The Green Bay Packers returned to Fort McCoy Tuesday.

Players Dean Lowry, Lucas Patrick, Danny Vitale and Tyler Lancaster attended along with former players and current Packers staff members Tony Fisher, player/alumni specialist, and Grey Ruegamer, director of player engagement.

For over a decade, the NFL team has sent players to Fort McCoy to speak with cadets at the Wisconsin Challenge Academy, learn what their life is like and answer questions.

The Challenge Academy is a program for at risk youth ages 16-18 struggling in their path of life, said Kevin Greenwood, Challenge Academy director. It offers students the opportunity to develop the skills to be able to change their path.

Greenwood said the players are a motivation for the cadets.

“The cadets have an opportunity to see and meet individuals who are obviously successful because they’ve made it to the NFL, and some of them may have had as rocky a road as some of the cadets.” he said. “In many cases the cadets will relate to the experience of the Packers players, and then the Packers’ can talk about what their path to making it to the Packers was all about and some of the obstacles that they may have come up against as they were getting to where they’re at today. It’s an opportunity to motivate the cadets, to inspire the cadets and share some of the experiences that they’ve had so that the cadets will hopefully be successful when they leave the program.”

Players ate lunch with the cadets, got a tour of the barracks conducted by the cadets and held a question-and-answer session.

Lowry, a defensive lineman who played college ball at Northwestern, said it was a great experience.

“You talk to kids about their daily structure − we saw what they eat, where they go to school, where they live. There are a lot of similarities in our life, our structure and what we do — we work hard and things like that,” he said. “To see what they go through and to relate to certain situations we’ve had in life, perseverance and to really trust yourself ... was a very important part of the day.”

Lowry enjoyed fielding questions from the cadets.

“I think it was very beneficial for both sides to hear their side of things and to hear their questions but also to give them advice going forward,” he said.

To cadet Lilit Ortega, the visit was a meaningful opportunity. It helped the cadets realize they are not alone, that everyone goes through the same things.

The advice to be resilient resonated with Ortega.

“They were saying how they had motivation that they didn’t give up,” she said. “Resilience is what we’re practicing here, and they had resilience. I know they’re going through a hard time right now − everyone goes through hard times, and I think how they were talking about how they just keep moving forward, they had that motivation at the end of the day, like their family was their motivation.”

Lowry said the key piece of advice given that day was from Patrick and Vitale — for cadets to surround themselves with good people.

“Lucas and Danny talked about that and just that we’ve had great people in our lives that had been great mentors to us,” he said. “We stressed a lot to them to surround yourself with people that have similar goals as you. You go on and things aren’t as structured as it is in this environment; make sure to keep that discipline you have here throughout the rest of your life.”

Lowry advised cadets to keep moving forward no matter what.

“I told them to think back on all the hard work they’ve put in this facility,” he said. “One of our motivations when we’re playing is that all of the training will be put forth in training camp, the off season, and that makes it a lot harder to quit and to do things that aren’t right to our level. When you do that, you put the work in, it makes things a whole lot easier.”

Cadets also need to find a passion for what they choose to do in life, Lowry said.

“For us there are tough times in our profession, but we all have a great passion for football and the game, so make sure whatever you choose to do, you have a great passion for it,” he said.

Ortega found her motivation and passion at the Challenge Academy.

“I had a lack of motivation, and that’s what changed. I now feel like I have a lot of motivation and a lot of discipline, too,” she said. “Now, I want to go into the Army ... to become a military police officer. I just love the structure and routine here, the military standards. That’s why I want to carry on, that’s my motivation here.”

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Meghan Flynn can be reached at meghan.flynn@lee.net.

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