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Tonic proves tough in 2013 Tough Mudder

The members of Tonic Sol-fa raised $1,250 for the Wounded Warrior Project by competing in the 2013 Tough Mudder held in Somerset. Right to left: Jared Dove, Shaun Johnson, Greg Bannwarth and Mark McGowan (Photo by Tom Lindfos)1 / 24
The emcee fires up competitors before the start of the 2013 Tough Mudder (Photo by Tom Lindfors)2 / 24
A wave of competitors starts the 2013 Tough Mudder in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfos)3 / 24
Welcome to the Kiss of Mud, the first obstacle in this year's Tough Mudder held in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)4 / 24
A wave of competitors emerge from the Kiss of Mud during the 2013 Tough Mudder in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfos)5 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa teammates, Jared Dove (L) and Greg Bannwarth (R) survive the Kiss of Mud relatively unscathed during the Tough Mudder on Sunday in Somerset.(Photo by Tom Lindfors)6 / 24
Mud Mile #1 provides a slippery challenge for a competitor during Sunday's Tough Mudder in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfos)7 / 24
Mud Mile #1 provides a slippery challenge for competitors in Sunday's Tough Mudder held in Somerset.(Photo by Tom Lindfors)8 / 24
Equal to the challenge, a competitor gives the thumbs up during Sunday's Tough Mudder competition held in Somerset.(Photo by Tom Lindfors)9 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa's Shaun Johnson takes on Mud Mile #1 during Sunday's Tough Mudder held in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)10 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa's Greg Bannwarth shows his true grit at Mud Mile #1 during the Tough Mudder held in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)11 / 24
Wearing a little bit of the course, Tonic Sol-fa poses after completing Mud Mile #1 at the Tough Mudder held in Somerset.(Photo by Tom Lindfors)12 / 24
A pair of competitors complete the Warrior Carry obstacle during the Tough Mudder held in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)13 / 24
A pair of competitors complete the Warrior Carry obstacle during the Tough Mudder held in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)14 / 24
A competitor feels the sting at the Electric Eel obstacle during the Tough Mudder held in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)15 / 24
Competitors swim under a web of electric tentacles at the Electric Eel at the Tough Mudder (Photo by Tom Lindfors)16 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa's Greg Bannwarth shows off his Olympic form at Walk the Plank during the Tough Mudder held in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)17 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa's Mark McGowan models some of the course before attempting Everest during the Tough Mudder in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)18 / 24
Members of Tonic Sol-fa demonstrate the kind of teamwork it takes to compete in the Tough Mudder (Photo by Tom Lindfors)19 / 24
Tonic Sol-fa's Mark McGowan takes on the Funky Monkey during the Tough Mudder challenge held in Somerset.(Photo by Tom Lindfors)20 / 24
Competitors take on the Funky Monkey during the Tough Mudder challenge held in Somerset, WI (Photo by Tom Lindfors)21 / 24
A team charges through Electroshock Therapy the final obstacle before the finish line at the Tough Mudder. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)22 / 24
Shaun Johnson (in blue) leads the members of Tonic Sol-fa across the finish line as they complete their second Tough Mudder in a little over three hours. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)23 / 24
A competitor donates her shoes following the Tough Mudder held in Somerset. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)24 / 24

Mark McGowan, Shaun Johnson, Greg Bannwarth and Jared Dove were four of more than 12,000 men and women who took part in the 2013 Tough Mudder Minnesota held on the grounds of the Somerset Amphitheater July 20-21.

The majority of the participants compete as part of a team ranging in number from four to six up to as many as 20 or 30 individuals. What made McGowan, Johnson, Bannwarth and Dove's team unique was their sound.

Decked out in their mudder attire you would not recognize them as the group of four talented and highly successful members of the a cappella act known as Tonic Sol-fa. The Minneapolis-based quartet has sold more than 2,000,000 CDs on its own independent label while touring extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad, establishing themselves as one of the most in-demand vocal groups in the Midwest.

"We're strong supporters of our servicemen and women, so when we found that Tough Mudder was directly involved with the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP), that sealed the deal for us," Dove said. "The four of us all have friends, family, acquaintances and fans that have served or are actively serving in the military. It's incredible to be a small part of this significant moment in their life."

Tonic Sol-fa ran in their first Mudder last year. The sense of accomplishment and the money they were able to raise brought them back for more mud this year.

"Last year there were younger participants in much better shape than us bowing out because they didn't go into the race with the determination necessary," Dove said. "We were finishing no matter what. This year we're more sure of what we need to do to finish and less apprehensive about the course."

What did they learn from last year's experience?

"Don't cry in front of all the other guys," said Dove.

"Reconsider after 10 feet," added Johnson.

Unfortunately none of the group's awards, NACA Entertainer of the Year nominations, best-selling Christmas DVDs or even their successful PBS holiday special would help them conquer the 10-mile course featuring obstacles like Kiss of Mud, Arctic Enema, Boa Constrictor, Funky Monkey and Electroshock Therapy.

A steady rain fell Sunday morning as competitors for the 10:20 a.m. start time scaled the six-foot wooden wall stenciled with the emblem of the Wounded Warriors Project. Inside the starting pen, a sea of arms and foreheads tattooed with identification numbers recited the Tough Mudder Pledge in unison, "I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge. I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine - kids whine. I help my fellow Mudders complete the course. I overcome all fears."

Servicemen and women were asked to stand to be recognized for their service. The emcee fed the fire amidst a chorus of hoo rahs preparing the mudders for the challenge ahead. A moment later hundreds of athletes in all sizes and shapes began their assault of the Tough Mudder.

Early on, adrenaline energized the competitors as they got caught up in the momentum and camaraderie of the moment. Over the course of the next 3.5 hours competitors would get bruised and a bit bloody as they took on obstacle after obstacle for the satisfaction of having completed a Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder LLC held its inaugural event in 2010 at Bear Creek Resort in Allentown, Penn. Each year since, their events have increased exponentially with 27 scheduled throughout the U.S. in 2013 as well as events in Scotland, Australia, Berlin, Toronto and the UK.

By way of competing with marathons and triathlons, Tough Mudders are a shorter, 10 to 12 mile cross country style courses that incorporate a variety of signature obstacles. According to their literature, "the courses are designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Only 78 percent of entrants successfully complete each challenge."

Tough Mudders other claim to fame is that they have raised more than $5 million dollars in support of the Wounded Warriors Project. The Wounded Warriors Project is dedicated to "fostering the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history."

Tough Mudder does not directly provide funds to the project, instead they encourage participants to collect sponsorships themselves. Tough Mudder rewards any participant who raises $150 or more with a $25 refund from the entry fee. Entry fees can range from $85 to $200 per individual.

To do a Mudder alone would be extremely difficult. It is a challenge best accomplished with support from teammates. Helping hands came from everyone on the course, not just immediate team members.

As the men of Tonic Sol-fa initially ran from one obstacle to the next, then jogged, eventually slowing to a walk, possibly grateful, as traffic backed up at the closing obstacles, they had once again proved themselves equal to the challenge and worthy of the support they had inspired for the Wounded Warriors Project.

"As much fun as we've had with this event, ultimately we want to raise awareness about the WWP and the work they do helping our soldiers adjust when they come home regardless of the type of injury they've suffered," Dove said. "Even if you missed donating to our team, consider donating directly to the WWP."

Participants in this year's Minnesota Tough Mudder raised more than $49,000 for the WWP and donated more than 5,000 pairs of sneakers to charity.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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