By Bowen Keevan
On the afternoon of Thursday, September 22nd, students, teachers, and other members of the Fitchburg State community gathered in small teams on campus to challenge themselves both physically and mentally in Grit ‘n Wit.
Grit ‘n Wit, according to their mission statement, is “committed to the development of healthy, engaged communities.” Founded in Connecticut in 2011, the company travels to local communities around New England and sets up obstacle courses consisting of both physical and mental challenges in order to “promote mental and physical fitness” and “support local communities.” This is the first time Grit ‘n Wit has come to Fitchburg, and a total of 180 participants signed up in teams consisting of two to six people.
Thursday’s course started in the quad and went past the Mara dorms, around Conlon Fine Arts Center, down North Street, around Hammond Campus Center, and then back to the quad. Overall, the teams ended up running approximately just over one mile. The course was estimated to take around 30 minutes to complete, with the fastest teams finishing in just over 20 minutes.
Along the course, the teams faced over a dozen different physical and mental challenges, all of which were designed by the Grit ‘n Wit organization. These challenges included Three’s Company, a series of three four-foot-tall walls that participants had to climb over, and Every Which Way, a smaller version of Sudoku.
Also scattered along the course was a series of motivational signs. During the first half of the course, these signs presented tips for improving physical and mental health, such as “Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to get your mind ready to sleep” and “Fruits and vegetables should take up half your plate.” Midway through the course, the signs began posing thought-provoking questions on teamwork, such as “How has your team made tough decisions?” and “How has your team empowered one another through the race so far?”
Lindsay of team 109, which consisted of members from the Student Nurses Association, acknowledged how her team helped her reach the end. “If I was on my own, I think I would have given up. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Team 129 had an extra participant: Nic, who uses a mechanized wheelchair to get around. While he didn’t officially register for his team due to his inability to complete the physical challenges, he continued to follow his friends, assisting them with difficult mental challenges and providing extra encouragement and motivation. One team 129 member, Hannah, referred to him as the “brain” of their group.
When asked how they overcame the most difficult mental and physical challenges, participants attributed their successes to strong teamwork. They recognized factors such as cooperation, perseverance, encouragement, skill-based role delegation, patience, cheerfulness, and sticking together, with many teams linking arms as they crossed the finish line.
The concept of encouraging teamwork and involvement while teaching valuable leadership skills is what motivated the FSU Leadership Council to bring the event to campus. One person heavily involved in this was Hank Parkinson, the Associate Dean for Fitchburg State’s Office of Student Development and the Chair for the Leadership Council.
“When we [the Leadership Council] did our planning meeting over the summer, the students had found this program and put it up for discussion as a possibility,” said Parkinson. “The Council is all about developing leadership skills, such as teamwork and communication, which you needed to get through this course. We had the signs around that prompted teams to think about this, and then we tied it into wellness and health because [Grit ‘n Wit] is about movement and taking care of yourself.”
While the Leadership Council was a major part in organizing the event, other organizations on campus also helped fund and staff it. “It was a co-sponsorship among many areas and offices on campus,” said Parkinson, “such as Student Government Association, the Recreation Center, Housing and Residential Life, and the Office of Student Development. We also had volunteers from the Dance Club and some of the Greek organizations. It was really a collective effort to make it happen.”
According to Parkinson, the first student to present the idea of Grit ‘n Wit to the Leadership Council was Carolynn Dewitt, who also helped organize and facilitate the event. “It was baby steps pulling everything together,” Dewitt said, “but I think it came out pretty well.” Concerning the number of participants, Dewitt was content, and considered 180 people to be a good turnout. “This is a first-year event, with that many people doing a very physical obstacle course.”
Besides teaching leadership and teamwork skills, Dewitt also hopes to encourage students to participate in more activities and organizations on campus. “It’s important to have big events on campus so that people can see how amazing our campus is, how much we can give back to people on this campus, and how involvement is so important to our community.”
Other colleges are also getting involved with the program; for example, UMass Dartmouth and SUNY Polytechnic both have Grit ‘n Wit events on September 24th. Parkinson, Dewitt, and the rest of the Leadership Council plan on bringing the event back next year, hoping the event will grow in the future and promote a stronger community within the Fitchburg State campus.
To learn more about Grit ‘n Wit, their origins, obstacles they use, and future events, visit their website at http://www.gritnwit.com.