The challenge was created in memoriam of 1st Lt. James Zimmerman, a former University of Maine ROTC member and Marine who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Nov. 2, 2010. The event was conceived by ROTC students at UMaine as a memorial to Zimmerman in 2011, who was known for his aptitude and intense physical training.
“This is all student-run,” said Capt. Thomas Buterbaugh, the commanding officer for UMaine’s ROTC program, of the event. “They came up with this idea last year; they’re responsible for all of it.”
The challenge itself consisted of several events designed to test the physical and mental discipline of the participants. The tests were comprised of four-person teams that could choose from three fitness levels: family, motivated and hardcore.
First up was a Combat Fitness Test, which involved sprints, low crawls, fireman carries and other physical exercises based on military tests.
Next was a hike, the length of which varied depending on the combat level. Hardcore participants took a 4 ½-mile hike with large bags of sand in their backpacks to weigh them down.
After that came a 3-mile run, followed by “suicide sprints” that covered the entire length of the UMaine mall.
Just after the sprints, participants dove through the mud-crawl, which took place in the Oozeball pit next to the Steam Plant parking lot by the Stillwater River, before heading back to the Navy ROTC house where the calisthenic exercises began. Hardcore groups needed to do 500 sit-ups, 160 pull-ups and 400 pushups among team members.
Even with the grueling nature of the tests, spirits were high, as the event’s cause motivated many to give it their all.
“I was in the Marine Corps, and my son is currently serving,” said Lee Landry of Hampden, who was at the challenge representing Crossfit Bangor. “It’s very important to me that we remember people like 1st Lt. Zimmerman.”
The Zimmerman family was there to support all of the participants, and a few members of the family participated themselves. Even with the positive nature of the competition, the event still had a powerful impact on the family.
“It’s bittersweet, of course,” said Thomas Zimmerman, 1st Lt. Zimmerman’s father. “It doesn’t fill the void in your heart, but it does for a while.”
The event, according to Thomas, is a good fit for his son’s personality.
“He loved this stuff,” Thomas said. “I love to see young men get together to do something like this. The military does what it says it does. It honors its own.”
That message wasn’t lost on any members of the Zimmerman family, who were appreciative of the efforts.
“The anticipation was difficult, as it was with all the events for James,” said Jane Zimmerman, 1st Lt. Zimmerman’s mother. “We are so appreciative to see all the T-shirts with his name on them. I feel like James is really being honored and appreciated.”
“There’s not a lot of words that can express what parents feel, so we just say, ‘Thank you,’” she said.
Sam Forbes, 1st Lt. Zimmerman’s cousin, participated in the event in his memory.
“It’s very inspirational; it’s a good part of the healing process,” Forbes said. “Just to see so many people come out and support who he was. He loved pushing his body all the time. He was talking about being a Marine when he was 9 years old.”
For the family, the tribute fit the image of the kind-hearted and determined young man they knew and loved.
“I don’t think you can get a better tribute to a person,” Forbes said.
What everyone in the Zimmerman family could agree on was that James would have participated if he could, and he probably would have done very well.
“He would have beaten all of you, I’m afraid,” Thomas said.
In the end, the family took second place in their team’s category — a result they vow to improve next year when the Zimmerman Challenge rolls around again.
First place in the hardcore category went to the “Andrew Wood” team, which narrowly beat out the “Acadians” with just 1 minute between their two finishing times.
The winners were awarded a trophy in the form of a hammer and the inevitable bragging rights that go along with participating in a challenge of its caliber.
The event was followed with a free barbecue for challenge participants, most of whom were exhausted and hungry from their ordeal.
For everyone involved, the sore legs and tight muscles were a fitting reminder of the legacy that 1st Lt. Zimmerman left behind.
“As long as there are people like you,” Thomas said to the participants, “heroes definitely will never die.”