By Willie Dengler, Spartan Agoge Finisher and Krypteia
The Spartan agoge was the grit-forging training system that young Spartan boys had to enter at age seven in their 22-year quest to become Spartan men. The system was so efficient at transforming young men into elite warriors that families across Greece would petition Sparta to allow their sons to enroll. The Spartans would allow few outsiders in and only after careful scrutiny. Hunger, pain, and hardship were the currency with which Agoge students bought their freedom and earned their right to call themselves Spartans finally at the age of thirty.
Nearly three thousand years after the first Spartan warriors graduated, there is a new Agoge. It was born and tested in Pittsfield, VT, the same mountains that birthed the Spartan Race in 2010, and it has grown into our most challenging event. Roughly 60 hours in length, the modern Spartan Agoge aims to drop each participant into a life-experience that will test their wits, physical endurance, and integrity. Each participant should come out of this event a better leader, but they must be able to shelf the ego and follow in order to do that. Instructors are selected for this event based on their relevant skill sets and are put in place to guide the participants through their own personal journeys, encouraging them to “break through” both their real and perceived limits. These “Krypteia” (the name given to the ancient “secret police force” of Sparta) are on a journey with the participants from beginning to end.
My personal journey led me to “Riverside Farm” in Pittsfield in June of 2016. It was a year of major change in my life, having decided to tackle personal demons and redefine myself. Agoge 002 was my first taste of Pittsfield, and it was a grueling test of grit and character. It constantly challenged my body and mind, and the only way to earn our finish was to keep moving, step by step. By the time the 60th hour arrived, each participant had put everything they had on the line and achieved something special. Many participants realized potential they didn’t know they had, and with that—transformed—they returned to normal life.
During the months following Agoge 002, Agoge finishers have told me countless stories of personal breakthrough and triumph. I’ve heard stories of heartache and loss. However, in every story, I see a recurring theme: this family, forged in fire in Pittsfield, China and Japan, moves on. We choose to evolve. We move step by step, see beautiful things, hit adversity, put our nose down, and just keep pushing. As Joe says, “get it done” and repeat. If someone in our family needs assistance, our community will respond and take care of that person. I have seen countless examples of that since leaving the event.
I was honored to receive an invitation to come out and help with the next class. My goal was to connect with the participants on a personal and emotional level throughout the entire event. I would try to stay plugged in with each participant and know where they stood, both physically and mentally, and attempt to assist as many as possible to the finish line. I am personally an empath, and I wanted to bond with them and communicate to them the power they would realize in their life when they “hit the wall” and then blew through it. If they decided to bow out for any reason, I wanted them to be good with the mental call and then use the experience to grow. I did what I set out to do and watched this class come together and crush their Agoge.
Are all participants going to crush this event and get the top honor, the Agoge coin, when they come? No. Are the AgogeDelta pieces the metric by which we measure the success of our participants at this event? No, again. It is the human experience they have that we care about. We want Spartans to leave this event changed forever and to become part of an elite group of evolved individuals. We hope they can empathize with the pain of hardships that others face. We ask that they be charitable and mindful of the blessings that so many of us tend to forget that we have. We ask that they simply never stop growing.
I am grateful that Spartan and the Agoge “powers that be” allowed me the chance to come and listen. I did my best to assist where I could and to keep my eyes and ears open. I saw powerful leaders do their thing, inspiring both the participants and fellow Krypteia, and I felt the pain and strength of the participants as they worked through the event. Those who were medically taken from the event or had to bow out for other reasons also experienced growth, and many stayed to watch their teammates plow through the snow.
The most powerful message that I saw conveyed this weekend at Agoge 004: that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past, it does not matter who you were or how many endurance events you have under your belt. The only thing that matters is what you are doing now. You must continually redefine who you are and adjust. You must consciously choose to evolve. It was an emotional and powerful experience. It was transformative. It was Agoge.
For those curious about the event, I task you with one challenge: register. Put your gear list together, train your body and mind, and get excited for one of the best weekends that you will ever have in your life. It will not be easy, but life seldom is. I can promise you this, you will most certainly be “in the company of giants.” If you become an Agoge Finisher, you may just be, for the rest of your life.