PCC – Relationships like no other

I have to start this off with a big disclaimer. I have lots of friends outside PCC. When I write about the significance of relationships made at PCC, there is no intent to say that relationships outside of PCC are less than. There is simply a bond which PCCers share which I’d like to attempt to put into words.

They say it’s something you can’t explain. They say that your friends and family outside the program are unable to understand what goes on there. I have tried over and over to explain it to friends outside the program. When I got back to college in the Fall, friends would ask, “What is it?” I would typically respond,

Summer Camp

But that’s not what it is, anyone who has gone or worked there knows there is something else to it. There is a common aspect that goes unspoken during the 6 week period. The silent theme ringing in the ears of all who inhabit the campus brings hope and happiness to all who are there. It is one that we try everyday to bring to school, work, life in general. But one that people continuously fail to demonstrate in their everyday lives.

The theme that everyone at PCC acknowledges is that there is NO judgement. For 6 weeks, you can be whoever you want. And more often than not, the person who you are during those 6 weeks is the person you wish you could be forever more. But unfortunately outside of the safety net which this program provides, there is judgement and insensitivity and ridicule. But at PCC everything you see, is everything you get.

Can you imagine a world were there is no judgement? Most cannot because no such reality exists. This world is full of judgement and criticism. But at PCC we don’t allow it. We strive to not let bullying exist. We strive to not let fear exist. We strive to create the most comfortable atmosphere possible.

One of the last nights of PCC, we hold a candle pass for each floor. And there is a portion where each proctor gets a chance to say a few words to the 40-50 young adults present. I remember when the candle came to me and I stood up and looked at all the familiar faces. All the memories from 6 weeks flashing through my head. I had been thinking all week-long of what I wanted to say to those boys. About 5 minutes before we all went out for the candle pass, one of my boys ran onto the hall in tears because his girlfriend had just broken up with him. I looked at him leaning against his bunk just sobbing and thought of all the times I’d just run to my room to break down.

When I got up to speak to my boys, I began by saying one of my favorite quotes.

“Not you, me, not nobody, is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward.”

The reason I chose that quote to share with them was because I thought about how many times in life we fall down because of people’s criticisms and judgements. And how so often the hardest but really the best solution to it all, is to keep moving forward and not dwell. I told them that I’ve made poor decisions and been judged for them.

But that’s not what PCC is about. PCC is about taking those poor decisions and looking at what we did wrong. We look at what we did wrong and we learn. But more importantly,

WE GROW.

We become better people from our past selves.

To quote my favorite band (Guster),

“Stay right where you are, you’ll be half of who you were.”

If we didn’t make mistakes, we’d never learn. And if we didn’t learn, we would only weaken ourselves. But what makes learning hard is the judgement and criticism that come along with it. We exhaustively encouraged young yet growing minds to understand that judging someone gets both of you nowhere. It only holds you both back. So why not stop judging people and help them understand, help them GROW.

The things you can learn from 14/15 year olds to this day causes me to be speechless. You can learn at how insignificant things become. You can learn how to stop judging. But you can really learn that if you actually open your eyes, you might see that individuals of every age possess the capability to learn from their mistakes and move forward. Because standing still gets nobody nowhere.

For these reasons, I cherish all my PCC relationships very dearly, both with the young adults I proctored over and those who I proctored with. Because while we may not have always seen things the same way or agreed with one another, we respected each other, we never judged each other and helped one another GROW. And in my eyes, there is nothing more beautiful in a friendship.

I’m dedicating this blog post to one of my closest PCC friends. This is almost 2 months overdue and I made sure she pestered me to get it done, which she did at least once a week. She is one of the most selfless and genuine people I know and is a perfect embodiment of who a PCCer is.

The fairest Bebes of them all.

The fairest Bebes of them all.

Sarah Beberman was the floor leader of the Pink Ladies. As much as I make her life difficult, she is a wonderful friend who has taught me a lot about relationships whether she knew she did or not.

The toughest mudder of them all.

The toughest mudder of them all.

And this is her playing Mr. Frazier in the skit “If I were a Male Proctor”. She is certainly the toughest mudder I know.

