Preparing strong, confident, responsible young people to be better members of their community
The finish line was a two-hour “graduation ceremony” held Saturday evening. There were 32 of 34 individuals who had completed the fourth class of the Spartan Challenge in attendance. They were asked to “walk the line,” shaking hands with every man in the room. These 34 joined 37 others who completed the challenge in the first three classes.
The Spartan Challenge was eight weeks of military-style training. Every Saturday, it began at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. There was plenty of physical conditioning — pull ups, push ups, sit ups, running, running with a 30-pound backpack, and much more. A military drill instructor was barking commands, always demanding “more.” A chaplain was there to build them up and encourage “hang in there!” and “you can do this!”
“This was truly the hardest challenge I’ve ever gone through and definitely the best choice I ever made,” said Alex Zherebnenko. Hunter Akey was acknowledged as the “most improved” member of the Spartans.
Mental toughness and self discipline were keys to success. Life skills were also taught. How to be part of a team and work together. Taking responsibility for yourself, and then helping others were critical parts of the training.
Suzy Noelck was one of several mothers who shared their perspective Saturday night. One son had completed class number three, as she celebrated another son completing the challenge. “Two very different personalities, different physical statures, different struggles for sure and different outcomes,” she said.
“This program is growing these boys into the kind of men I want my sons to become, and the kind of men I want my daughters to marry,” she said. “I just am so thankful for everything that they poured into them.”
The Spartan Challenge has its roots in Flash Love, created in 2013 by Andrey Ivanov and Paul Girard. They capitalized on the “flash mob” phenomenon where groups of musicians invaded public spaces like malls, singing songs or playing mini concerts. But Flash Love sought to bring youth into neighborhoods that were run down.
They offered conversation and help making repairs and cleaning up homes and trashy neighborhoods — making their corner of the community a better place. They cleaned up graffiti as well.
There was a need to offer young boys role models in how to be responsible men. “Send me” was part of what they learned in volunteering to serve others.
Timothy Kolesnikov spoke on behalf of class number four. “I’m going to ask every man in this room — what does it mean to be a man? Becoming a man is a lot like becoming a soldier in the army of God. You must be ready and willing to sacrifice your life to protect who you love most,” he said in his graduation speech.
“Becoming a man means you put away your personal desires and provide for your family and people in need. To provide for others you must sacrifice more than your life to provide for your family. Because you lead the household, you bear the greatest responsibility to provide food on the table, a roof over their heads, and defense of your family. You must guide your wives and children to be righteous and become the light in the world of darkness.
“As a man you must set the standard of every room you walk in. When you walk into a room, your presence speaks volumes without saying a single word. Your very presence will conjure respect and authority, but you must remember to stay humble and to not be blinded by pride.”
These “mostly” young people ranged in age from 12 to 18. Yet this class also had their first female graduate. “I’m in my 4th decade,” said Cheri Anderson, who is now officially the oldest graduate of the course. She decided to join to learn some self defense skills and gain self confidence that she could use with the goal to handle any situation she encountered.
Vancouver police officer Rey Reynolds addressed the assembled crowd and the graduates. “Spartans, are you among the timid?” he asked. Silence. “You are not,” he responded.
Reynolds gave three examples of military men, warriors who through their singular determination had made a difference, changing the course of a battle and saving the lives of others in their units.
“I just want to echo this was the most difficult eight weeks of his life,” said Sarah Akey about her son Hunter. He had wanted to quit several times. But there was a noticeable change on the third weekend.
“Mom, I have to go,” he told her. He didn’t want to let down his team. “In that moment, my self-proclaimed, anti-social gamer son was putting a whole bunch of people before himself,” she said. “He’s pushing past the physical struggles. He was really thinking about the people around him.”
“What this program has done for my son is outstanding,” she said. “He’s standing taller, he’s more confident. He has a vision for his future. He’s closer to God than he’s ever been.”
Chandra Urban shared that her son had wanted to quit at one point. But the next weekend, he demanded to go back. “I made a commitment mom,” he said. “I made a commitment and I’m not going to let my team down.” She couldn’t have been more proud.
Ivanhov was asked “why create Flash Love or the Spartan Challenge?
“Ninety-five percent of all incarcerated persons in the USA are men between the ages of 15 to 25 that come from a home without a father and who have some degree of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD),” he said. “This is a multi-generational issue that causes youth to lose the power to make good choices.”
They have mothers between the ages of 15 and 24 who are the poorest people in America, according to Ivanov. “The solution is to raise young mothers out of poverty and teach young men to be functional, successful and Christ-like fathers and mothers.”
“We are training youth who will take responsibility, restore order and raise strong families,” he said. “Good men care for mothers so they can have the power of choice. Healthy and secure mothers raise healthy babies. Healthy babies grow up with an ability to make good decisions and break the chain of the prison system which enslaves almost three million people in the U.S. alone.”
But the program is no longer only for young men. Cheri Anderson succeeded and now serves as inspiration for other women. Starting with the next class which begins in January, they will have girls 16-and-older join and go through the training.
This video was shown at the graduation ceremony, giving parents, family and friends a small glimpse of what the 34 who successfully completed the Spartan Challenge had endured for the past eight weeks. Video courtesy Flash Love
The graduates of the fourth Spartan Challenge class are as follows:
Reese Baird, Sawyer Baird, Vernon Waskas, Andrey Zherebnenko, Alex Zherebnenko, Jacob Budrow, Connor Budrow, Noah Wambold, Denni Ganichev, Joseph Syrek, Jacob Syrek, Aiden Bondarev, Christian Engleman, Brydon Urban, Lando Urban, Loc Vickers, Takota Smith, Jacob Manske, Aleksandr Temnikov, Adam Connor, Zander Cole, Jonathan Noelck, Hunter Akey, Lucas Honsowetz, Dennis Parkhomenko, Aiden Anaya, Ryan Malos, Samuel Zych, Samsun Padillas, Josiah Angelo, Andre Albright, Jack Fasset, Damien Mckenney, Cheri Anderson.
Instructors and advisors to the class were:
Andrew Moceo, Casey Fox, Joe McLemore, David Franke, Taylor Wilkerson, Andrey Ivanov, Aidan McKinley, Max Bahnyuk, Greg Noelck (chaplain)