Storming the Castle

Storming the Castle

Sometimes we underestimate ourselves and the amazing things we can accomplish, so it’s a treasured moment when we finally face a challenge and rise above it.  I know I do it all the time.  While some of us can walk around with a sense of confident assurance (see my last post), there are others like me who’ve been knocked down so many times we don’t feel right unless we’re struggling to stand up, because that’s what we know – the tenacity of trying to scale those walls, but never quite able to storm our castles.  We’re never over the walls long enough to know what it feels like to stand tall and victorious, so we’ve come to expect falling down.  Yet, we’re also stubborn and don’t stay down – we’re always getting back up and facing the castle walls.

This weekend I jumped right into another adventure – I went paintballing with my son, Johnathan.  Being thoroughly forewarned of the possible dangers, pain, and struggles I would most assuredly face in this activity, I excitedly looked forward to it, never hesitating to face those dangers head on.  The only nervousness I felt was that of being late or possibly splitting my pants.  Nah, I didn’t worry about the latter, just threw that in there to keep your attention.

I started out uncertain and slow, having never even held a paintball gun before, but it didn’t take long before I figured out how to shoot and receive my first stings of pain from flying balls of paint. On my first obstacle course I got hit twice – once in the arm (which I didn’t even feel and wouldn’t have known I was hit if not for the paint splatter) and once in the hip.  It stung a little, but the pain was bearable.  That’s all it took – that little bit of exposure  – and I no longer had fear of those flying balls of paint.

The second obstacle challenge we were given an objective to reach a center target and then hold it until time was called.  Instructed to move up as fast as possible, when the buzzer sounded, I took off running and headed for the farthest point closest to my target.  I was almost through the whole field and at my destination when I heard the first paint ball zing by my head.  I made it to cover quickly.  When I turned to look behind me, I expected half my team with me.  There was no one.  I was alone, and the barrels I hid behind were being pelted with rapid fire like you wouldn’t believe.  I hunkered down and waited for my team to catch up so they could draw some fire and I could move to the main tower.  They didn’t come quick enough, and I didn’t make it to my objective.  As soon as I edged the corner of my barricade I was pelted with a ton of rapid fire and my hand took a lot of damage.  I was hit.  Being out, I moved to the sideline to wait for my team to complete their mission.  While there, another player followed soon after me and told me that I had impressed him by being fearless and running so far ahead, that he had tried to get to a place to give me some cover, but he didn’t quite make it.  That made me feel really good.  Especially since this was my first time ever playing this game.

The next obstacle my team was to be on the offensive and storm a compound called Black Hawk Down.  Our objective was to clear the compound and shoot or have the other team members surrender and claim victory.  We had 20 minutes to complete the objective.  The call was sent out and we were on our way.  I once again moved through the barrels and barricades quickly and proceeded to take out several members of the opposing team.  I conserved my shots, taking clear aim and making them count.  However, several minutes into it, I ran out of ammunition.  I stayed hunkered down for a little bit before surrendering and leaving the field.  Being on the offensive, I could not lay down cover fire, draw sufficient fire from my position, or take out any of the opposing team, so I yelled ‘hit’ and walked off the field.

I was proud of myself for how far I had advanced, yet disappointed I wasn’t able to help bring my team to victory.  Then a young guy sat down next to me after getting hit in the mask and told me that he was able to move up as far as he did because of how well I had done on my side of the course, having eliminated several of the opposite team’s players.  He said I was a great shot and was impressed how I had crouched low and made my shots count.  I was impressed someone in all that chaos noticed anything I was doing.  Thanks to his compliments I walked away from that challenge not wounded and proud of myself and what I have accomplished.  My team won that challenge and was able to storm the castle.  I can’t help but feel I helped make that possible in some way.

Yet, it was the next challenge to which I’m most proud. This time it was our team’s turn to defend the compound.  When I first entered the gates most people had already chosen their spots and it didn’t leave much choice left for me.  Our captain informed us that if we ran out of ammunition to hide and try to run out the clock.  I found a small cove next to the tallest tower, set my gun, and hoped for the best.  The buzzer sounded. I wait to fire until the other team approached really close and then chose my targets carefully.  I’m very proud of myself and my efforts until I run out of ammunition.  I slid down to the ground, trying to keep my head low and wondering what I was going to do until the end of the challenge. There was nine minutes left.  Sitting there on the ground, I saw a small opening in the bottom of the tower. I threw my gun in and then crawled on my belly into the small space also occupied by a nest of wasps.  It opened a little bit more once I got inside and I was able to roll over onto my stomach and get up onto my knees.  When I did so, I found a small hole in the wall and it gave me a good view of the field.  I heard two guys above me in the tower,  another on my right and then two more on my left inside the van.  I peeked through the hole and started shouting out positions of the opposing team, letting those around me know when they were up and when I saw movement.  It didn’t take long before I heard our Captain in the field behind the tower repeating my called positions to the rest of the team.  I once again found a way to become beneficial.

With the one minute warning given, complete chaos ensued.  The other team stormed our compound and rapid fire erupted everywhere.  All I could see from my position was feet running back and forth and loud shouts of “hit” coming from all directions.  I then heard the countdown from 10 seconds… to the game being called.  Then I heard shouts of victory.  Believing it was safe to exit my hiding spot without getting shot, I crawled out of my hole, muddy, dirty and sweating like you wouldn’t believe.

Everyone stopped and looked at me.  The official pointed at the yellow band on my arm and asked, “Are you hit?”  When I said no – dozens of people all around in yellow armbands started yelling and cheering. Having listened to my Captain tell me to hide if I ran out of ammunition, helped me lead my team to victory.  Two guys stepped forward and told me they were the ones in the tower above me and appreciated the help I gave them.  Our Captain, covered in paintball splotches where he’d been ambushed a few moments before just smiled and shook his head.  My son ran up to me and told me that when the other team stormed the compound and I hadn’t come out before that, he just knew for sure I was hurt.  He had thought I was in the van and when he saw the opposing team open the door and lay rapid fire, his heart almost stopped believing I just got majorly pelted.  He then got worried when I didn’t come crawling out the van with the others.

On the ride home, my son didn’t look at me the same as he did that morning.  I don’t feel the same.  I faced my challenges with confidence.  I adapted in the face of adversity.  I kept my focus on my assignment.  I had fun and was unafraid.  I walked off those fields exhausted, hot, dirty, sweaty, and in a lot of pain, but with my head held just a little bit higher and huge smile on my face.

There’s a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, perhaps even a few of them.  I’m sure I’ll discover them over the next few days and weeks.  On the ride home I thought about what motivated me more throughout the day and I have concluded that it was mostly the fact I was determined to enjoy myself, enjoy this adventure with my son, and tackle this day in a way that would make my friends most proud of me.  My closest friends are/were all badass soldiers in the Army.  For the first time I felt just as badass as they were.  It may have just been paintball – but for me – it was a battle.  In the end… I stormed the castle and now wear the crown.

Till next time,

~T.L. Gray

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Categories: Blog Post, Instructional, Musing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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