Here’s mud in your eye: Tough Mudder attracts 15,000A cast of diverse characters converged on Somerset last weekend as the first ever Tough Mudder event was conducted.
By: Tom Lindfors, New Richmond News
A cast of diverse characters converged on Somerset last weekend as the first ever Tough Mudder event was conducted in Somerset.
By day, Darla Britzius, is a 45-year-old, 5’6”, 120-pound mother of two who works as a member of the accounting staff at Bernard’s Northtown Dodge in New Richmond.
She describes herself as “very go, go, go. I climb. I kayak. I like intense programs, maybe a little ADHD.” Meet her on the street and you might never imagine her secret life as a Tough Mudder.
Meet Britzius’s friend, Kate Nolte Bourassa, also 45, about 5’8” and 130 pounds. She works as an intervention specialists at Starr Elementary School, also in New Richmond. Today, she wears a multi-colored woven anklet given to her by her daughter in Chicago who will be wearing a matching anklet of her own in support of her mother, a two-time Tough Mudder.
“Mudderling” (rookie) Tyler Benning, weighs 180, stands 5’10” and was recruited “hard” by his fellow teacher at Starr Elementary, Kate Bourassa. Benning’s resume includes two marathons, three half marathons and running cross country in high school. He admits, “I don’t do well with cold.” He’s been told about this “thing full of ice.” He expects he might “scream like a girl” and definitely is not looking forward to the “ice enema thing.”
Matt Halfman’s friends call him the “Punisher.” He served 10 years in the United States Army with the 424th Medical Logistics Battalion, 101st Airborne and he completed a tour in Iraq. He calls Fox Lake home and was recruited into the “herd” by his wife. This will be his second Mudder.
Lastly, meet Troy Antoniewicz, mechanical designer at Enerpac in Stoughton, veteran Mudder, and the black and white Holstein kilt wearing team captain and founder of the team. How has he prepared for today’s test, “I’ve got a tire at home I’ve been pushing around.”
What do all of these people have in common? They are all members of Apocalypse Cow, a diverse group of men and women from all walks of life drawn together from all over Wisconsin to be teammates in a brutal physical and mental challenge known as the Tough Mudder.
A former British counter-terrorism agent, Will Dean, founded Tough Mudder.
“Tough Mudders are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all-around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie,” according to organizers.
Not only is Tough Mudder’s Headquarters quickly becoming a leader in the popular obstacle course industry, but it’s a serious contender on Wall Street as well, generating $22 million in revenue in 2011 and projected to pull in $75 million in 2012, according to Fortune Magazine. Since the first Tough Mudder event in 2010, Tough Mudder events have multiplied from 14 in 2011 to 35 scheduled in 2012, including events in the U.S., Australia and Canada.
How serious is a Tough Mudder? You have to sign a four page “death” waiver even as a spectator, and spend $15 on a mandatory insurance policy.
The event atmosphere is more like a rock concert, as well as part carnival, part memorial and part revival. It includes a post party where awards are given in three costume categories. Prizes are also awarded for the best Mullet and Mohawk. Participants can also be nominated by teammates for the “Most Respect Award.” A Tough Mudder wouldn’t be complete without tattoos, which can be inked on site for a $70 donation, which also entitles the tattooed to free entry in any Tough Mudder of his or her choice in 2012.
None of that mattered at 8:20 a.m. when the 17 members of Apocalypse Cow joined forces with 600 other competitors in the second of 25 waves comprising a total of 15,000 fellow Mudders. They attacked a 12-mile course carved out of hills and valleys surrounding the Somerset Amphitheater. The devious layout included 25 obstacles with names like Cliff Hanger, Funky Monkey, Boa Constrictor, Braveheart, Fire Walker, Devil’s Beard, Electroshock Therapy, Death March and Arctic Enema.
Two common themes became clear when you talk with members of the herd. First is the cause: participants claim they participate in the Mudder as a way to pay tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“The cause is awesome, the Wounded Warrior Project,” Britzius said. “It really sold me on this race over any other race. I’m so thankful for all the military. This is the least I can do.”
The cause is closer to Halfman’s heart.
“I’m doing it for a few buddies who were hurt or killed,” he said. “I’m doing it on their behalf.”
Participants paid a $125 fee to compete and were encouraged to raise additional funds to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. To date, Tough Mudder participants have raised $3 million for the WWP which provides funds to a variety of programs dedicated to helping injured veterans successfully transition from service-related injuries to civilian life.
Second is the camaraderie.
“The team is great,” Antoniewicz said. “We’ve got people from all over the state. Word got out that we were forming a team and we’ve got people we’ve never met before on the team. They heard it’s a great atmosphere, that we all work together, that we do it as a team and they can be a part of it.”
Britzius, who earned the nickname Mom Sergeant in her last Mudder adds, “It is my team that gets me to the finish line.”
“You can’t do this without a team,” Bourassa said. “It’s their encouragement; they’re helping you over the obstacles. Your teammates help you and people you don’t even know help you. That’s what got me. It’s addicting. It’s incredible.”
By the time the cows hit the course, the temperatures approached 70 degrees with a slight wind. Two miles in, as they approach Trench Warfare, the mercury’s already pressing 80. Inevitably the course and conditions begin to take their toll as teams struggle to stay together.
Between obstacles, the terrain is hilly and uneven stretching out competitors into long dotted lines on the horizon. As the morning wears on, large crowds of spectators begin to gather at the more popular obstacles, their boisterous encouragement a welcome compliment to the dogged competitors.
Lines back up at the obstacles as teams reunite and the daunting challenges slow progress. By the time the herd hits Twinkle Toes only three obstacles stand between them and the finish line. More than three hours have elapsed as a mean sun torches competitors in the 90-degree heat while a wind gusting up to 20 mph blows so much dust into the air visibility at times is reduced to 20 feet. True to their pledge, no competitor is left behind, as helping hands are in evidence every step of the way.
Despite the challenging event, an exhilarated, mud-covered Benning rated his first Mudder after he finished.
“It was fantastic. I loved it. It was a blast, an absolute blast,” he said. “The cows were awesome. Super supportive everyone’s rooting for everyone. I’m absolutely going to do another one.”
Arm in arm with her teammate Britzius, Bourassa echoes those sentiments. ”It was everything (I expected) and more. The cows are a great team and they’re always there for you. Even when we straggled a little, people I didn’t know were helping me up and over those walls.”
Bourassa said she is already preregistered for three more events. One of her goals is to compete in Ireland next summer.
So if all this has you thinking about doing a Tough Mudder, Bourassa offers this advice, “If you don’t think you can do it, you need to do it, because you can.”
By the way, the herd is always looking for new cows.