Jaywalking: Bonefrog Challenge keeps on growing

  • Bonefrog Challenge Elite Heat winner Junyong Pak swings through the “Black Ops” final obstacle at Berkshire East in 2015. File photo

Monday, May 15, 2017

It’s going to look like boot camp at Berkshire East in Charlemont on Saturday.

The Bonefrog Challenge, which now travels around the country, returns to the place of its birth for the sixth running of the event. Gates open that morning at 7 a.m. and Opening Ceremonies begin at 8:15 a.m. when a Navy Seal Jump Team leaps in. There will also be a flyby of Army Blackhawk helicopters, which will land on-site for folks to take a closer look at. A veteran motorcycle group called “Rolling Thunder” will also be on hand to display their bikes and provide the color guard. At 8:30, the first wave of 200 Elite runners takes off to tackle the obstacle course and racers will continue leaving in groups of 200 every 15 minutes. Closing Ceremonies will begin at noon, although many competitors will still be on the course.

The Bonefrog is the brainchild of Brian Carney, a South Deerfield native who graduated from Frontier Regional School in 2000. After graduation he joined the U.S. Navy and later became a Navy SEAL. He left the Navy in 2013, and began working on an obstacle-course event he named the Bonefrog, after the unofficial mascot of the SEALs.

The inaugural Bonefrog Challenge was held at Berkshire East on Sept. 16, 2013 and about 300 competitors traversed the homemade course, which cost Carney and other organizers about $500 to build. What the course lacked in state-of-the-art equipment, it made up for in design. Reviews were positive from competitors, many of whom had also done other obstacle course races such as the Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, and people told him the Bonefrog was an even better experience.

The other key ingredient to the successful launch was the venue. Carney spoke to potential venues up and down the East Coast before someone local asked him if he checked with Berkshire East, the place where Carney grew up skiing. He had not, but after speaking with Berkshire East owners Roy and Jim Schaefer, who coincidentally were big military supporters, he finally had his site.

“We would not have gotten this going if they didn’t give us a chance,” Carney offered.

Things have come a long way since that first race in 2013. Perhaps the biggest change is that the course can no longer be constructed for a few hundred bucks. The course now consists of 30 unique obstacles, some costing as much as $20,000 to build.

“All our stuff is now high-tech,” Carney said. “We have a fleet of trucks and trailers as well to move all the equipment.”

And then there is the growth, which has happened in a number of ways. The number of events held annually has grown to 10, or once a month for 10 months from February through November. The events are mostly held up and down the eastern seaboard, as well as one event located in Austin, Texas. The Bonefrog took place on the infield at Talladega Motor Speedway in March and was one of the more memorable events according to Carney, who said he hopes to make the Bonefrog a national event in the near future.

Another area of growth is in the number of people participating. That first running of the event featured about 300 participants, but this year’s event will host more than 10 times that number. As of late last week, Carney said he already had 3,000 people signed up to run the Bonefrog. That is 900 more runners than the record number of participants who ran last year’s spring event in Charlemont. So this running will be the biggest-ever for the group.

And that number will ultimately exceed 3,000 because people can still sign up. Anyone interested can register right up until the event at bonefrogchallenge.com or can register the morning of the event on site. The Bonefrog Challenge already donates 10 percent of the money it raises to the Navy SEAL Foundation, and if Saturday’s event attracts 5,000 competitors, the Bonefrog will donate an additional $5,000. The foundation provides financial help when a SEAL is killed or injured in combat or training.

The event also features a number of different course lengths to choose from. Runners can compete in a 3-mile Sprint course (with 20-plus obstacles), an 8-mile Challenge course (with 30 to 40 obstacles), and an 11-mile Tier-I course (which features 50 obstacles). The Bonefrog will also unveil the “Endurance” course, which will consist of participants running the 11-mile course and then completing as many Sprint (3-mile) laps as possible in an eight-hour window. 

“The winners are the ones who complete the most laps,” Carney said. “We also have a brand new medal for that.”

There is also a Kids’ Course, which consists of a half-mile. Kids ages 3 to 6 will do one lap, and kids ages 7 to 12 will do two laps. Obstacles on the Kids’ Course are exactly like those the adults are competing in, only scaled down. Kids can actually do laps all day long on the course, and they will also receive a medal from a Navy SEAL and get to meet the SEALS and see the jumpers and helicopters.

The event is for more than just competitors. It is very fan-friendly and family-friendly. Admission is free to spectators, and what makes Berkshire East great according to Carney is that the chairlift will run all day and is free for folks to ride. It gives spectators a birds-eye view of the entire course in addition to making it easier to get around to different events.

So what exactly are the obstacles like? To really appreciate them, you have to see it first-hand, but Carney offered a sample of some of the obstacles along the course. The race’s premier obstacle is called “Black Ops,” and is the last obstacle before competitors cross the finish line. It consists of monkey bars 22 feet in the air and competitors navigate the bars in front of a massive American Flag. Another obstacle is the “Chopper,” which are hanging helicopter blades that competitors must swing across. Just a sample of what you will see.

Whether you are competing or spectating, the Bonefrog Challenge offers a lot to see and do. The post-event party will take place at the Berkshire East Lodge with food and drink as well. 

And to see Carney talk about the event live on television, put potential political affiliations aside and check out Fox & Friends on the Fox News Channel from 6 to 9 a.m. on May 25 and 27.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.