Fortified As One
FCA Camp drives individuals to embrace unity.
Nestled among the evergreens of its namesake mountain range, the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, has hosted countless coaches and athletes at FCA Camp for more than 50 years.
This particular year, campers from the Girls Multi-Sport Camp congregate on the historic steps of Eureka Hall. The eight giant, white pillars tower above them. An eagerness ripples through the crowd for the first day of the Extreme Competitor’s Challenge, an optional morning offering for athletes looking for intense physical exertion.
One of those girls is Jada, a tall, strong, quietly determined high school basketball forward with braids woven through her raven hair. Attending from Graham High School in Graham, North Carolina, she joined the Extreme Competitor’s Challenge along with a few other teammates, believing it would be good training before afternoon clinics.
Endurance guru and FCA Central Virginia Area Representative Rebekah Trittipoe splits the group into three teams, explaining the first undertaking: a 2.5-mile obstacle course run through the thicket of woods sprawled across the campgrounds. The entire team must cross the finish line together. No exceptions. Teamwork defined: joined together, connected, working as one.
The whistle shrieks, and the girls dash down the hill.
After a few dozen yards, Jada slips to the back of the pack, her breathing already labored. She is wearing loosely tied basketball shoes, not quite ideal for a trek in the forest. Easing her way down the drive, her ankle catches and twists on an overgrown root.
Jada wobbles her way through the dirt and greenery, not to be deterred by the pain shooting up her leg. Her team’s Huddle Leader, Sara Scism, a lively and agile track athlete from North Greenville University, circles back to match pace.
“Are you OK?” she asks.
Jada grits her teeth, eyes focused on the earth floor, and continues running.
From that point, the two become running buddies, and other girls bounce back from the pack periodically to run alongside them. Jada makes strides and soon breaks out of the woods, only to find another challenge—repelling down a ravine into a mud-soaked roadway, followed by an Army crawl under a web of rope.
Jada heaves in one big breath before lowering herself down the ravine, inspired by the chatter of girls spurring one another on through the sludge. They will run waterlogged the rest of the way.
Trees and stone give way to open field, but then come the hurdles: walls rising eight feet, with metal bars at different levels to jump over or bend under. Drenched with water, mud and sweat from the humidity, Jada, ankle throbbing, grabs the rope. Between slick wood and skin, she can’t make the climb. This 2.5-mile course of stamina and strength is more than she anticipated.
But her mental toughness is a force to be reckoned with, and she tries again. The remaining teammates assemble around her, crouching as Jada lifts one foot to find a stirrup in a link of hands. Her body rises, hands gliding up the rope, and she curves her frame over the crest and down the other side.
Together, they complete the rest of the obstacles and begin the last half-mile. The rising slope of gravel gives way to pavement and one last pull of energy launches them through the finish, collapsing on the patch of grass where the other teams already washed off their clothes. Hoses spray mud from their skin; bodies lay across the grass. Complete exhaustion, and it’s just day one. But a sense of accomplishment fuses immediate bonds between the girls, who smile wide.
No one was left behind.
Throughout the week, much of the same ensues—rock climbing, swimming, scavenger hunts scattered across the mountain—in continual tests of grit and group effort. The Extreme Competitor’s Challenge has lived up to its name, pushing the boundaries of what it takes to contend.
But what about extreme spiritual extraction? What of those moments in between, where concrete hearts embittered by pain and abandonment meet malleable honesty during morning and evening Huddle times?
These girls with gritty stories engrained in their DNA hold tight to their fears and insecurity. But after the euphoria of enduring the sweat of the day and hearing snippets of truth whispered of their worth, hesitancy unravels and love compels them to come out of their comfort zones. Jada and her Huddle gingerly learn that chipping away at scars and allowing the Holy Spirit room to breathe leads to open questions, honest answers.
Warm laughter and deep conversation shoot into the air after the evening worship program. Earlier that day, the camp director presented an award to the camper who exemplified perseverance and positive attitude throughout the week. Jada’s name bounced from the speakers and was received with howling approval by the auditorium.
But the award signified something bigger than the moment, bigger than one basketball player from Graham, North Carolina, and even bigger than one team traversing challenges together. In the painstakingly slow process of burning lungs and vacuumed exhaustion, God refined them through the sludge, as the last of their own effort leaked out and they were filled with the strength of someone else, astounded by how fast the bonds were formed in only a few days.