The long march of the Gladiators

Trio of A&M students win Red Bull travel challenge
The Gladiators and other participants run off at the starting line to compete in the Red Bull Can You Make It? Challenge.
The Gladiators and other participants run off at the starting line to compete in the Red Bull Can You Make It? Challenge.
Photo by Red Bull

Weston Cadena — blissfully unaware of the irate staff inside of the skyscraper in Bratislava, Slovakia, that he has made his playground — is having the time of his life. 

It was supposed to be a guided skywalk, with Cadena harnessed to a ledge. One small problem: The whole “walk” part of “skywalk” wasn’t exactly made clear.

“Weston gets out on the ledge, and he just starts running around it, ” David Greek said. “He couldn’t hear the staff from inside, but the staff all started yelling and they’re like ‘No, no, no!’ He runs all the way around it, and the expression on his face is pure joy. Then he looks through the glass, and he sees that everyone is really upset, and his face just melts.”

Cadena and Greek, along with friend and fellow Texas A&M student Jacob Mathiasmeier, found themselves in the Slovak capital as part of the Red Bull Can You Make It? competition, a week-long quest to traverse Europe while completing as many challenges as possible using only cans of Red Bull as currency.

Challenges included anything ranging from the Bratislava skywalk to wakeboarding in Hanover, Germany.

Over two hundred teams took part in the competition. The Aggie trio — who dubbed themselves “Gladiators” during the competition — emerged victorious.

But the trio’s adventures started long before Europe. Long before they even heard of the contest, in fact. 


Origin story

The group first connected through One Army, a men’s organization at A&M. Greek had just been on a trip to Colombia, while Cadena was planning a trip of his own to the South American nation. 

A slew of trips ensued soon after.

“We’ve just gotten closer and closer over the years, doing more and more challenges together,” Greek said. “Nine months ago, we were spending sleepless nights hunting for pythons in the Florida Everglades. We are always doing crazier and crazier adventures.”

From the Everglades to an attempt to bike from Huntsville, Texas to College Station — with no phone or directions, just for fun, Mathiasmeier emphasizes, the group’s adventures read more like a madman’s bucket list than a list of accomplishments.

But Greek insists the trio’s only real difference from the average group of college guys is simply a lack of inhibition. They do not tell each other no. 

“A lot of people have the idea to do something crazy,” Greek says. “Then they send it to their friend group, and it kind of gets shot down. It never really leaves the group chat. We don’t really have any crazy ideas; it’s just that we’re able to get them out of the group chat. And I’m thankful for that.”

After receiving a tip from a friend working at Red Bull about the Can You Make It contest, the decision to apply was a no-brainer, Greek said. 

Although being accepted after 12,000 teams applied did come as a bit of a shock — a shock that Cadena had to immediately keep quiet, given he received the news during a Zoom meeting — the trio was ready to begin their biggest adventure yet, setting off from Barcelona, Spain, on May 21. 

Their task? Make it to Berlin, Germany, in one week while completing as many different challenges in as many different locales as possible. Their equipment? 150 cans of Red Bull as currency, a Red Bull-provided phone to vlog their experience and monitor other teams, their wits and absolutely nothing else.

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To Europe and to victory

It’s 4 a.m in Vienna, Austria, and the Gladiators are late. The trio wasn’t able to secure a way out of the Austrian capital by train, bus or any other manner. Defeated and utterly exhausted, they collapsed on a couch in the lobby of a hostel. 

Greek bursts awake. He gets the other two up, and they trudge — still exhausted, running purely on the adrenaline of knowing they must get out of the city if they still want to win — to a nearby bus station, hoping for a miracle.

“We were banking on a driver just letting us on without tickets,” Greek said. “… Motivation was really low. Everyone gets on and the driver gives us a wink and says, ‘Yeah, you can get on.’ You go from that moment of extreme low — the lowest point for me — to, ‘Wow, okay, we’re gonna make it!’” 

From hitchhiking through Croatia to bartering for flights to Germany, there are dozens of points that saw the team’s mood shift from stressed to euphoric in an instant.

And It’s those chaotic moments of the competition that allowed the trio to bond like no other trip before, Greek said. 

“If I think about the people that I’m closest with, I realize that when I got close with them, it wasn’t during easy times,” Greek said. “It was during really challenging things … Some friend groups and teams on the trip probably aren’t going to talk to each other anymore after that challenge, whereas with us, it just brought us closer through pain and hardship.”

The pain and hardship just made the victory that much sweeter.

“You feel like this competition, when you’re in it, is everything,” Mathiasmeier said. “In reality, we just won a competition, but it felt like everything. Being able to win, it felt amazing. And it was just so nice hugging the guys after and seeing all the people we met along the way.”

It was a triumph that wouldn’t have been achieved without the help of strangers across Europe who opted to trust a group of three American strangers offering cans of Red Bull. 

Strangers like the bus driver in Vienna, who allowed the team aboard when they were at their lowest. Or the Croatian driver who didn’t speak any English but drove the trio to Austria, smiling all the way.

“As an American, that’s like someone coming up to us and speaking Spanish or Mandarin,” Mathiasmeier said. “To think that we did that equivalent in Europe, always speaking someone else’s second language, and were so successful with creating such great relationships surprised me, and still surprises me. It just shows how valuable the genuinity and intention is behind our body language and our smiles.” 

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