Program Explores European History

For many of the 53 high school seniors who backpacked through Europe this past summer, Running Through History, or RTH, stands out as one of the biggest highlights of their high school careers. Led by history teacher, varsity boys cross country coach, and distance track coach Joe Tribble, RTH reflected Tribble’s novel style of active learning that stems from his passion for running. During the planning phase, anxieties about terrorism prompted concerns among students and parents, but the administration and the team leading the trip did an excellent job of allaying any fears. Throughout the course of the trip, Tribble covered topics from the Roman Age up to the 20th century. The group traveled all over Europe, stopping in York and London in England, Bayeux and Paris in France, Weimar and Berlin in Germany, Salzburg in Austria, Rome and Florence in Italy, and Zermatt in Switzerland.

In York, a walled city in the northeast of England, the group had the pleasure of visiting Rievaulx Abbey, a monastery destroyed Henry the VIII in 1538. They also visited Hadrian’s Wall, which was a defensive fortification during the reign of the Roman Empire that was built in 128 A.D. Additionally, during their stay in England, the group visited the British Museum in London, home to the famous Rosetta Stone.

“Watching the sunset around Stonehenge with my friends,” said senior Florida Huff, “was the best part of the trip.”

The group also traveled to Paris, France where they toured the Louvre and reveled in the Glass Pyramid and at the famous Mona Lisa painting. Next, the group set out to tour the Normandy countryside in Bayeux, France. There, they saw the site where 34,250 Americans soldiers stormed Omaha Beach in 1944, with 2,000 losing their lives.

The group also got the chance to tour the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, a massive memorial to those who lost their lives in European concentration camps. After, they visited the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, Austria, which was built in 1606. They also rented boats out on Lake St. Gilgen and ran around Gaisberg Mountain. In addition, they had the opportunity to visit the Ebensee concentration camp, where approximately 20,000 people died. In the final portion of the trip, the group toured the Vatican, the center of the Catholic Church, in Rome, and the Duomo Cathedral in Florence, which was built in the sixth century A.D.

Even though Coach Tribble is used to training cross country champions, most people said they found the running portion of the course to be easy and manageable by all.

“I run cross-country, so it wasn’t particularly difficult for me,” said Huff. “There were definitely some mornings when I didn’t want to get up at 5:45 to run. We only had a few long runs, so most of them were pretty manageable.”

Huff recalled one of the hardest morning runs the group of seniors did together.

“Running around the Gaisberg in Austria was definitely the hardest run; each lap was 3.4 miles, and there’s a huge hill,” said Huff. “I didn’t mind it much though because I loved being able to see more of the locations we visited by running through them!”

Even those who do not consider themselves as good runners found it easy to keep up with the pack.

“I am by no means a runner or an athlete at all, so I found it challenging at some points more than others,” said senior Jack Amerson. “You, however, eventually get used to it and realize it is a part of the experience; you can also always walk during the runs so everyone can still experience it regardless of running ability. I would personally recommend walking every now and then just to get rest as well as to appreciate whatever city you are currently in.”

One of the moments that many people agreed on as the most difficult was the hike to the Hörnli Hut of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland.

“Although we didn’t make it to the second hut, which was our goal, I had a lot of fun that day,” said senior Jack Schlafly. “My friend Will Hay and I went down the mountain in a really unconventional way and it was really fun. I’ll never forget that day!”

One major concern for the entire group and their families back home was the threat of terrorism overseas. In an email to parents and students interested in the trip, Interim Head of Upper School Jim Justice confirmed that the trip was not canceled and that Westminster was monitoring the situation in Europe very closely, evaluating the viability of strategies to make the trip safer. These included alternatives to public transportation, managing independent time for students differently, and making sure chaperones and students had the ability to be in immediate contact with one another via text.

“While attacks do happen,” said senior Joseph Wargo, “as it stands right now, I do not believe that terrorism poses a large enough threat to cancel a trip to Europe.”

Students who attended the trip said they felt safe the entire time. It also helped that they avoided densely populated cities as much as they could, except Paris and London.

It seems unanimous that those who went on Running Through History this year would recommend it to anyone.

“I learned so much on the trip, especially how to become more independent,” said Huff. “You’re pretty much on your own for the trip, so you really learn how to be responsible for yourself and your belongings. I also made so many amazing memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is a lot of work, but it is definitely worth it!”