Running the Dog © Aug. 31, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of Rooks chest deep in the Dog River

photo by Jay Ericson Rooks chest deep in the Dog during the Dog River Run 2007.

It’s 8:30 a.m. and Rooks in face paint and camouflage are running along the banks of the Dog River. They get to the worm pits, essentially ditches filled with water, and begin to crawl through as the yells and encouragement of their leaders and cannon fire further down the river echo through the surrounding hills. Once through the worm pits, they enter the river and begin their trip with pushups in the water. Their Cadre then direct each Rook to pick up a rock that they are to carry with them as they slog down the river.

It’s the Dog River Run, the challenge that every Rook who enters the Norwich gates on arrival day looks forward to. As the culminating event of Rook week, it means they’ve made it—they are officially Rooks. On Sunday, Aug. 26, this year’s Rooks followed in the footsteps of many before them—through the Dog River.

Also following those footsteps was President Richard Schneider, who has run the Dog each of his fifteen years at Norwich.

“I do it to show support for the Corps, to bond with the new regimental leadership, and to show that you can only lead from the front and you don't have your troops do something that you wouldn't or couldn't do,” Schneider said.

It is the culminating event. You get down and dirty in the worm pits and cold water. You’re with your Rook buddies and you have to help each other.

~ Cadet Colonel Jordan Dilena

The history behind the Dog River Run is muddy, like the water itself. “The Old Guard didn’t do the Dog River Run, and we don’t really know when it originated,” said Cadet Colonel Jordan Dilena. “Part of the reason for doing the Run at the beginning could have been to break in their new boots.”

Whatever the reason, it has become an integral part of any Rook’s experience. “It is the culminating event,” Dilena said. “You get down and dirty in the worm pits and cold water. You’re with your Rook buddies and you have to help each other.”

Why do they pick up a rock? So that they will never forget the Dog River Run and the week that precedes it. Nick Jacobs ’05 ran the Dog River in 2000 and still has his rock. “I've always kept it just as a symbol of completing the first part of my freshman year,” he said. “It was one of the first team building events that we did, and upperclassmen always made a big deal about the Dog River Run and its importance.”

Although during college Jacobs used his rock as a doorjamb, he noted that it carries a more important meaning to many.

“It’s a symbol of Norwich University,” Jacobs said. “Similar to the class ring, it measures the journey that every cadet endures and every time you look at it in your home or office, you can remember you and your classmates doing pushups, helping your fellow rook who couldn't swim as well through the river, and the motivation you had to finish.”

Although some Rooks, under the scrutiny of their Cadre, reach into the water and grab whatever rock they find, others take time to find one that means something to them. Jacobs said he chose his rock purposefully.

“My rock was a solid dark grey rock with shiny edges and layers,” he said. ”I chose it from the river because it symbolized to me at the time that I can look one way on the surface, but under the layers, I can really shine and be something that you wouldn't expect me to be.”

Photo of Rooks in the Dog River

photo by Jay Ericson Class of 2011 Corps members slog through the cold waters of Northfield’s Dog River.

Jacobs is not the only Norwich graduate who places importance on his Dog River rock. Keith McCusker ’04, also participated in the 2000 Dog River Run. “It reminds me of all the challenges we faced during rook week and how making that run through the river with my rook buddies was the start of a new chapter in my life—my life at Norwich and the rest of my life after Norwich.

“My rock is a grey, almost rectangular shaped rock about 2 inches thick,” he said. “When I reached under the water it just fit into my hand like a good sized book, so it was simple enough to carry back up to the barracks. Also it has a nice flat side so it would work well as a book end.”

This year’s Rooks were no different. Ryan Koch of Moretown, Vt., noted, “I picked up my rock at the beginning so that it would go through Dog River Run like I did. It’s not the biggest rock, but it is sentimental.” He plans on keeping it where he can see it on a daily basis.

And if Colonel Dilena is any indication, these Rooks will treasure their rocks much as he and the thousands of Rooks who’ve run the Dog before them have done.

“It’s a piece of the river that I took with me,” Dilena said. “I wrote ‘Dog River Run 2004’ on it and had my Rook buddies sign it. It is my piece of Norwich.”

For more images of the 2007 Dog River Run, visit the Wick Pics blog