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Tough Lessons Learned from Tough Mudder

2016-06-30 Posted By Jenna

I know you guys have been waiting for this, so thank you so much for being patient with me.

10 months of training all came to a head on Saturday as a crazy idea became reality. I knew my big mouth would probably get me killed one day, and I was pretty sure that that day would be Saturday. I won’t lie, I found this blog pretty different from the one I thought I’d be writing, and that you probably thought you’d be reading. I thought I’d be writing about me being mud and sweat-covered (probably a little bloody…or a lot), but with my last ounce of strength, crushing each obstacle - mostly because of my dream team. But that wasn’t always the case.

Truth be told, the obstacles were the least of our worries! In fact, they probably accounted for about 5% of our energy, sheer will and spirit. The other 95%? The terrain. I think I built up a somewhat naive idea of how Tough Mudder would unfold - in fact, I know I did! In my mind, Tough Mudder was a series of insane obstacles not necessarily one after the other, but the same distance away from one another on even terrain. Stop laughing! So much focus is put on the obstacles in all the marketing and advertising, I legitimately let myself forget this was all happening on a mountain, which could be used to make this course that much more sadistic…I mean, treacherous… Maybe this was the way it was supposed to be to get my butt out there, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying, “Ignorance was bliss” in the end.

I can’t count the number of times that to get from Obstacle A to Obstacle B involved a near-vertical ascent (or descent) on gravel, tree stumps or jagged rock. Not the kind of fun an average wheelchair-user seeks, and even less fun for the people who have to help that wheelchair user i.e. my team (it must have been their endorphin high that saved me from the more natural instinct to leave me at the top of the mountain - after all that - never to be heard from again). Luckily, John brought rope that we tied to the chair as Adam and John usually took the front of my wheelchair, while Garick pushed from the back (and I tried to maintain a grip on my wheels and get some traction, anything to do my share).

The forest was a wild card, at which point I saw no other way through than by getting out of my chair and literally bumming across the muck and debris - BACKWARDS. Even then there were times when it was too hard to make it across, at which point Adam, John, Garick, and some amazing other Mudders (including one who was ex-Army) got together, found two logs and put them through my wheels to lift me and my chair like Cleopatra. Remind me to have guys do this when I’m more capable of enjoying it (people planning my surprise 26th birthday - wink, wink, nudge nudge)! I may or may not be leaving out the part that the ex-Army guy convinced me to be carried via fireman’s hold up one final embankment, a little mortifying, anyone?!

But the boys, sorry, men never faltered. They each fulfilled a role on the team that made it so that I arrived safe and sound at the finish line. We went through the Birth Canal together, under Devil’s Beard, ALL THE WAY UP Cliffhanger, over the Blockness Monster, we saw a bear, I saw my life flash before my eyes fifteen times, and we drank beer. There were times that I had to make executive decisions for my sake and that of my team, therefore forgoing certain legs of the journey. It was funny, just when I’d start to feel like I was being a wimp for making these decisions, we’d find ourselves staring down something harder, vanquishing any of those “we took the easy way out” feelings!

Although this adventure was in no way what I expected, I was touched to hear that other Mudders considered helping me survive, the highlight of their day. I’ll admit, even after tough love from the people closest to me (the only thing that usually makes it through my thick skull), I’ve been taking this pretty hard. I wanted to be able to do more, and not be as reliant on everyone else. I didn’t really want to be the surprise obstacle - but I was - or as my mom calls me, “The surprise opportunity.”

Then again, maybe what I gained was more important than getting to do everything on my own. I mean, when you really think about it, can anyone really do anything truly great and meaningful without the help, love and support of the people closest to them? And if they can, wouldn’t that be a lonely victory? There were times that I even had to stop helping to help the guys help me (say that ten times fast). The guys actually took turns (while helping me navigate down the steepest of steep hills) telling me to stop steering and put my hands in my lap (not a strong suit of mine) so they could coordinate. This led me to realize that I had to some times give up control (and my expectations) for the greater good of the team. I also found myself resenting what is essentially impossible terrain (when you’re in a chair) to get from obstacle to obstacle, most of which I was ready to crush. What epiphany did this lead me to? When it doesn’t feel like the world has been built for you, renovate it (I was never good at construction metaphors)!

What do I mean? Well, I mean, no, I probably won’t do Tough Mudder again for the sake of my ego and the safety of my team (I’m sure we’ll just do the beers, to commemorate that time that we did do it). However, wouldn’t it be fantastic if someone/a lot of awesome people came together to create a different kind of course that would allow people with health challenges to challenge their minds/bodies/spirits in a way that honoured their strengths and allowed them to better test their limits? We are a strong, determined, and resourceful bunch, after all, and are usually up for a good challenge (we just usually work better when things are paved…). Or maybe Tough Mudder will realize that I am not the first (or the last) person in a chair to attempt their course, and although this may be a surprising new demographic they’re appealing to, maybe they want to do their part by either adapting the course or learning how to best support the new demographic’s decision to participate. I, for one, would have found it unbelievably helpful if the Tough Mudder team had gone through the course with a GoPro, so that potential Mudders could understand what would be expected of them for the obstacles and the terrain in between!

There’s so much potential in new courses that challenge us and so much potential untapped in ourselves. I was so thrilled to see so many people determined to get out of their comfort zones, becoming stronger versions of themselves, and unwilling to leave a Mudder behind. In this way, Tough Mudder is onto some great things!

Before I go, there are some people I need to thank:

Mom, with only one good hip and the other one there just for show, you tackled one of the toughest courses there is. Why? To make sure you got the footage we’d need to relive this journey and for others to see who might be considering doing Tough Mudder, if it's what they feel they need to do to feel alive, too. You’re a force to be reckoned with, and if you passed down half that grit, I’ll be just fine in this tough, tough world.

John, our passionate and positive leader. The easy part may not have come when you “thought” it would…or ever, but you still gave us hope that there was a break up ahead. Your ingenuity and perseverance were infectious, and exactly what a Mudder has to breathe in to survive. Thank you for steering the ship, and challenging me!

Garick, you’ve been my rock (whether you realized it or not) for over 10 years. You always have a smile on your face and you see the good and potential in everyone. I’m glad you saw something in me that would make you want to take something like this on. I’m so glad I got experience this with you and your phenomenal family!, the much-appreciated giver of tough love, and my fearless trainer (when I’m not being ejected out of my chair). I don’t know how but you’ve not only kept me grounded, you’ve kept me growing, too - mind, body and spirit. I’m still shocked that a Google ad led me to you, someone who has changed my life forever - thanks Google! This year hasn’t always been easy with all the life happening, but you taught me to harness that frustration and grief into becoming stronger and not losing sight of my dreams. You’re not the average trainer, you’re an elite trainer! You intuitively know when your athlete is ready for their next challenge (even when they don’t), but you earn their trust and they feel so much stronger in the end. You’re in this to change lives, have people go after their dreams and do what you can to make them the best version of themselves when they do meet their dreams. Thanks for being a brother, a friend, and for kicking my butt!

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“Overcome the notion that we must be regular... it robs you of the chance to be EXTRAORDINARY ”
Uta Hagen
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