a month, Danny Stokes will be lining up on the Endeavor Team Challenge starting line alongside 100+ other competitors. Like all competitors, his goal will be to cross the finish line Sunday morning. However, unlike the rest of the teams, Danny will have an additional challenge. He is a part of the Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW) team, and their goal is to get Adaptive Athlete Matthew White, who is a lower leg amputee, to the finish line too.
Danny began his journey by enlisting in the US Army where he was a Special Forces Communication Sergeant and then a Signal Officer. After 23 years, he retired and became a Cadre Leader for GORUCK. One fateful event, he was assigned to lead a custom GORUCK Tough Challenge for Operation Enduring Warrior with multiple OEW sponsored Adaptive Athletes undertaking the challenge. These athletes made an unforgettable impact on him. He was not only impressed by the determination and resilience of the Adaptive Athletes but also by the four masked athletes who wore gas masks for the full event as they accompanied the Adaptive Athletes.
Danny made it a goal to join OEW’s Masked Athlete Team and succeeded. We sat down with him and asked him some questions about becoming a member of the Masked Athlete Team, volunteering for OEW, and how he’s preparing for the Endeavor Team Challenge.
I grew up playing soccer, which gave me a foundation as a runner. Most people who join the Army are either a “runner” or a “lifter”. I was a skinny wiry guy so was solidly on the runner side. When I joined Special Forces, I had to train to push my fitness level to a much higher level. This is when I started functional fitness type workouts. After I got out of the Army, leading GORUCK events has kept me in shape and I bike often and climb mountains when I can.
It’s a process called Indoctrination that happens in three phases. Phase One is the application that collects personal information, requires a written essay, and asks for the applicants intentions of becoming a Masked Athlete. Phase Two is a 2-3 month period where candidates, as a group, do a fundraiser to benefit OEW and complete written assignments every week. This phase culminates with a telephone interview with one of the OEW Officers. If candidates pass Phase Two, they are invited to Phase Three, which is a 2-3 day endurance event, at an undisclosed remote location. Phase Three is designed to bring the candidates to the brink of physical exhaustion, in order to determine their true motivation for service on the Masked Athlete Team. *edit* Indoc Class 02-18 concluded 22 July 2018, in Jackson, OH and resulted in three new teammates joining the team.
I heard of Endeavor through a past competitor who was working a GORUCK event with me. He had to jet over to Bear Valley to compete in Endeavor, which intrigued me. What was this event that was pulling a Cadre away? Once I researched it and found out it was based on the Best Ranger Competition, I set it as a goal to do.
One of my duties within OEW is to manage their Adventure and Endurance Program. This program differs from our Athletic Events Program, which consists mainly of obstacle course races. Some examples of events within our Adventure and Endurance
Program are Grand Canyon hikes, Mt. Rainier climb, City Ruck Tour stops, and the OEW Bicycle Tour. Endeavor Team Challenge is a perfect event for this program.
I have zero experience in adventure racing per se, but I’ve done plenty of obstacle course races both as part of OEW and independently. However, I haven’t done a multi-stage event like this since Indoctrination.
In general I like to run and do CrossFit. As a GORUCK Cadre, I’m always rucking too. Recently, I’ve been biking a lot in preparation for a bicycle trek with OEW traveling from Maine to Florida. I also am training for a Mt Rainier summit attempt with OEW. Our team will climb with two honorees, both amputees, and one of whom is blind, to attempt the 14,411’ summit.
There so much about this event that I don’t know and I know that’s by design. I’m not sure what types of puzzles or problem solving we’ll be required to do. I think it’s going to be key to get through the mental gymnastics without too many fumbles.
From a physical perspective, I have a chronic foot injury that I’ve been rehabbing, so I’m hoping that it cooperates and doesn’t give me too much trouble.
Outside of those two things, I’m really looking forward to being on the move, especially the running and the orienteering. I love being out in the wilderness and it’s incredible to get a good team together and get through some tough challenges together. I can’t wait to get through the terrain the view the scenery.
OEW’s greatest impact is that the program prevents suicide from occurring. I absolutely believe in this mission, and I consider it an honor to play a role in the result. Through OEW I found a purpose for my “post-military” life, and I found a cause where my talents and efforts will be effective.