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Rat Challenge Reaches New Heights

Physical education professor Col. Jay Johnson speaks about the physical and mental rigors of Rat Challenge.

LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 9, 2017—Rat Challenge, an intensive 10-week program that pushes the limits of physicality and mental strength for new cadets, will culminate Friday, Nov. 10, in Rat Olympics. The company which collectively demonstrates the best attitude and works hardest towards a common goal will win the Stockwell Cup, in honor of the late Col. William Stockwell, who encouraged those values in cadets during his time at VMI.

Rat Challenge is overseen by the physical education department and gives every non-athlete rat the chance to train on North Post, in the CPTF, and at other locations on and off post. The program also offers company cadre members stationed at each obstacle the opportunity to lead new cadets through the challenges.

“The facility offers fantastic new experiences that will challenge the rats in new ways that we did not have a year ago,” said cadet in charge Duncan Naylor ’18.  

The program is designed not only for building physical strength, but also for pushing the new cadets out of their comfort zone. Stations inside the CPTF include the rock wall, the high ropes, and the indoor mobile initiative course.

Unlike the obstacles on North Post, the indoor mobile initiative course follows an experiential education model that encourages small group dynamics. And the indoor high ropes course is roughly twice as high as the one on North Post.

“I know that each of the rats freak out a little when they see how high up they are,” continued Naylor. “The whole point is that they push through it, overcome the obstacle, and then they surprise themselves and realize how much more capable they are.”

Stations outside of the CPTF haven’t changed much over the years, Rat Challenge still utilizes access to House Mountain and the Maury River in addition to VMI property.  But conditions are always in flux. The river may not be deep enough for the zip line station in the coming years because of the possible removal of the Jordan’s Point dam. So the P.E. department is getting more creative and adding new stations to the river. The raft station, implemented last year, allows rats only a few materials to build a raft to make it across the river and back.

Using these facilities and public space involves a great deal of coordination to make happen every year.

“At any one time on a Tuesday or Thursday we have over 500 young people participating,” said Col. Jay Johnson, director of Rat Challenge. “It is an enormous program that most people don’t realize the complexity, the liability, the safety, the communication between departments that has to occur before we even step out there.”

That level of responsibility makes Rat Challenge just as much of a learning opportunity for the upperclassmen leading it as it does for the rats participating in it.  Even though P.E. department staff oversee every station, cadre volunteers secure the lines, check harnesses and helmets, and instruct the rats on safety.

“It is a leadership lab,” Johnson explained. “There is a seriousness and professionalism that has to be upheld during Rat Challenge.”

The CPTF brings that leadership opportunity to a new level during Rat Challenge. Fulfilling the Rat Challenge mission statement “to foster self-confidence and physical conditioning in new cadets by creating training situations which are reasonable enough yet stressful enough to show them that they’re capable of doing tasks which surpassed previously self-imposed mental and physical limits.”

-Kelly Nye


VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders