Going into the obstacle course challenge Dec. 3 at Camp Flaming Arrow in Lake Wales, Karen Tinoco, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior, was nervous.
Tinoco and her fellow Mustang cadets on the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps female Raiders team had never competed in the obstacle course before. They had to run through the course carrying kettlebells.
“We just tried our best to make sure we were there for each other,” Tinoco said. “It was much easier as we went through it. We were worried about falling because we had seen other teams face plant at some point.”
To the Mustangs' surprise, they placed first in the event.
The Mustangs went on to win the 2022 Florida State Raider Challenge Dec. 3 for their division.
“We were so happy and excited,” Tinoco said. “We felt so nice after each event. We were feeling the (physical) pain together.”
Braden River High School’s mixed JROTC Raiders team also won a state championship in its division.
“When they announced (we won), it was such a great feeling,” said Nathan Walmsley, a Braden River High junior. “It gives me chills just thinking about it. It’s the best feeling to know that all this hard work that you started in the spring led up to this moment.”
Both Lakewood Ranch and Braden River competed against eight other teams in their respective divisions.
Lakewood Ranch placed first in the obstacle course, cross country rescue and tire flip and earned third place in rope bridge. The team placed fifth in the 5K.
Braden River placed first in the tire flip, cross country rescue, rope bridge and 5K.
Both Lakewood Ranch and Braden River had freshmen in their lineup, causing the upperclassmen to train them quickly to get up to their programs’ standards.
“It was about how we can balance it out and teach them as fast as possible and get them to be competing at the level we were at last year,” said Audrey Weeks, a Lakewood Ranch High sophomore. “Honestly, they did a good job. They showed up.”
Walmsley said one freshman, Eli Bazo, was “just amazing.”
“First day out, he was hanging out with the big guys running faster than all of us and keeping up with us,” Walmsley said of Bazo. “We were like, ‘We can’t let this kid keep beating us,’ so we had to do something about it.”
Bazo pushed his teammates to work harder.
As the season progressed, Tinoco and Cristal Trejo, a Braden River High senior, said they saw the freshmen have more confidence in themselves and their abilities.
“We had to train them to not give up at first because it’s hard when you’re trying to go into these hardcore events,” Tinoco said. “Then at the end, I could tell they eventually got to the point where they were like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ It was nice to see they had that ability to move forward and come with us to states and have that experience.”
Weeks said the Mustangs struggled most with the 5K throughout the season because the girls were more focused on specialized tasks such as lifting or rope climbing.
“Half our team could really run and half of us could maybe do a mile and a half well,” she said. “Then the other half (of the run) we would struggle. It was all about just trying to keep going through 5K.”
For Braden River, Walmsley said the team’s most improved event was the tire flip.
“At the beginning of the year, we were very slow, and I wasn’t really confident in our tire,” he said. “At the end of the year, we would even beat the male teams with our times of how fast we would flip the tire with our mixed team. It was great to see that improvement throughout the season.”
For the Lakewood Ranch team, the biggest challenge at the state competition was the litter run, where students had to carry a simulated casualty on a litter. The team was used to having two girls running with weighted backpacks, but the state competition required four people. On top of the change, they also were running through sand, which was difficult to wade through.
“I was relieved that it was over,” Tinoco said.
For both teams, the next step is looking at how they can improve next year with the goal of earning another state championship.
“You keep seeing yourself improving and you just want to keep on going at it,” Walmsley said. “Now that the season’s over, I keep wanting to keep working at it and getting better.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.