Memorial Day “Murph Challenge” honors fallen Navy SEAL

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 6:15 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - For many, Memorial Day is spent with summer fun to finish a long weekend.

For some, Monday was spent the way it was intended: honoring American soldiers who lost their lives in combat.

Among that group, there were about 100 members of the two Fit Body Boot Camp centers in Sioux Falls who took paying homage to another level in the 4th annual “Murph challenge.”

It started with a one-mile run. Then, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats. And then it ended on a one-mile run.

All by 10:00 a.m. on Memorial Day.

But why?

“For the soldier,” said Barbie Brinker, a Murph Challenge participant and Fit Body Boot Camp member. “This was his workout. Do it in his honor.”

“The Murph” is a physical fitness challenge that was created by Micheal P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who did the workout daily.

While calling for help for his team, he was shot 14 times and died in the war in Afghanistan in June 2005. Every Memorial Day since, all across the country, fitness fanatics of all ages and levels perform the regimen.

Fit Body Boot Camp owner and founder C.J. Wehrkamp decided to bring the challenge to Sioux Falls in 2020, when the pandemic was just over two months old. Ten people participated, mostly Fit Body coaches and a few of their friends.

On Monday, that number had swelled to about 100.

Before the workout commenced, Wehrkamp’s animated pep talk included pleas for the campers to go beyond their limits.

“This is really pushing people to really push themselves outside of their comfort zone, to challenge themselves and see what they’re capable of,” Wehrkamp said. “To challenge themselves to know if there’s an obstacle they’re facing in life, if they can dig deep enough, if they push hard enough, they can overcome that obstacle.

Wehrkamp and a few fellow coaches took turns working the microphone as campers cranked out their grueling exercises, sweating up a storm. About 15 minutes in, Wehrkamp bellowed, “Let’s see what our body is capable of today! I love it how we can push ourselves to the max today!”

At one point, in what appeared to be a scene out of a movie about real-life Army boot camp, a coach, point blank next to a camper converting from squats to push-ups, blew a whistle and yelled, “Let’s drop it down!”

But the campers wouldn’t have it any other way.

”At first, you don’t think you can do it,” Brinker said, with a chuckle. “But you just dig down deeper and do it.”

Brinker’s friend Lorri Chambers actually called the experience “a lot of fun.”

“I enjoyed it. We sweated,” Chambers said. “With the coaches and the music, they’re so encouraging. That’s how it is every day here. The coaches just get you through it.”

Chambers and Brinker were part of the Fit Body Forever group of ladies age 55 and over, a group of about 30 women that works out together two or three times a week at FBBC.

On Monday, they did the “Half-Murph,” merely 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 miles, and one mile of running. Chambers said she plans on trying the full Murph Challenge next year.

”For me, I feel like this is an investment in my future so I can age gracefully,” Chambers said. “What I spend now, I don’t have to spend on a nursing home. I think it’s important for people of a certain age, like us, that we learn the functional things that we have to do to keep a good life.

“There’s many widows in this program, and, so we’re doing things on our own, and we have to be strong. We have to be flexible. We want to have our balance. We have to have mobility. We have to be able to get up off the floor with our grandkids, and that’s all things that this program helps us do. It’s great.”

Brinker did not know any of her fellow Fit Body Forever members when she joined the group about three years ago. Now, in addition to 2-3 workouts per week together, they go out to eat lunch about once a week and have become friends and each other’s support system.

“It’s family,” Brinker said. “It’s not a just a workout. It’s not just a gym. It’s family.”

Memorial Day is a microcosm of that process. Wehrkamp loves to see what he calls the four stages of The Murph, and how a new family gets formed over the course of the hour or so. At the start, there is a heightened sense of hope, where everyone is excited. Then, the midway point, where people “kind of look like they don’t know if they can finish.

“Then about three-fourths of the way through, what you see — and it’s like magic — what you see, all of a sudden, the whole gym, now, they’re not working out as individuals. They’re working out together. And what you see is high-5′s fist bumps. You see people looking at each other in the eye, encouraging each other. And then what you see by the end of it is individuals showed up, but a community leaves together,” said Brinker.

It’s all a dream come true for Wehrkamp, who started the local affiliate of Fit Body Boot Camp — which has over 700 gyms nationwide for its 30-minute “high-intensity interval training” (HIIT) classes, in 2015 in a small space in a strip mall on Minnesota Avenue. It originally had 15 clients paying $40 per month, and Wehrkamp and his wife struggled to pay the bills.

Now, there are two stand-alone facilities in Sioux Falls, one in the central part of town and another on the west side that both span over 3,000 square feet.

“The Murph,” with ten times the participation from the first event, is a representation of the growth of the Sioux Falls FBBC franchise.

”The feeling that I get when I watch what this event has become, It’s a very emotional, overwhelming feeling,” Wehrkamp said. “It didn’t start this way, and it’s something we’ve just poured energy and time and money into, and the way that the community, our members, and our clients show up for this event, it makes me feel like we’re doing something right.

“Business is hard. Business is something that is very difficult. But this makes me realize that through all the difficult times in business, I need to tell myself, ‘Keep pushing, C.J. Keep pushing because lives are being changed through events like The Murph,” said Wehrkamp.