Changing My Mind: Beast Challenge Experience


Andres Garcia

Troopers and students lay out their equipment before getting the challenge started.

Giulia Gallo, Guest Writer

A famous motto of Saint Benedict’s Prep is that one must learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. In my life, I always looked to do the opposite. I stayed as far away from situations I felt like I didn’t have under control. Last year, as a junior in high school, I was reflecting on my life and felt like I had spent the last sixteen years I had on this earth playing it safe. I knew that I wanted a change and decided to transfer to Saint Benedict’s as a senior in high school. Ever since then, I have emerged into a completely new environment where I have had two choices; either remain uncomfortable and apprehensive or take the opportunity as a chance to grow and become stronger. 

Tuesday, November 9th was one of these days. A week prior to this date I was called over by a faculty member and asked if I knew how to swim. Not knowing the background of this question, I said yes. He responded, “Okay perfect”, and then he wrote my name down on a piece of paper. A couple of days after this encounter I received a paper asking if I was willing to participate in the BEAST challenge. All I knew was that I had to be at school by 6 am and that the purpose of this expedition was to “build bridges” between high school students and members of the New Jersey State Police. The title of the challenge was intimidating to me from the start, but I have always had a competitive aspect in me that wouldn’t let me say no. I decided to participate, truly not knowing what I signed up for. 

I had never had a personal interaction with State Troopers but I had many assumptions about them. In the past, when I thought of State Troopers, I pictured these super fit people with whom I had nothing in common. Also, I thought of them as having an air of intimidation.

The morning of the expedition I woke up wondering what I had gotten myself into. As I walked into the boardroom, I noticed that the room was divided with the State Troopers sitting together and the SBP students sitting together. There were fifteen Troopers — 14 males and 1 female — and 14 SBP students – 11 male and 4 female. The room felt awkward. No one knew each other but yet I felt this tension in the room like it was the students versus the Troopers. The team that was running this expedition was called Victory Road and they gave us an introduction about building this bridge between these two sides. After this, we went directly to Convo, and we were not given an opportunity to talk with any of the State Troopers. During Convo, all the students got paired with a state trooper. I was paired with Trooper Jennifer Albums, the only female. On the one hand, I was excited because I felt I would be able to relate to her more, but on the other hand, I was worried I would disappoint her. 

The pairing of the student-trooper teams. (Justin Crespo )

When Convo was over and all the students were paired with a Trooper, the instructors of the expedition informed us that this is when the challenging part of the day was going to begin. The day was split up into four different workout sessions, each one more draining than the one before. The hardest one for me was the first competition. We were asked to burn 100 calories on the assault bike. We were able to split the calories between our partners so the individual person only had to burn half the calories. I never used an assault bike before and once I finished I wanted to pass out. And that was just the start. I had to pull myself together so that I would be able to finish the day. This challenge was not only physically draining but also mentally taxing.

There were points where I wanted to give up, but then turning to my partner and seeing her continuing to push encouraged me to keep going, and give it my all. She would turn to me and say, “You’re doing great” or “We’ve almost reached the end”. It sounds so simple and words everyone says, but it was in the moments I would need it the most. I needed someone to believe in me, and those few words showed me that she did. 

The part that affected me the most was that my expectations of her and all the other State Troopers were wrong. She was not expecting anything extraordinary of me. She just wanted me to see that I was stronger than I thought. She told me that she needed me to make it through the day, in the same way, I needed her. 

At the end of the day, as I was sitting around back in the boardroom, the same one I started in at the beginning of the day. I sat around the table looking around. I saw all the SBP students sitting in between the State Troopers. Everyone was laughing, talking, and sharing experiences with each other. I sat in awe from how a couple of hours spent with these Troopers resulted in a complete change, not only one that came from warming up to them but one that came because this day changed our mentalities.   

These moments of communion and camaraderie between law enforcement and youth are so rare nowadays, something that I’ve never seen. A lot of people in our world today think like me. We tend to antagonize law enforcement because we think they are against us. This expedition showed me, and many other students at this school, that this mindset is a misconception. It forced us, the students, to rely on the Troopers, and for the Troopers to rely on us. When one couldn’t perform to the best of his or her abilities, the other had to compensate. The whole day was a team effort.

I know for a fact that not one person there could have completed the day the same way alone. Whether in school or out in the streets, we need each other. The State Troopers are not gods: they cannot live forever, they share a lot of things in common with us. We have to realize our similarities when we see them on the streets. They are not against us. 

I am extremely grateful to the Athletic Director Mr. Thomas Leahy, Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy ‘63 O.S.B, the organization known as Victory Road that organized the event, and the State Troopers. I also would like to thank all the people out there that are contributing to making Benedict’s the school that it is today. Without all of you instilling the traditions of the school I would never have taken this opportunity to become “comfortable in the uncomfortable”. You are making me stronger every day. Last but definitely not least, I would like to especially thank Trooper Jennifer Albums for never losing faith in me. I am so glad I was given the opportunity to participate in this event. It really did change my mentality and I hope that we can continue to build these bridges.