Hell and High Water: The Craziest Fitness Test of All Time

We all know Aussie soldiers are the toughest and bravest on earth, but we reckon the US Coast Guard entrance test is the fiercest of the lot. The infamous “Multi” is a physically exhausting, psychologically demanding trial by turbulence. BY MICHAEL RODIO

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

The US Coast Guard rescue swimmer test starts with the equivalent of wrestling a prop forward in a hurricane, and gets worse from there.

Called the Multi — short for Three-Man Multiple Rescue Scenario — it’s the final test a US Coast Guard airman must pass to become an Aviation Survival Technician (AST), an elite swimmer who leaps into water out of a helicopter and hauls drowning mariners to safety.

“The Multi is a fitness test, but it’s also a gut-check test,” says Senior Chief Scott Rady, a veteran AST and school chief of the Coast Guard’s Aviation Technical Training Center. “Grown men are crying when they’re done with this, because they know they’ve overcome the last hurdle on their way to becoming an AST. It’s a big deal.”

The Multi Challenge

The Entry

Aspiring airmen have to pass a PT test: 50 pushups, 60 situps, 5 pullups, 5 chinups, a 2.4km run in less than 12 minutes, a 500m swim in less than 12 minutes and four 25m lengths of the pool underwater.

The Prep

Airmen train for 24 weeks — swimming in full gear, hauling bricks from pool floors, practising aquatic judo — all while learning the technical aspects of helicopter rescues. “We start with a class of 24,” Rady says. “My senior class now has four guys in it.”

The Call

When it’s time for the Multi, airmen are summoned one by one, with no advance warning, to the training centre’s specialised pool. No two tests are exactly the same. “Guys who take the Multi never tell the next class what happens,” Rady says.

The Storm

Each airman suits up in full rescue gear and enters a simulated hellscape: wind, rain, waves, fog, rotor wash, screaming victims, maybe a sinking ship. Amid the roaring darkness, he jumps from a “helicopter” simulated on a platform 5m above the pool.

The Rescue

In a test of endurance and total-body strength, the airman has 35 minutes to save three victims, including a downed aviator he’ll have to free from a 9m parachute — effectively a sea anchor that could drag them under in a split second.

The Stakes

If the airman takes too long, he fails. If he gets locked up in a victim’s frantic choke hold, he fails. If he gets too tired from swimming through the waves and hauling bodies into baskets for helicopter retrieval, he fails. ■