Flames' wrestlers accept, survive 24-hour 'Jacob Challenge'
October 2, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
If anyone saw 38 members of Liberty University's wrestling team flipping over tires on the Williams Stadium football field between 3 and 4 a.m. Sept. 21, they might have assumed they were witnessing some highly organized act of vandalism from a rival school.
Rather, it was just one of the physical tests head coach Jesse Castro subjected his wrestlers to during what he called a "Jacob Challenge," a 24-hour marathon of matches, devotions, and other physical and spiritual exercises that transformed the team dramatically overnight.
|Wrestlers participate in an outdoor weight-training session outside the Wiseman Wrestling Room at Williams Stadium as one of their 24 40-minute workouts.|
"It was intense," Castro said. "We didn't want to hurt the guys, but we did a wide array of activities every hour that ranged from wrestling to running the Williams Stadium steps at midnight to flipping tires at 3 a.m. out on the football field. They go through two-hour workouts (on a regular basis) so to go through a 24-hour marathon of workouts, it takes them to a different level."
The challenge was named for the passage in Genesis 32:24-32 where Jacob wrestles an angel through the night. Afterwards, the Lord changed his name from Jacob, which means "grasper of heels," to Israel, which can be interpreted "fighter of God."
The 24-hour endurance test, mixed with devotions and prayer time, started at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 and lasted until the same time the next night in the Wiseman Wrestling Room, located near the visitor's locker room at Williams Stadium.
"When you're going through that type of challenge, it's a crucible of character," Castro said. "If they respond properly, it serves as an impetus to grow in their faith and as men, as well. That was one of the reasons we did that, too. It extends them."
More than just a physical trial, Castro used the extended workout as a psychological evaluation and said it also served as a spiritual awakening.
"One of the interesting observations I had was how excited these guys were from 6 p.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning," he said. "That's when they started getting really quiet, when the smiles started turning to grimaces and they started getting irritable. It was funny to watch."
The capstone activity for the marathon workout was a 20-minute, non-stop grind match on the wrestling mat in hour 24, when a few of the Flames fell asleep during the 40-minute period they were watching, rather than wrestling, their teammates.
Castro anticipates the uniqueness of the event will remain ingrained in the Flames' memories throughout the season, which starts Nov. 4 at the Virginia Beach Nationals tournament.
"It was good for team bonding and I definitely think it helped their skills because we did a lot of teaching," Castro said Wednesday morning. "The kids are recovered now, though it took a good week. Physically, it was actually counterproductive in terms of training, but the mental aspect of it, far exceeds what we gained physically."
He plans to make Jacob's Challenge — which also served as a fundraiser for the team's end-of-the year banquet and to pay for tournament entry fees — an annual preseason event.
"I really like the concept and I plan on doing it again because of the mental and spiritual benefits and the camaraderie it creates amongst the team," Castro said. "There was a feeling of accomplishment these guys had."
For a first-hand account of the experience, read senior 125-pounder Jeremy Beale's article in the Sept. 24 issue of The Liberty Champion.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer