Running the Dog

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It's 6:15 a.m. on the first morning of residency week, and about thirty-six graduate students have decided it would be a good idea to go for a run-in the river.

This year marks the second annual School of Graduate and Continuing Studies Dog River Run, a Norwich cadet tradition designed to be both utilitarian-rigorous and cooling at the same time-and fun.

For CGCS students the run offers an opportunity to connect to a Norwich tradition, which includes extracting a rock from the river as a memento.

"When you run the Dog, you pick up a rock from the river as a souvenir," Kate Becker instructs the group, which is gathered at the stairs of Jackman Hall. The group is comprised of men and women, several of whom are Norwich undergraduate alumni.

They stretch, groan and submit to the rhythmic bark of a former Norwich cadet who is leading them through the run. Some of these people are only here because their cohorts cajoled them into it.

"One-two-three-one; one-two-three-two," and on it goes as Keith Brudnicki sets the pace for some "PT."

Becker and Brudnicki are cultivating a new tradition based upon the old for Norwich's online graduate students, who come to campus for a week prior to their commencement.

Becker said the tradition has seeped up through the ranks from rooks to alumni to graduate students.

"Last year, one of our undergraduate alums who was completing his Master's degree was regaling his classmates with stories from his undergrad days in the online Residency classroom and made a comment about completing the Dog River Run as a rook," Becker said. "I read the post and thought it was the perfect tradition to bring to our graduate students."

These days the run is an important part of the cadet experience. It occurs at the end of Rook Week, a week in August before all the rest of the students arrive at Norwich in which rooks, or cadets in training, are exposed to their first taste of military training.

The week is long and hard, punctuated by early mornings, memorizing facts from the Rook Book and attempting to learn the names and ranks of all the people giving orders around them. On the final day the regimental commander, the senior cadre in his final cadet year, runs the rooks up Paine Mountain, and in the afternoon they run through the Dog River.

During the run rooks and graduate students alike are instructed to pick up a rock from the river to take as a souvenir. Many rooks keep those rocks for years to come.

One participant in Monday's wet exercise was a Master of Business Administration student, Mark Popov, who heads a reconnaissance squad of 110 soldiers for the Canadian Army.

Popov said he did the run to protect his reputation. "I was afraid if word got back to my troop that I didn't do it."

Mike Burkott, a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership  student, said he did it because he wanted to go to Norwich for undergraduate school, so he liked participating in a Norwich tradition.

"We're only up here once for a residency and only once as a graduate student," he said.

The Dog River Run dates back to Rook Week, August 1973, and like most good things happened largely by accident.

Then-Regimental Commander Michael Kelley, who is now General Kelley, Vice President for Student Affairs and Commandant of Cadets at Norwich, said it was an unusually hot day, and he was marching his rooks up Norwich's hill. They came to the river, and decided to go in to cool off. Some of the rooks—who were all male back then—stripped off their clothes and went skinny-dipping.

Kelley later learned there were some Northfield neighbors out on the riverbank that day who were offended by the naked rooks in the river.

"One of my first acts as regimental commander was to write a letter of apology to the citizens of the town apologizing for my rooks skinny-dipping in the river," Kelley said.

Kelley is not sure when exactly the Dog River Run became what it is today, rife with push-ups in the shallows and muddy "worm pits" traversed on belly, or who decided to start taking rocks as a memento.

On Monday the graduate students ran across the Norwich athletic fields and trudged through the river, slipping and tripping on wet river rocks. They slogged and dunked and came out of the river rejuvenated. Like clockwork, the group was back on the field at 7 a.m. They were collectively dripping.

Dana Hudson, an organizational leadership student, seemed pleased with herself for the accomplishment and the earned bragging rights.

"I wanted to be able to go talk some smack at breakfast," she said as she headed towards the Wise Campus Center to eat.