Jan. 9, 2013
JUDGMENT DAY (TRAILER) | Photo Gallery
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Exhausted and pushed to the edge, the Tennessee softball team found itself at gut-check time, treading water in the deep end of Allan Jones Aquatic Center early Tuesday morning.
The UT coaching staff had a surprise for the Lady Vols upon their return from the holiday break and this was it - a grueling two-day, team-building and leadership-development activity called The Program.
All 19 Lady Vols were using every muscle in their tired bodies to keep afloat after two rigorous days of this boot camp. The final task sounded relatively simple: 19 people tread water with sweatshirts on, take off the sweatshirts, hold them above their heads for two seconds, switch sweatshirts with a teammate and then put on the newly-acquired sweatshirts - all in the water and in 45 seconds.
However, after a few unsuccessful attempts to reach 45 seconds, this was the team's last chance. With mission leader Ellen Renfroe keeping her head above the water and shouting towards appointed assistants Whitney Hammond and Tory Lewis to check the status of teammates out of her line of sight, the Lady Vols functioned as one unit. With exhausted arms and legs, they maneuvered in and around the water-heavy sweatshirts, pulled and pushed on each other to help keep teammates' heads above water and accomplished the task in just over 43 seconds.
The first two days of the Tennessee softball team's 2013 preseason training would not be about softball at all. They were about pulling together, facing adversity, holding friends and teammates accountable, understanding that single actions can yield team consequences and never relenting when faced with a challenge.
"This was an amazing experience," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Being a former military officer with two combat tours, I was able to identify closely with their tactics. Both instructors were highly qualified. The lead instructor, a major with three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a purple heart, was tough, demanding and unyielding. This was a very realistic and challenging course resembling warrior boot camp. The instructors utilized sandbags, 100-pound telephone poles and land and water rescue drills."
The Program was founded in 2008 with the mission of providing high schools, professional and collegiate teams and corporate organizations with the best leadership and team building development in the country. Under the leadership of CEO and founder Eric Kapitulik, The Program creates personalized leadership development training that challenges every member of a team to get "that much better." More information on The Program can be found on TheProgram.org.
VFL Films was there on both days to document how the Lady Vol softball team did in The Program. Stay tuned for "Judgment Day," a full video documentary of the days' events on UTSports.com in the coming weeks. Check out the above trailer or CLICK HERE.
On Monday, the team returned to campus and met their instructors from The Program: Jake MacDonald and Genevieve Richardson. MacDonald, a United States Marine, and Richardson, an accomplished ice hockey player and marathon runner, informed the team that over the next two days they would push everyone to the limit and hold everyone accountable to meeting each standard and goal.
"I honestly thought it was great," sophomore Cheyanne Tarango said. "I felt like it challenged us in ways that we've never been challenged before and it brought us together as a team. I don't think I've ever seen us work together as much as we've worked together these past two days."
Monday afternoon featured over four hours of hard drills on the indoor turf of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. The Lady Vols were faced with a long series of intense calisthenics drills that they could stop only if the team did each and every aspect as one. The team also performed the fireman's carry - picking up a teammate and putting her over your back - up and down the length of the football field multiple times. Monday's activities also included timed drills that involved the lifting of telephone poles and sand bags.
"We had to not only pull in and say, `Hey that's my friend,' but also `you're my teammate and I've got to hold you accountable for what you're doing,'" junior Tory Lewis said. "We had to make sure that everybody's in sync and really tighten up and realize when you're doing something wrong, it's affecting not only you, but everybody else. You've got to give yourself and realize that we're a team."
Tuesday's work started at 5:30 a.m. in the pool at Allan Jones Aquatic Center. The day started with similar timed calisthenics drills, only the Lady Vols had to perform them at each end of the pool, swimming laps between repetitions.
For each challenge, a different Lady Vol was thrust into a leadership role and faced with the responsibility of performing at optimum efficiency and ensuring that her teammates worked together and followed suit. The standard must be upheld with each rep and each action.
"I thought it was a cool experience to see everyone come together," junior Madison Shipman said. "There were some pretty stressful situations that they put us through in the end. Every little bit mattered. Every second mattered, every technique, everything mattered. We came together as a team and really just helped each other out. The stronger people helped out the weaker people just so we could get through as efficiently as possible."
This week's work with The Program marked the first step for Tennessee softball as it prepares to open the 2013 season on Feb. 7 in St. George, Utah.
"I was extremely proud of every member of our team," Ralph Weekly said. "They were pushed harder and longer than they had ever been before. They were absolutely exhausted and at their limits, but they never quit and learned some invaluable lessons about surviving in very difficult situations. Intense and realistic for sure."