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Defining Normal

define normal

During my stay in Ecuador we participated in nightly reflections. Each time there would be a theme, a reading and a series of questions or statements to prompt discussion. Towards the end of the trip, the question was asked, “What is something that has changed for you during your journey?” A number of answers and stories were shared by the group. Billy, our service leader host shared with us, “I’ve been here for a few months now and the thing that has changed the most for me is the definition of what is normal.”

In the past week, I’ve seen people’s capacity to do a lot of different things and it has really raised this question again in my mind,

How do we define normal? Can we even do it?

I haven’t written for a while and that is because on October 15 I took a job as a Triage Worker for an organization working to end homelessness in a growing region of Massachusetts. Whenever I met people in the organization who asked about my background of school and work, I’d answer, “English and Art”  resulting in the same strange look. But two weeks ago, an employee I hadn’t met yet introduced himself and we got to talking. He was also an artist who flat-out just enjoyed helping people. But when the question of my background came up, he didn’t give me any strange looks, he thought it was awesome and asked very casually why I loved being here. My response,

“I’m a writer, I love characters.”

He laughed all too knowingly of his next statement,

“We have plenty of those here.”

Because working in a shelter, you see and meet a LOT of characters. You meet people with stories that simply couldn’t be written. I’ve wanted to write a lot of them for a while now but due to confidentiality and the fragility of starting my first career, being cautious was my first move. But after getting my boss’ permission (who is a wonderful boss if she is reading this) to write about my work and some of the cases I deal with,  recent events in particular have pushed me to the keyboard.

When I first joined the organization, I went through a rigorous two-week training program. I had to learn every in and out of this organization. Two months later, I haven’t stopped learning for one day. But those two weeks were crunch time. At one orientation in particular, directed by the organization’s COO, she told a story about why our organization is different from others. Her words were,

“We don’t give up.”

My first reaction to this statement was a positive one. Of course I had no interest in giving up. As a fresh young graduate starting small in a large non-profit, giving  up on anything was the farthest thought from my mind. But over the past few months, things have proven difficult with this motto holding firm in my head. Because the people who come to me everyday are the ones who have been given up on by everyone else in their lives. And unfortunately, many show and explain legitimate reasons to be given up on. But my job description doesn’t include judgement, it includes getting them to the point of self-sufficiency so that there is no need to be given up on again.

But getting there is no easy journey.

When you are sitting at home, warm, comfortable, satisfied with life, is that normal?

When you are sitting across from a man strung out on heroine and alcohol,  is that normal?

Most that I know would said no to the latter. But consider that for that man, that is his normal. His world populated by drugs and alcohol is all he knows.

The difficulty is not in defining normal, but in tolerating it and even more, respecting it.

Because while we grow up in a middle class lifestyle sharing in the common differences that is human nature, we lack the knowledge of the vast and rare differences that the world is populated with. What is normal for some unfortunately is seen so poorly by others.

What sparked this concept in my head were multiple instances last week. Each dealing with a different scale of normal.

1.

The first was talking to a friend who was upset about her boyfriend and his actions of late. She expressed her frustration with his lack of knowledge of seemingly obvious boyfriend etiquette. I asked how many girlfriends he had in the past. She stated none, she was the first. Being objective, it seemed clear that of course he didn’t know “obvious boyfriend etiquette”, he had never been a boyfriend before. But her definition of normal wouldn’t let her accept this answer. But his concept of normal wouldn’t let him to understand her frustration.

2.

About two weeks ago a gentleman came into the shelter with bloodshot eyes. We drug tested him and he came up positive for heroine. I told him there wasn’t a penalty, it was more for liability we needed to be aware. He seemed lost and confused and I handed him my card and said come here in two days and I’ll help you. He returned in two days and had been sober for all of 2 hours and withdrawals had begun. We went to my office and began calling detox centers all over. One after another they said they were filled and the look of disappointment swept over his face. I told him we were going to keep calling. He asked “Why are you helping me? I’ve never done anything for you.” I looked back and before I could answer, he saw a bracelet on my wrist which I have worn for years. He spoke up again, “What does that say?” I responded,

“Mitakuye Oyasin.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“We are all related.”

