When our son, Ethan, enlisted in the army a little more than a year ago, we were quite sure that a lot of positive things would come from his five years in the military – it would give him training, purpose, and skills, not to mention a steady paycheck, help with his student loans and a guarantee that we wouldn’t have to help him schlep his stuff to a new apartment or back home – Uncle Sam would take care of the logistics for the foreseeable future.

But there has been another positive aspect that we really didn’t anticipate. Being surrounded by men and women who take their level of fitness very seriously has spurred him to develop his own physicality in a way that is a little surprising to us – given the determined lack of interest he showed in sports or any type of physical activity when he was growing up.

As a kid, Ethan studied karate for about eight years and was actually pretty good at it. But the minute we said that he could stop going, he took his last bow at the door of the dojo and never thought about martial arts again – unless it was in the context of the skills of a video game character. On our insistence, he joined the tennis team in high school. He loved the camaraderie but when the season ended, he set his racquet down in the corner of his room and it stayed there, untouched, until practice resumed the next spring.

However since joining the army, whenever he calls, he always gives us reports about his recent physical achievements – how fast he runs and for how many miles, how many pushups he can do, and so on. When Steve and I get off the phone we look at each other with a “Where is our son and what have you done with him?” kind of expression.

The revelation about what Ethan is made of continued for us when he told us a couple of months ago that he and a bunch of his army buddies had signed up for a GORUCK Challenge this weekend in Santa Cruz (ruck is short for rucksack; the army term for a backpack).  GORUCK, according to their website, is an event, not a race, patterned after Special Forces training. It starts at 1:00am, lasts 14 hours and involves various combinations of ocean water, sand, pushups, running, log carrying and team building challenges all while carrying 40 pounds of bricks in your ruck. We hoped that Ethan came out alive.

After eating a couple of pounds of barbeque on the way back to the army base in Monterey, sleeping for 16 hours and washing a pound of sand out of various crevices on his body, he called us to say that he had in fact survived. He described a few of his team members as “the five fittest guys on the planet” and certifiably so because they are CrossFit trainers; his team leader carried the “supreme confidence” that comes from being a Marine recon trainer. Would he do it again? His answer was absolutely “yes.”

I guess this is all just a reminder that our kids sometimes surprise us; and when the way that they surprise us is by pursuing something that’s constructive as opposed to destructive…well, that’s a gift.