An Obstacle Course… Against the Clock
By 26972 OCdt (II) Chantel Fortier
It’s a widely accepted fact among the professors of the Royal Military College that attempting to keep the attention of their students on the highly anticipated Obstacle Course Day is a fruitless endeavour, especially for the first years. So it was with little surprise that most classes were cancelled on Friday, setting free around a thousand students to prepare for the shenanigans.
And were there ever shenanigans.
The entire college woke to a campus so covered in skylarks it seemed more fresh Dollar Store paint, paper and bedsheets than stone. 12 Squadron strung flyers over every conceivable surface and 1 Squadron set up a particularly memorable banner stretching two thirds the length of Mackenzie Tower, looming over the parade square. As the college began to gather, cheering on their first years to the front of each colorful space, 6 Squadron rode in on a yellow pirate ship and 10 Squadron’s unforgettable dragon car made an appearance. Everywhere was screaming, air horns, blasts of colored powder, silly string and challenges. Everyone was remembering their own day, watching as the first years shared nervously in the revelry, anticipating the race to come.
Perhaps that is the one aspect of FYOP that strikes home the hardest; the kinship, and therefore the tough expectation that each fresh year will earn their place by doing exactly what the year before them did – survive the five weeks of indoctrination training, culminating in a race that will make them want to give up, make them hurt, make them reconsider all of their limits. The most challenging part of that race is not the fatigue or the twenty-foot cargo net or the giant red wall – it’s getting everyone through, together, no matter what. In many cases, that meant dragging teammates that had reached their edge, that meant getting back up when every muscle cried out to stop and pulling those jerry cans to the end even when your arms are burning in protest. When spoken to after the race, 27087 OCdt McCall, s27124 OCdt Iver, both second years in their respective squadrons, proudly declared that regardless of the rankings, they had seen their first years throw every ounce of themselves into it and that alone was worth being proud of.
The end of the obstacle course is always the most moving. As Cadets come racing in, a storm of cheers arise from the watching parents and squadron members. There’s that final lap around the edge of the parade square, and then the bell – and it’s over. The look of relief and joy on each face as the bell rings out, signifying the victory of each Cadet, is tear-jerking. And then, perhaps the very best part, the first years are reunited with their parents. Many of them went around to the squadrons, hugging and cheering with their senior years. “I’m so proud of us – them – me!” laughed OCdt McDonnell, a first year engineering student in 2 Squadron. Later, the three girls of Fighter Flight tossed their arms around each other’s shoulders, and, when asked if they thought they’d drift apart after FYOP, reacted with incredulity. “We’re as close as sisters!” OCdt Fielding remarked. “FYOP made us close-knit, made us work together like nothing else. I can’t imagine that fading.”
Last year, when Lieutenant-Colonel Lemyre addressed the first years, he told the parents that their children would be changed. Five weeks of intensive, isolated training, physical and mental, would alter the shiny-eyed boys and girls they had left behind in August. As a first year, it is difficult to see that – missing home, missing family, you don’t feel much changed. But in the eyes of those watching, and in the eyes of those parents, they have. Many civilians will never try, let alone accomplish, half of what the first years did on Obstacle Course day, and even fewer would have the patience and determination to grab a lagging flightmate’s hand and drag them to the end. There is no such thing as giving up in such a community. And by shouldering that challenge, the first years have come together to join the larger college, and know that even when they are expected to give it their all, there will be hands behind them, pulling, pushing, edging them along.