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Tribal Quest tests participants’ limits

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Jake Robitaille takes a spill while carrying a bucket of water across Snake Pond with his team at Saturday’s event.  SEE FULL PHOTO GALLERY

Jake Robitaille takes a spill while carrying a bucket of water across Snake Pond with his team at Saturday’s event. SEE FULL PHOTO GALLERY

Decked out in matching outfits, brightly colored bandannas and body paint, runners lined up Saturday for the third annual Tribal Quest race at Celebrate Virginia Live in Fredericksburg.

The muddy 5-mile obstacle course wound through hilly, wooded areas, into ponds and across the Rappahannock River. High walls, muddy hills, tire runs and more stood between the runners and the finish line

Eventually, more than 600 participants found their way back to the start–finish point, where spectators cheered them on.

Waves of individuals and teams launched every 30 minutes starting at 9 a.m. The first group consisted of solo runners looking to nab one of six cash prizes awarded to the first three men and three women to cross the finish line.

Teams aiming to win a first, second or third prize sprinted off their marks in the second group at 9:30 a.m.

This year, Tribal Quest teamed up with Operation Enduring Warrior to help raise money for the organization and to give two wounded veterans a chance to complete the course.

The nonprofit group aims to help physically and mentally wounded veterans achieve their goals after returning from service.

“We’re very physically based, because these veterans were very physical people before their injuries,” said Erin Ukleja, a volunteer with Operation Enduring Warrior.

One of the group’s most popular programs is its skydiving lessons. Veterans can earn their Class A sky diving license, Ukleja said.

During the Tribal Quest race, Operation Enduring Warrior had two veterans parachute into Celebrate Virginia, ready to take on the course. The skydivers glided through the air, spinning and flipping over, and finally landed on the solid ground to the cheers of onlookers.

Just over an hour into the race, the first runner crossed the finish line.

Tony Nunez, who grew up in Spotsylvania County and lives in downtown Fredericksburg now, jogged through the home stretch at about 10:10 a.m.

With a 70-minute run, Nunez completed the course at a pace of about 14 minutes per mile, including time for each of the 24 obstacles between the starting line and victory.

“Life and this race have some parallels,” Nunez said. “There’s things you can’t avoid but you have to go over and through.”

Nunez said he found his motivation to run the course in his faith.

His favorite part of the race was a wooded path. But several difficult obstacles challenged him.

Two steep hills near the course’s end were particularly difficult because he was already tired, Nunez said.

And an obstacle that required runners to carry a full bucket of water across a pond was one of the hardest challenges to surmount, he added.

But Nunez managed to make it through every tough part of the course.

“The reason I ran this race is because I know I’m going to be able to give the Lord his glory,” Nunez said.

Every racer had a different reason for taking on the Tribal Quest.

Team Austin Ridge Academy, a group of young Stafford County residents from the Austin Ridge neighborhood, returned for their second year seeking what they didn’t get the first time.

Last year, the team ran the entire course in suits, carrying briefcases through the mud and water.

“We didn’t get the spirit award last year, and we kind of felt gypped,” said John Faha, one of the group’s racers. “We’re gunning for first place this year.”

The team donned their most stereotypical back-to-school clothes, including backward baseball caps, sweaters draped over their shoulders, suspenders and backpacks. Then they got inside of a wooden cutout of a bright yellow school bus adorned with the words, “Tribal School,” and carried the makeshift vehicle through the course.

They ended up taking runner-up in the spirit competition behind Operation Enduring Warrior.

At the end of the day, a handful of people had cash prizes for coming in first, second or third, groups carried away awards for best flag and most spirited, and hundreds walked away with the accomplishment of finishing a grueling obstacle course in Virginia’s July heat.

Katie Shepherd 540/374-5417




Marie Sakowicz, 35, 1:18:46


Tony Nunez, 22, 1:08:40


MainzGruppen: Blaine Mainz, Marcus Mainz, Merik Mainz and Daniel Schmitt, 1:12:23


Best Tribal Flag Award:

The Bone Crushers

Best Tribal Spirit Award: Operation Enduring Warrior, parachuted in a wounded veteran.

Runner-up, Tribal Spirit Award: Austin Ridge Academy, completed race in a school-bus cutout.

ONLINE>> See a gallery of photos from this event at



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