Dannevirke's Wayne Churchouse has been on a mission and yesterday morning at 5.45am, 28 students stepped up to accept the challenge of Cactus.
Cactus (Combined Adolescent Challenge Training Unit and Support) is a youth programme of physical training developed from the armed forces designed to extend a young person's mind and physical capability. The programme, which began yesterday morning, runs for eight weeks, with three training sessions, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5.50am to 8.30am.
"I've made it my mission and being a military man, we'll succeed," Mr Churchouse, a staff sergeant in the Territorials, said.
The 30 students from Dannevirke High School, Totara College and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Tamaki Nui-A-Rua were selected from 74 applicants and all have different reasons for taking up the challenge.
"Some want to enhance their career prospects, others want to improve their fitness, or raise their self esteem and others wanted to improve their relationship with their parents," Mr Churchouse said.
Leadership and teamwork were also high on the applicants' lists and although initially just 25 places were available, 30 were finally accepted.
"This year we're focusing on older students, but next year we're hoping to open the course to Year 9 and 10 students," Mr Churchouse said.
And with an early start on each of the three days, Mr Churchouse acknowledged it wasn't easy for young people to get out of bed early. Yesterday morning a latecomer had to complete 10 push-ups before joining the rest of the team who had already completed their warm-up exercises. And with two students not turning up, the first street run at 6am included a visit to their homes for an explanation.
"Those who graduate will be motivated and punctual," Mr Churchouse said. "Throwing those bed clothes off will be one of the hardest things for these teens. This course isn't an easy ride, but it's not designed to fail [students]. We'll certainly push them but coming out on top is achievable. If the students turn up, we'll push them through to graduation.
"I've told parents, give me your boys and girls and eight weeks later I'll hand them back as ladies and men. They'll stand proud at graduation, but yes, it's hard yakka."
Dannevirke High School student Elizabeth Curtis admitted she wasn't used to early starts. "But I'm looking forward to taking part," she told the Dannevirke News.
Another student had previously asked Mr Churchouse if they would have to run far.
"No, we live on a small island," he replied.
"This is eight weeks of activity which will really push these students, but with positive encouragement."
Mr Churchouse, a senior constable and youth aid officer with the Dannevirke police, is undertaking the Cactus programme outside his police work, but said the police see it as a pro-community activity and a crime prevention tool.
However, this isn't a course for at-risk youth, instead the students are from a widespread group including high achievers, those in the mid-range at school and disadvantaged/at-risk students.
The eight-week course gets progressively more physically demanding - finishing with a graduation day, which is aptly named the Longest Day, where the young people achieve physical goals as individuals and as team members, building team cohesion, camaraderie and spirit.
Each student has been issued with a pair of running shoes, socks, shorts and a T-shirt and they all receive a healthy breakfast after each session before they begin their regular day. "The donations of food have been amazing," volunteer cook Moana Beveridge said.