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Billed as “the toughest event of its kind,” the Cateran Yomp allows participants, arranged in teams of three to six people, to choose to walk 22, 36 or 54 miles in 24 hours.
NICEVILLE — Up against a 24-hour deadline, hiking dozens of miles across the Scottish Highlands would be a challenge for anyone.
But for Andrew McCabe and Jason Morgan and people like them, the challenge is magnified.
McCabe, a Navy man, and Morgan, a Marine, are instructors at the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base. Both EOD technicians are wounded warriors dealing with physical problems including traumatic brain injury and back injuries, and medical retirement is drawing near for each of them.
Last year, through the Allied Forces Foundation — an organization that raises money for British and American military personnel and their families affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — Morgan heard of something called the Cateran Yomp. He enjoyed it so much he invited McCabe to try it with him this year.
“It’s one of the best events I’ve ever been to,” McCabe said.
Yomp is British military slang for a long-distance march with a loaded pack. Billed as “the toughest event of its kind,” the Cateran Yomp allows participants, arranged in teams of three to six people, to choose to walk 22, 36 or 54 miles in 24 hours. Participants, despite all having some medical challenge, carry about 25 pounds of gear, including water, food and extra clothing. This year’s Cateran Yomp was held June 8-9 in Perthshire, Scotland.
Soldiers and veterans from the United States, Great Britain, Denmark, Georgia and Ukraine participated in this year’s Cateran Yomp.
“The whole push is having nations side by side,” McCabe said.
The yomp comes with terrain challenges, as participants cross boggy areas and fields and cope with a 4,500-foot elevation change. And there are also goats roaming the countryside — “attack goats,” Morgan jokingly called them — who will aggressively approach hikers.
And while it is a challenge for those wounded warriors, the Cateran Yomp offers substantial rewards, according to Morgan.
“It heals you not only physically, but also mentally, by showing guys (and women, too, Morgan noted) that they can be successful no matter what they’re going through,” he said.
“It’s difficult,” Morgan added, “but then you see guys who are amputees (participating in the event).”
Morgan, in his second year at the Cateran Yomp, covered the entire 54-mile distance, just as he did last year.
McCabe covered 36 miles before his Achilles tendon, damaged by shrapnel, swelled up to the point that he couldn’t continue.
“Fifty-four miles in 24 hours?,” McCabe recalls thinking immediately after Morgan suggested that he participate. “I wasn’t too keen on it right off the bat,” he admitted, but with the support of his wife and children, he decided to give it a try.
“It was definitely a good experience,” he said.
Already in decent shape, neither McCabe nor Morgan did much extra training for the yomp. Morgan visited the Workout Anytime gym in Niceville and did some walking.
“We knocked out a few hikes,” McCabe said. “I should have done some more.”
McCabe is already planning his training regimen for next year’s Cateran Yomp, and says he’ll likely spend lots of time hiking across the dry sand at area beaches.
McCabe and Morgan participated with support from the EOD Warrior Foundation and several local businesses. Both men have become enthusiastic supporters of the yomp, and are actively recruiting fellow wounded warriors who they believe would gain confidence through training and participating in the event.
“I’ve already reached out to four guys,” McCabe said.
The event is staged by The Soldier’s Charity, the national charity for the British army. In recent years the Allied Forces Foundation has become a major part of the yomp, and wounded warriors such as McCabe and Morgan are an integral part of the event.
The Allied Forces Foundation is taking notice of the Cateran Yomp, according to Morgan. Sometime this year, the organization will try its own yomp on a 60-mile section of the Appalachian Trail.
The Cateran Yomp provided opportunities for wounded warriors to talk with each other about the challenges they face and to think about other soldiers who have died or whose physical challenges won’t let them participate.
“You’re physically just drained,” McCabe said, “and you’re meeting people, you’re talking … .”
“I got teary-eyed at the end,” Morgan said, as he thought about fallen soldiers who weren’t around to participate. “I’ll unabashedly say I got emotional.”