Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 21, 2012

Tough enough for Tough Mudder

The Independent

MAYSVILLE — It was cold, hilly and of course, muddy on Saturday when 7,400 participants from across the region and country descended on Maysville to tackle a 12-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course at the Big Rock Off Road Park.

Already billed as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” Saturday’s chilly October weather, along with the park’s steep terrain, combined to create one of the toughest courses yet, according to experienced participants and organizers.

The course featured 23 unique military-style obstacles with names like Artic Enema, Fire Walker and Electric Eel.  In each of these three respective obstacles, “Mudders,” as participants are called, plunged into a dumpster loaded with ice then submerged themselves under a barbwire barrier, jumped over mud-pits surrounded by burning straw and then crawled through watery mud under electrically charged wires.

Since its inception in 2010, Tough Mudder has held more than 40 events around the world that have attracted more than half a million participants and raised more than $3.7 million for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Tough Mudder is not a race, its organizers insist, but a challenge. According to its motto, it is designed to test “strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie. The goal is not to finish first but to overcome fears and finish the course.

The event lived up to its reputation, according to local Mudders. Dozens made the trip Saturday to participate.

David Johnson, 41, of Ashland, tackled Tough Mudder with 10 other teammates on Saturday, including his wife, Missy.

 “We had a blast,” said Johnson, early Sunday. “The temperature was the hardest thing. I’m sure almost everyone would say that — just trying to stay not even comfortable, just not being so cold. It was so cold and wet,” he said.

Four of Johnson’s team members bowed out during the course due to hypothermia and other injuries but seven pushed through to finish.

“You just have to mentally push through the uncomfortable. I didn’t feel like it was that cardio-tasking, but you have to prepare to be uncomfortable,” he said.  “We made it through relatively unscathed. There were a lot of places there that you could get into trouble.”

Ger Sasser, 22, of Russell, participated with a team of eight including trainers and members of Crossfit Countdown, the Ashland gym he owns.

“It was harder than I expected it to be,” said Sasser, “The team made it possible. I would never do it by myself. It’s a unique aspect of the event. It requires team camaraderie to overcome obstacles. There were probably a couple of obstacles that I wouldn’t have gone over personally, if other people hadn’t pushed me in that direction. The team bravery, you feed off it.

“The electric eel,” he offered as an example, “I didn’t want to do it at all and neither did Mike Stanley. Then the girls went through and I looked down and said, ‘They are going to call us (names)…’ It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”.

“The team is what keeps pushing you. When you think you can’t possibly go any further or hike another hill, you have a team there, saying ‘you can do this.’ So, of course you are going to do it because you don’t want to let them down,” added Stacy Brock of Boyd County, Sasser’s teammate. “If it wasn’t for the team there was no way I could have done it.”

Navigating down the course’s steep muddy hills were some of the hardest, but most fun obstacles, Brock said. “Cheree (Davis) was in front of me every time and we’d bump into each other and slide the rest of the way. At one point we had a 10-body pileup. People behind us kept crashing into us and we were all laughing. We just couldn’t help it.”

 “The team element made the event,” agreed Davis of Catlettsburg. You had to have teamwork, whether with your actual team or the strangers you were beside. There was no way you could get through as an individual without any help. That made it a very awesome event.

“It was definitely tough. The tough part is correct,” Davis said. 

“This was by far the toughest thing I put myself through. This tested me more physically and mentally than I had ever been tested in a race,” said Shawn Thornsbury, the assistant cross country coach at Boyd County High School. 

 “I would encourage everyone, if they really want to test themselves and find out what they are made of, to do it,” said Thornbury. 

One Tough Mudder was enough for him and Davis, too.

Johnson and Brock, on the other hand, are ready for another one. Both plan to attend one during the warmer months next year.

Big Rock owner Duke Ford hopes there is another Tough Mudder in his future, too.

“It’s been wonderful. The Tough Mudder people have been fabulous. I would let them come back in an instant. They have the option of whether to do it again or not. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

For its part, the city of Maysville and the surrounding community opened its arms to the thousands of visitors, hosting live music downtown Friday and Saturday night and providing a strong police presence. Mason County High School and the nearby Fairgrounds offered parking and the Limestone YMCA allowed Mudders to shower there. Every hotel in town was booked.

The reception didn’t go unnoticed by Mudders or organizers.

“The Tough Mudder people said they have gotten more cooperation and community involvement here than this crew had ever experienced before,” said Ford. “It was great. I think everybody has been tickled with how well it has gone.”

 CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.