By Martha Hicks Leta
On May 6, members from Fitness Together in Norwell, 2 trainers and 3 clients, formed a team with 4 other South Shore residents to take part in the Tough Mudder New England Challenge at Mount Snow. In Part III, our final installment, Team Boom Factor takes on the Firewalker and Everest!
When last we saw the team, they were only through a third of the 26 challenges. Throughout the rest of the day we stop to watch other contestants going through the tougher challenges, like the Electric Eel, where challengers crawl through water under a grid of dangling electric wires. They scream and swear when the wires touch them. It’s a lot to deal with.
We catch up with the team at the Funky Monkey, a long span of monkey bars that climbs up a roof-like peak and down the other side. Rumor is, some of the bars are greased, though it’s hard to say for sure. By now the contestants have been wearing their soaking wet clothes for several hours and many of them are shivering as they wait for their turn. Some of the challengers don’t make it past the first two bars before falling into the filthy 3-foot-deep pool of snowmelt below. Others make it close to the end before slipping off. Some can’t even reach the bars and they jump in, swimming to the other side. The incredibly agile cruise across as if they were raised in trees and this is their normal mode of conveyance. Mike makes it across. The others come close. As we stand watching, only one woman makes it all the way.
We see the team again coming through Firewalker, where contestants pass through a blazing gauntlet of kerosene-soaked straw that belches noxious grey smoke into the air. Once through the gauntlet they must jump over a gas-fed strip controlled by a fat guy in a green shirt who sadistically sends the flames leaping higher into the air as skittish jumpers attempt to clear it. Some racers pause by the blazing hay to warm themselves. No one that we know of catches fire.
One of the final obstacles is called Everest, where challengers must scramble up the curve of a 15-foot tall half-pipe as it straightens to a vertical face, striving to get up and over the top. Teamwork is fully in play here, for this challenge absolutely can’t be done alone. Here, momentum can carry a person only so far, ideally delivering him or her into the helping hands of others that have gone before, who then must be strong enough and willing enough to pull strangers and team members alike over the top.
The hundred or so challengers are spread out 20 or 30 feet across the width of the obstacle, ten or fifteen deep, waiting for their turn to go. Maybe five can go at once. There should be chaos and jostling and annoyance here—at least to the same degree as in the Starbucks line at rush hour—but inexplicably there is order. Over the course, it seems, the Mudders have acquired the sort of oneness that comes with unified suffering.
The members of Boom Factor percolate toward the front of the line. Eric is up. This is the first time I’ve seen him in action. He scampers up the side and is hoisted over in one fell swoop. He stands at the top and takes in the view like a pleased warrior chief before stooping to help the next few over. Lou and Mike make it over in quick succession. Kurstin follows, grabbing her way up and over the wall by sheer force of will. It’s impossible to tell that she is dealing with the excruciating pain she carries from the injuries sustained to her heels in the weeks before the challenge. It is only days after the race that she admits they were hurting her for the entire day.
On another part of the wall, a grey-haired woman in her late 50s is struggling to get up the wall. After a few attempts, it’s clear she’s not able to climb high enough to grab a hand. Soon a group, some wearing the same team shirt and others not, begin to flatten themselves end to end up the side of the obstacle. The other runners wait to give them room. When the formation is high enough, the woman gingerly climbs up this human ladder where two men pull her over the top. The crowd—participants and spectators alike—cheers wildly as she stands at the top pumping her fists in the air like Rocky Balboa.
Sarah turns to me with a great smile spread across her face. Her eyes are a little misty. “That was amazing,” she says over the cheering. “I love this!”
The race now over, the members of Team Boom Factor have returned to their civilian lives and have perhaps spent some time drawing meaning from this experience beyond some catch phrase that can be stitched into a parlor pillow.
While it’s tempting to wax philosophical about things like camaraderie, mental toughness and the conquering of personal demons, it must be said that this experience, however daunting, is perhaps something our forbearers, who toiled in coal mines and lost limbs on battlefields, who birthed babies in tobacco fields and then finished out the work day, might say is frivolous. For what sort of a generation is it that equates this kind of personal risk and self-torture with recreational sport?
Perhaps there is no answer to that question. Or maybe there are thousands of different answers, depending which Tough Mudder you ask. But one thing is certain: determining the value of the experience should be left to the individuals who endured it and not to those who observe from the sidelines.
Teddy Roosevelt put a bow on it when he said:
“It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (or woman, Teddy!) in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
In the days since the race it’s clear that this particular group of valiant strivers has no plans to bask in the glory or rest their muscles for very long. Several plan on doing the Tough Mudder again next year. Others have signed on for similar adventure races in the mean time, including The Spartan Beast, The Boston Ruckus and the Warrior Dash.
Says Allison Jones, “TM was truly the hardest thing I have ever done mentally or physically. It was such a high finishing that course. Now, I am even more motivated to continue to improve my fitness level so next year we can conquer the mountain again.“
In the future, as you’re going about the business of your daily life, if you happen to run into someone wearing an orange Tough Mudder headband or maybe the shirt, give that person a respectful nod and maybe even a “hoo-rah!” They’ve probably earned it.
Check out the official site for the Tough Mudder Challenge.
Want to learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project?
To speak with Joe Caruso, Mike Eaton or Alicia Tasney about training for your next adventure, go to FTSouthShore.
To find a Fitness Together studio near you go to FTGetsResults.com