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Almost 80 years ago, American soldiers and their allies landed on beaches along the Normandy coast with one mission in mind: save the world. Eight decades later, candidates taking on the GoRuck Selection endurance event paid homage to those who battled their way up the beach. 

“We wanted to be here at a deeply personal level, and so we wanted to share in why we wanted to be here,” said GoRuck CEO and founder Jason McCarthy, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier. “This is a very fitting way and a fitting part to do that. So we have Selection, plus a bunch of other events here. Ultimately, GoRuck is an extension of what and who we love and what we stand for.”

The grueling 48-hour selection concluded Wednesday after all but one candidate made it to the end of the GoRuck challenge. With 17 hours remaining, the final two contestants included one American, Adam Howthe, and one German, Marc Buddensiek. Buddensiek finished as the last man standing. 

“I mean, I think God has a sense of humor,” McCarthy laughed. “You’ve got six Army Special Forces dudes putting on the toughest endurance event in the world right here in Normandy, France, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. [You look at the history] of what happened here, and Marc had nothing to do with that. That’s kind of the thing: he wasn’t there. I think the best thing we can do is learn from the past and lead with our hearts.”

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Buddensiek had attempted a GoRuck Selection held in Ohio last year and ended up contracting COVID-19, hampering his attempt. He returned this year to prove that he could do it. Normandy is a lot closer to Germany than a trip to the U.S., and it wasn’t until Buddensiek was grinding on that sacred beach that the history of the place struck him. 

“It truly changed our Selection, everything about that. Before, I knew these beaches were where the Americans started the invasion to defeat the Nazis. Through Selection, I gained a deeper understanding of everything,” Buddensiek said. “[…] Throughout Selection, I asked myself, ‘Well, am I going to die here?’ No. Then I said to myself, ‘Okay, shut the fuck up, just do the work, and remember the ones who really died here. They had no chance but did the impossible.”

GoRuck Selection in Normandy, France, started with 21 of the approximately 40 who signed up. (GoRuck photo/Nick Schrein)
GoRuck Selection in Normandy, France, started with 21 of the approximately 40 who signed up. (GoRuck photo/Nick Schrein)

Each contestant was pitted against themselves and the standard that GoRuck is well known for. McCarthy said Selection is the only event in the GoRuck catalog that isn’t a team-building exercise. 

Out of the 40 people who signed up, only 21 “toed the line.” They did everything from forced ruck marches to dragging 60-pound sandbags from a crawling position. It’s constant physical and mental challenges for 48 hours straight. The standard candidates are held to is tough, and a series of slashes are given for not meeting standards before a person is cut for performance. 

“The standard is winning. The standard is unforgiving and ruthless. If you can’t achieve that, then this event’s not for you,” McCarthy said. “So, it speaks to a very small minority, and it certainly harkens back to, you know, some of the most brutal phases of our training that any of us have been through.”

GoRuck Selection candidates working late into the night and into the morning during the first half of the challenge.
GoRuck Selection takes candidates through 48 hours of grueling physical exercises in the salty ocean water and sandy beaches. (GoRuck photo/Nick Schrein)

It’s hard to differentiate between GoRuck Selection and any of the assessment and selection courses found in the U.S. Military. That’s because all the cadre running GoRuck Selection are special operations veterans and have all, in some way, trained recruits for their prestigious units. McCarthy said Buddensiek’s perspective on the history was intriguing. 

“I think there’s the magnitude of looking at how he described it: look at how defended this was, and the Americans kept coming anyway,” McCarthy said. “It’s historic, but you learn something from embracing your own history even when it’s bad.”

Hawthe, the American, was the last candidate dropped due to medical reasons. McCarthy said he was leading the pack almost the entire time. Hawthe was driven by his mission to honor his grandfather, who fought in Normandy during World War II. 

Adam Howthe doing sandbag movements in the final 24 hours of the Selection in Normandy, France.
Adam Howthe during the final hours leading up to his medical drop from Selection. (GoRuck photo/Nick Schrein)

But why Normandy during the anniversary of D-Day?

“To me — it sounds crazy — Normandy is the most American place on planet Earth. When you come to that American Cemetery above Omaha Beach, you see what happened there. I mean, it’s too much to comprehend,” McCarthy said. 

“You think about the service, the selfless sacrifice, the waves of Americans who just kept coming anyway, and you think about what that meant. It changed the whole history of the world because our ancestors were willing to do that. It was us at our best.”

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