If you've ever pledged a Greek organization or — less likely— have participated in police academy or Navy SEAL training, you're familiar with Hell Week. It's the hardest, most grueling part of any initiation process, in which you're challenged to your very core and only the strongest of the strong survive.
At the Agoge Kids Camp — aka Camp Spartan — kids have to complete something similar on the 14th and final day of the session. It isn't Hell Week, but rather Hell Day. It's the Kids Death Race.
On Day 14 of the 14-day camp, Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena decided to hand the reins over to Josh Grant, a Death Race veteran who is, by Joe's own admission, even more hardcore than he is. De Sena wanted a fresh face in there, so he had Grant design and oversee the final leg of the session, a 24-hour push-you-to-your-limit Death Race.
This is what the final 24 hours on Joe's farm in Pittsfield, Vermont, looked like — and the greater purpose of each task.
The M&M Challenge
Prior to the race, Grant and De Sena took away the kids' bibs. They couldn't just enter the race. They had to show how much they wanted it. In order to earn their way into it, they had to complete this challenge.
Each kid was given a cup, an egg, and M&M's. They had to walk three laps with all of them, with the following stipulations:
1) The egg must go under your chin.
2) The M&M's must be in the cup.
3) The M&M's can't touch the water.
4) The egg cannot crack.
5) The color of the M&M's can't fade.
"We wanted the kids to think," De Sena says. "Let's have them solve a problem. You can't complete this challenge unless you can do some problem-solving in your mind."
When the kids completed this mission, they were officially re-entered into the race. Let the madness begin!
Watch Episode 2 of Camp Spartan below.
The Rope Handrail
In less than two-and-a-half hours, the kids had to create a rope handrail that stretched from the bottom of the mountain to the top. They didn't understand it at the time, but this mission would prove very important later in the race. If they failed to effectively build it, the repercussions would be massive.
The Rope Climb
Each camper had to climb up the rope twice. This was an easy task for some, but quite grueling for others. The point is that you have to work as a team, accounting for individual strengths and weaknesses.
"This Death Race is not about your achievement on one thing," Grant says. "It doesn't impress me that you can climb a rope fast. What's gonna impress me is that everybody here gets up the rope twice, quickly and safely."
The Ice-Cold Water Challenge
A staple of the Agoge Kids Camp, the kids had to endure freezing-cold water — when the sun was down, no less. De Sena has long been a proponent of ice-cold water therapy, from cold showers to sitting in frigid rivers.
"Cold water is the hardest thing for any human to deal with," De Sena says. "Taking a cold shower, getting in a cold tub — very hard for people to deal with. But if the kids could learn to deal with that pain and suffering, they can deal with anything in life."
The Sandbag Under the Fence
To complete this mission, the kids had to go underneath fences with a sandbag on their stomachs. They could not let the sandbag hit the ground.
The Blindfolded Night Hike
Remember the rope handrail we mentioned earlier? It came into play during the blindfolded night hike. The kids were instructed to cover their eyes with their bibs and their noses with their hats. If any of the counselors saw a kid's face, that kid would receive a penalty.
In the black of night, the kids had to follow the rope handrail to the top of the mountain. When they reached the midway point of the mountain, they had a choice: They could either hike the second half of the mountain blindfolded, as they did the first half, or instead climb a rope blindfolded. Every camper chose the latter.
The Kids Death Race doesn't just test you physically. It also puts your mental acuity and memorization skills to the test. Throughout this exam, kids were asked a variety of mundane questions. (For example, they had to remember the major road that runs through Pittsfield, the square mileage of the town, and how many people live there.) They had to listen intently because many of the same questions were asked repeatedly, and they were expected to know the answers.
The kids were visibly exhausted, noticeably frustrated, and clearly miserable. Cold and hungry, they were broken mentally and it showed in the results, which were initially subpar.
They couldn't move onto the next mission until, as a team — and chosen at random — they collectively answered 10 questions correctly. Upon completing the task, they were rewarded with burritos from Chipotle. (Seriously.) That tasty, delicious, calorie-filled reward presented another challenge, one that they likely couldn't see.
"Be careful what you wish for," De Sena says. "Because when you eat a wonderful meal like that, and now you feel a little warmer — and you've got those calories in your belly — boy, that's an easy time to quit, because it feels good."
Watch Episode 1 of Camp Spartan below.
The Sandbag Roll to Sunrise
The final mission was a simple one, but its simplicity didn't make it any more tolerable. In the pitch black, in the middle of the night, the kids were tasked with pushing a sandbag across cold, wet grass that seemingly never stopped. They persevered until the sun, thankfully, arose.
"They needed to learn that even a monotonous task that sucks shall pass, and the kids learned that," De Sena says. "The kids learned, 'You know what? I gotta get a little gritty. I need a little resilience here.'"
The Finish Line
Some kids dropped out along the way, but the vast majority of campers completed the race and were presented with trophies, skulls, and awards upon finishing. The smiles on their faces, and their senses of accomplishment, were resounding. It was a special, wonderful, reaffirming moment.
But it's not the moment, De Sena says, that they'll remember in the years and decades to come.
"They're gonna remember the 14-day journey," De Sena says. "The finish line was awesome. They were cheering, they were happy. It was fun for us to see it. But it's the journey they're gonna talk about with their grandkids."