I’ve spent my entire life in love with Ireland. It reminds me of my grandparents and no doubt it reminded them of theirs. And the older I get the more I want to know more about the people and the places that shaped my past. Enter the Wall of Fame in Dublin. OK not really but it’s not a bad place to start a Dublin tour in a town with no bad places to start a tour.
Irish + American = my grandfather. ‘You can do anything you want in this world if you set your mind to it and work hard’ was his belief, hardened no doubt by growing up with a Depression Era mentality. It’s a statement that bypasses genetics, fate, and lineage. Aka God Bless America. And yet staring at a man I’ve never met (strangers don’t really exist in Ireland) cross a street with a broken arm and a case of Budweiser I concede that Irish blood, whether in Ireland or America, seems pre-disposed to certain things. Genetics, fate, lineage? – you tell me.
Another counter-example to the whole work harder thing. If I had to survive on song and music, I would starve – ask anyone who’s heard me sing. Unless, of course, I brought Java. Hey what a cute dog here’s $1 go find something else to do with your life kind of deal. Seeing Java’s distant cousin above, I don’t remember the music but I’m still smiling about the dog. And someday they’ll probably say the same thing about me, if they don’t already.
The weather in Ireland drives you into the pubs with a passion matched only by the smiles you receive when you get there. And this is where I shine. Once inside, you have two main tasks: order Guinness and smile back.
But this year there was a street party that drove me out of the pubs, and I got to smile back there, too. Enter The Challenge, enter the Guinness Storehouse aka the “Home of Guinness.” Enter Good Livin’.
If you’re not careful, you’ll work yourself out of the best jobs in life. In Special Forces, you stay a shooter but you don’t get to shoot (when it counts) forever. And at GORUCK, I don’t lead Challenges too often anymore. After ~60 or so inside a year and a half I was getting burnt out. That’s my way of saying I love The Challenge and especially the people who show up, but it’s exhausting and I needed a break. I hate to say things like that but if you don’t want to learn humility, life will teach you anyway. So I did.
And yet The Challenge is kind of like a best friend that I shared a shoe-box apartment with years ago. At this point, I only remember the parts where we got to paint the town red and we’re back at it and my new focus is Rule #2: Never Get Lost. So when you leave the Storehouse, or anywhere else for that matter, have a plan, know your route, and then start painting Carpe Diem.
Or red or black or all of the above. Just oblige, however you call it. And though I heard that the Dubliners only barely celebrate St. Paddy’s Day, I did not find this to be the case. As one of the locals put it, “yeah we’ve been shamed into making a big deal about it, so now we have parades to go along with all the drinking we would do anyway.” And the city paints the town green and it feels about right.
Good Livin’ is never life or death. You have everyone to share it with and you better smile. Which brings me to Kovac. Aka The Kovac.
I’ve spent a bunch of time with him and he’s one of the most beloved guys in the GORUCK community. Rightfully so. He’s shown up twice to Selection and was not ready either time. He’s a big guy who hates to run but loves lifting heavy stuff and loves to smile and if you do The Challenge with him, you’ll be grateful he’s by your side. I sent him a note after I saw the pic above and told him not to get burnt out on this stuff, that if he really wants to pass Selection he’s gonna have to be more methodical about it. The skinny is that you need to ruck a lot with a lot of weight on your back and you need to do functional Physical Training (PT). Do not max out on the bench press and do not beat your body up week after week. Basically, your muscles get bigger when you lift heavy stuff. Bigger muscles weigh more which means you have to carry them around. When doing PT, lower weight and higher reps of any exercise won’t get you as big but your muscle endurance will go way up. Such are the trade-offs in life sometimes and I didn’t know that when I was 19 and only wanted huge biceps and a huge chest. Deep sigh from the older version of me to the younger. Anyway, The Kovac’s giving Selection another go in December. My challenge to him was to run a marathon this summer and weigh no more than 190 lbs when he shows up. Feeling ready is 90% of the battle, and the other 90% is actually being ready. Then don’t forget to smile. I think he’ll get it done this time and I’m rooting for him.
And so are a lot of others, including the newbies like Jenny, who laughed her way through two rucks and a sandbag so The Kovac could get his smile back. We get a lot of questions – fewer than we used to though – about girls in The Challenge and can I do it? So here’s my oldie but goodie plug to say that girls are the strong links. Not because they’re best at carrying the log or even the sandbags, but because they smile more and they complain less. If you do that in life, people will love you.
Ever played the game Where’s The Kovac’s smile? I have, and in the pic above you’ll look forever before you’ll find it because it’s not there.
So I authored a re-do Hey Kovac smile or die and you too Jim and now you can’t help but smile at them smiling. And all was right in the world and the tour could continue to Trinity College.
I love a good history lesson from the locals. And I love it even more when they’ve kept it hidden from Google. So maybe this is true, maybe it’s not, but several Trinity students told me the same thing Jenny told our class:
In 1922, after the Irish War of Independence, Ireland was divided into the 6 counties of the north that remained with Britain and became Northern Ireland, and the 26 counties that remained Irish and became the Republic of Ireland. In rebellion against this, some British loyalists and unionists climbed onto the roof of Trinity College and wrote ‘give her back her 26 counties.’ Essentially meaning, give all of Ireland back to the crown. It was written where that white patch is on the roof (pictured above). As you can imagine, it was quickly painted over.
Conclusion: Eat your heart out, Google. You heard it on The Challenge first.
Post-Challenge is and was always the reward and I never get tired of it. If you’re training for one, plan to stay a while when it’s over and drink a beer or two or ten. If you’ve done a Challenge before, set the standard. And if you promise to meet up later, don’t pass out on your bed because no alarm clock will wake you up. As Chris Farley once said, I know from experience.
Now to the Dublin magic. Guinness is particular about its yeast – allegedly a famous strain, descended down from King Arthur’s time. “It works like no other to ensure our beer is fully fermented and charged with flavour. It’s so valuable to us that a small reserve amount is kept under lock and key in case something should happen to our main supply.”
That’s comforting, I’ll take 3 to start and since the pour – which is an art and well worth the wait – takes a while, would you mind starting that second round while you’re at it please? Big smile, thanks.
And not to worry, Guinness is all about corporate social responsibility. Complete with a medical department and everything. For what I don’t know exactly, but when I got to the St. Paddy’s Day parade it all made a little more sense.
We loved it so much we’ve made it an annual St. Paddy’s Day Dublin Challenge, and a Light as well. And when you’ve had your fill of red, black, and green, make sure to head to the rest of the island, which also has good Irish folks all over the place. More from the Jameson Distillery, Cork County, Galway, and even the fabled Cliffs of Insanity in the coming weeks.
And Kovac, I’m serious. Run more, ruck more, and lift less. You can do anything you want in this world if you set your mind to it and work hard. Love ya big guy, and we’ll see ya in Florida later this year. Third time’s a charm.