Semper Fi Society holds annual Walter N. Levy challenge

On the first of October, Norwich University’s campus was full of action as students and locals alike participated in the Walter N. Levy Challenge, a motivating and inspiring experience for those who do it or help out.
“For me, who has always volunteered, and never actually ran the course, I still get a lot out of it,” said Chandler Heath, a 21-year-old business management major from Atlanta, Ga. “I think it’s especially great for the Naval Battalion to help out, and instead of doing something for ourselves, actually volunteer and contribute towards something greater than ourselves.”
The Levy Challenge is a 10k endurance race “that will challenge you mentally and physically” according to the page on Active.com. The event includes obstacles such as: The Marine Corps obstacle course, steep grade of Hill 488, Quang Nam mud crawl, Rock Pile ammo resupply mission, pull-up challenge, Hue City ruck run, and the Da Nang serpentine.
This October marked the race’s eighth consecutive year memorializing Walter N. Levy, who graduated Norwich in 1963, and then commissioned and served in the Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant Infantry Officer until he was killed in action on Sept. 18, 1965 in South Vietnam.
The Marine Corps branch of ROTC on Norwich’s campus has been organizing the event since its origination. “I think the organization was fine this year, Semper Fi always does a really good job of covering their bases, and making sure all the fine details of event organization are sorted out,” said Heath.
Also helping out with the event for its eight years has been Norwich’s Naval Battalion. Semper Fi handles the logistics including registration of racers, planning and finalizing a route, food for the racers after they finish, and the keeping of the contestant’s time. On the other side of things, Naval Battalion is there to man all the different stations, and “add to the body of volunteers as to ensure a smooth operation.” said Heath.
One of those volunteers in Norwich’s Marine ROTC program was Skyler Grathwohl, a 19-yearold health science major from Mattituck, N.Y. “My favorite part about the Levy Challenge is seeing everyone who comes out for it. It is always very entertaining to see the outfits people run in, but no matter the costume, they all still wear the same look of determination with every obstacle they face,” said Grathwohl.
This is Grathwohl’s second year of volunteering at the event and she plans to help out for the remainder of her years at Norwich, if she can. One of the humorous, according to both Heath and Grathwohl, is that often times, people race in wacky, yet still practical outfits.
“I’ve seen some pretty entertaining things on the course over my four years, that’s for sure,” said Heath. “This year, the funniest thing I think I saw, was this one group of older guys. They all had jean shorts and white shirts with ‘Banana Hammock 2.0’ written on them. You should have seen their faces when I told them they had to jump in the cold water of the worm pits!”
“I think it’s awesome that people come out for the event with very competitive attitudes, yet at the same time, find ways to make it entertaining for themselves, us the volunteers, and certainly the spectators as well,” said Grathwohl. “I don’t know what’s better, seeing the outfits, or seeing the racers realize what they have to do in the outfits!”
All the racers in their crazy outfits totaled just around 100 this year, staying on par with the numbers of years past, according to Heath. The registration fee for individual racers was $35, whereas if racers chose to form a team of four, the price was $120, and all money paid for registration goes to the Semper Fi fund.
The Semper Fi Fund is a charity that supports military members and their families from all branches who have been injured or have a life-threatening illness from post 9/11 combat. “The sacrifice the men and women of our armed forces have made have inspired us to give back as much as possible,” according to the Levy Challenge’s event page.
“I mean, as a school we stress being physically fit, and encourage service to nation and others before self, and by donating to the Semper Fi fund, we’re hitting two birds with one stone, and that’s pretty motivating.” said Andrew Harris, a 19-year-old business management from Los Angeles, Calif., in regard to how the race embodies some of Norwich’s guiding values.
The Walter N. Levy Challenge fits into a similar vein of competitive races such as the likes of Tough Mudders, Spartan Races and other obstacle-oriented races that take place all over the state of Vermont during the fall season, according to RunVermont.org. But to Heath, Grathwohl and Harris, the Walter Levy challenge is unique, and in a “class of its own” said Harris.
“I think the fact that the Levy Challenge is student-run, and is successful year after year, says a lot about the caliber of the students that attends Norwich,” said Harris. “I really enjoyed running it with my Air Force boys, and getting so much encouragement from cadets in other military branches that were helping out around the course, there was a real sense of unity with that.”
The positive feedback from racers, community members and volunteers helps keep the race going, mentioned Heath.
“I think that this event is so incredibly unique because of the fact that it’s at Norwich,” said Grathwohl. “The people at this school have a greater respect and understanding of what the race is being run for, and it’s easy for them to think of this as bigger than themselves. It actually fills me with pride to be at a school that cares so much for its country and those who protect it, so much so that we can give back with an event like the Levy Challenge.”

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