The morning of Friday, Feb. 25, the Junior Varsity and Varsity Swim teams arrived at School nervous and excited for Challenge Weekend, their annual bonding and training sleepover. After having spoken to nearly ten swimmers on the teams, we at the UltraViolet think that the pressures involved with Challenge Weekend are too intense, so the event should be altered to ensure all students are comfortable with what goes on. Athletic Director David Collicutt said he will be conducting an investigation into Challenge Weekend in response to our concerns.
Last year, after the aptly nicknamed “Hell Weekend” (although the event is officially called Challenge Weekend, every swimmer we spoke to referred to it as “Hell Weekend”), numerous girls on the team got sick, with ailments ranging from coughs to the flu to high fevers. This year, two girls had asthma attacks during the event itself, and at least 19 swimmers of 39 total were sick the next week.
This Challenge Weekend, girls got fewer than five hours of sleep on the floor of the ARC and were woken up on Saturday morning by blaring music. The girls were up until the wee hours of dawn solving riddles and logic puzzles, which they had to complete before being allowed to go to sleep.
Some swimmers said they worried some girls on the team were not physically fit enough to do the exercises expected of them. A few girls struggled to stay afloat doing relays while holding bricks above the water. Girls were forced to jog around the block with their hands over their heads.
Further adding to the exhaustion was the emotional toll. Other than at meals on Friday night, girls were not allowed to socialize or converse beyond the minimal conversation or cheering necessary to accomplish a given task. Girls had to request permission to speak from the girls in charge. The girls in charge also did not participate in any of the difficult activities themselves, making their requests for the girls to work harder seem even more insensitive.
Not all of Challenge Weekend was unhealthy, though. When asked about the benefits of the experience, students pointed to “love fest,” in which swimmers went around a circle and talked about what they loved about each other. Others mentioned the teams’ trip to UltraZone in Sherman Oaks to play laser tag on Saturday morning. Challenge Weekend does indeed promote bonding, which we respect and appreciate, but the demeaning nature of some activities constitutes an overstepping of the bounds that make bonding safe, healthy and productive.
Furthermore, we are concerned that the defensive reaction this editorial will elicit from the Swim teams will cause any swimmers who felt uncomfortable during Challenge Weekend or who expressed that discomfort to reporters from the UltraViolet to be further pressured into falling in line and publicly defending the event for the sake of team unity. While some girls do indeed enjoy being physically challenged, we do not want girls who felt emotionally or physically uncomfortable to feel bullied into concealing their opinions from the administration.
We urge the swimmers, their coaches and the Athletics Department to acknowledge that this activity needs to be reconsidered before it can be run again.