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Tough Mudders

story Jennifer Erxleben    photography Steve Uhraney

It all started with a challenge.

The words “bet you can’t do this” posted on a Facebook wall. Well, if you know Brampton Guardian employee Scott Hartman like I do (his wife), then you know he’s not one to say no to a challenge.

“My first instinct was to sign up - a reaction to those words posted by my good friend, Barry Cordingley,” says Scott. “Then I started thinking about it, visited the Tough Mudder website, seeing it was to take place at Mount St. Louis Moonstone in Barrie with obstacles, designed by British Special Forces, named ‘Arctic Enema’ and ‘Electroshock Therapy,’ I began wondering what I’d gotten myself into.”

That’s when Mississauga resident Cynthia Slater, a former co-worker of Scott’s when he worked at The Mississauga News, saw the post and asked if he was serious about it. And if so, would he like to join her team?
There was no turning back. The team Bitches n’ Balls, including employees from various Metroland newspapers, signed up and started their rigorous training methods, all unique but with two goals in mind—leave no teammate behind and finish.

“I decided to do Tough Mudder for the challenge,” explains Cynthia. “I used to compete in obstacle courses 10 years ago. I recently got back into running and completed a few half-marathons, but this is in a league of its own!”

Scott’s story is similar. “I’ve participated in marathons before, and was supposed to do one in 2010, but ended up injuring myself in training. This time, I was very careful. Pushed myself, no doubt, but listened to my body. I’m getting close to 50 and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt myself and be unable to compete. 

"At first I thought, I’ve done this before, when I was in Basic Officer’s training, and then I realized that was 28 years ago,” Scott laughs. “Failure is my greatest motivator. Having been in sales for over 15 years, goal setting is second nature to me. I’ve come to apply it to all parts of my life, from coaching minor hockey and lacrosse, to being build director for Volunteer Builders, a not-for-profit organization.”

As Scott’s wife, I have to admit, when I first heard he was signing up, I thought, Oh no, he’s got a bad back, arthritis in his joints, if he gets hurt, it won’t be good. But as the weeks went on, I saw him change his diet from fast food to fresh fruit and vegetables, plus protein shakes for breakfast and lunch, slimming down 10 pounds. He stuck to a rigorous running schedule, including monkey bars at the nearby playground and eventually benching 220 lbs.

“As far as family support goes, I couldn’t have it better!” says Cynthia. “My husband Dave sent me the Tough Mudder link and challenged me to do it, then signed up with me. He’s my training partner dragging me out of bed to run in the mornings, hanging out at the monkey bars and holding my hand when jumping off the dock at the cottage.

“I have a fear of putting my head under water, so the three water obstacles will definitely push my fear factor limits. "Walk the Plank" is a 15-foot platform we have to jump off into a lake. "Under Water Tunnels" requires us to swim under floating barrels. And my biggest fear, "Arctic Enema," jumping into a garbage dumpster full of 35 F ice water. I’m sure there will be lots of hand holding!”

“In the last week of training, we kicked it up a notch - added push-ups and crunches at the 8km mark of our 10km run – jumping into the Credit River (on Culham Trail) to experience it underwater. Running soaking wet because we knew that’s how we’d be for most of the Tough Mudder course!”

The Big Day

Finally, after months of training, the day arrived. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the atmosphere was electric, a mix of nervous energy and pride for being athletically and mentally ready for whatever lay ahead. Walking to the registration area, me heading to the media tent and Scott and his team heading to the participants sign in, we looked up the mountainside, glimpsing obstacles.

It was pretty overwhelming.

A big blown-up sign announced we were at the starting line. We were hit with blaring music and the sight of several thousand participants (15,000 over two days) walking about, some wearing crazy homemade outfits with wigs (we’d eventually see strewn across the course) others in compression shorts and tees.

Words of encouragement and rules on how it’s not a competition, so be safe, blared out of a megaphone. It felt like we were about to embark on a long journey of personal fulfilment.

Only the second event of its kind in Canada, and the first at Mount St. Louis Moonstone, the event was very well organized, clean and well marked.

A 9:15 start time and they were off! We witnessed the team conquer the chilling Arctic Enema, cold and wet, they still came out smiling. We parted ways as we focused on getting shots of mud-soaked participants and other daunting obstacles throughout the day. If you’re planning to be a spectator, you might want to consider training too. We walked about 15km up and down the ski hill, managing to see about 15 of 18 obstacles as some were too far—considering Steve, the photographer, was carrying four cameras!

Slipping, sliding, crashing, nothing stopped them. From smiling faces to teammates pulling each other out of the mud or up and over obstacles, the spirit of camaraderie was intense. Watching people struggle and push themselves was amazing—some even tried the obstacle more than once to see if they could finish it. It took four tries for one guy to make it up Everest. You have to be a little crazy to do this.

Seeing sore, dirty, tired and soaking wet participants is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. They oozed a feeling of accomplishment that was so contagious I found myself contemplating participating next year. After four hours of getting up close for those perfect shots, often getting splashed with mud or water and overhearing words of encouragement, we headed towards the finish line. Hoops, hollers and high fives were the order of the day before we caught up with the team in the beer garden. They all had huge, exhausted smiles on their faces.

“That was awesome!” exclaimed Cynthia. “The teamwork and camaraderie, both from our team and from complete strangers, was inspiring. Facing my fears head on and completing the water obstacles has given me such a great feeling of accomplishment. For me, the hardest part ended up being the hills. At least now I know how to train for next year!”

“I was inspired by my teammates,” says Scott. “Fear of heights, water, confined spaces and failure were all put aside, all 12 of us finished as a unit. Just as an example, at one point, Tracey froze with fear halfway through the dark tunnels of the "Boa Constrictor." I was behind her and had to talk her through it, as it was pitch black. Slowly we made it through. She gave me a big hug at the end.

“Way to go team! Our men and women in uniform in the Canadian Armed Forces (my heroes) deserve all the respect and support we can give them” exclaimed Scott.

“Not only did participants accomplish something for themselves, but also raised close to $100,000 for such a great cause: Wounded Warriors. A beer has never tasted so good.”  GL

Above: Kiss of Mud

Top right from left to right: Kabeer Baig, Carolyn Campbell, Cynthia
Slater, David Slater, Tamara Niesen, Ryan Niesen, Slavica Bissylas,
John Leombruno, Breanne Schroeder (above Scott),
Tracey Slater, Marilyn Rath and Scott Hartman

Walk the Plank
The climb side of "Walk the Plank"

Walk the Plank
The jump side of "Walk the Plank"

Electric Eel
Exiting "Electric Eel"

Samsung PowerFoam
“Samsung PowerFoam Challenge station”

Greased Lightning
Sliding down “Greased Lightning”