He smiled and sat back. I called the next detox and sure enough they had an open spot. I drove him there, shook his hand and explained to find me when he was clean and we’d take a next step. I felt proud until the next day he stumbled into the shelter smelling of alcohol. But I didn’t see him for quite a few days after that. Until mid last week when he came pounding on the front door. I happened to be there and answered asking how he was doing. He was clearly intoxicated and said confidently,

“I am going to go jump in front of a train, I’m going to go kill myself.”

My heart sank and I felt myself go into shock. I had him sit down inside to run to my boss and ask what to do. Within the hour we had him sitting with a counselor talking. When they were done, he went to bed. The counselor who was from outside the organization asked me his story. When I explained it she was surprised we still helped despite the self discharge from the detox. She seemed judgmental. I had this moment of clarity when I realized that despite this being her job, she would have given up. Because something I was taught early on in my training was that you must suspend your judgement when working. But  more importantly, you must suspend your definition of what is normal. Because if you sit in silence with anyone thinking, that isn’t normal, then the barriers to the relationship will never go away.

3.

Last night I was at a family Christmas party and we decided to get a fire going in the backyard. One cousin who is 25 and another who is 19 went out to the back to start it up and I joined. We huddle around the small but growing flames chatting and catching up. When two of our little cousins, ages 7 and 10, ran out to join us, they wanted to throw everything they could find into the fire. My older cousin and I assumed the parental roles in the situation to make sure our littlest cousins weren’t about to be barbecued. He, a teacher, got very stern and strict with them. I, a case manager, took the more casual and relaxed route.

My other cousin of 19 stood back laughing at the two of conducting different parenting styles and stated he enjoyed not being one of the “older cousins” quite yet. He openly continued to comment on our personality types busting out as we tried to prevent the little cousins from burning down the property. Eventually when it came to putting out the fire and having the little ones go inside, it was young parenting at its finest. His teacher voice was in full discipline mode while I quickly understood that these two had no intention of obeying him or I in a parenting duel. My response was walking over and tossing them both over my shoulder and taking them inside. When I put them down inside, half the family was laughing and half was appalled. I explained the situation and my uncle, their grandfather, stated “did what you had to do.”

I walked back outside and helped put the fire out. My younger cousin still laughing at how the two of us handled it in our different ways. And it made me realize how someday my older cousin, who I refer to as my older brother, will have kids. And I’ll have kids. And those kids will be very different from one another. They will be raised, like we were, by two very different sets up parents. But he will love mine and I will love his, unconditionally. Because while we all have our own particular definitions of normal, it makes no one else’s wrong or bad, it makes it their own.

There were a lot of instances from the past week that made me think of this concept. But with each one I tried to stop myself and ask, “Is it just someone else’s normal?” And I think it’s a valid question to ask when dealing with the things we don’t understand. Because that’s just it. We don’t understand them. I think there is a lot we don’t understand in this world. About each other, about different cultures, about the world. And instead of thinking it is wrong or weird, we should strive to understand and appreciate why is it someone’s normal.

Webster’s Dictionary defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern” And I guess you have to ask yourself, how do you define normal?

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PCC – What I know now, that I didn’t know then

I feel bad that it has taken me so long to start writing these posts.  Job hunting is a full-time job in itself. But now that that has ended, I am happy to get back to the blog.

PCC is a 6 week advanced studies program for bright and gifted high school students. It is a detailed program including 2 morning classes with a master teacher and intern(s), downtime, afternoon REC and an evening core course which features a guest speaker or performance promoting some form of an educational lesson.

That is the basic outline that people are given before the program starts. But there is so much more than that. Even in training for proctors, there is little preparation for what will actually occur in the 6 weeks which come to follow.

My recent assistant program director I think put it the best, “PCC is a place where you learn to grow up. You learn how to mature and become a young adult. And while you are learning all of this, you get to be a kid. Because what is so hard to understand in today’s world is that you can grow up and still be a kid.”

I never got to go to PCC. When I was of age to go, it was too much money. As detailed and thorough as this program is, it costs quite a bit. A good amount of my friends went though. It was hard to say goodbye at the beginning of summer and then come back to school in the fall to them talking about the best summer of their lives. I listened to it for years and never got it. No one who doesn’t go to the program ever will. After my sophomore year of college, one of those close friends went back to PCC to work there. Again I said goodbye to him at the beginning and came back at the end to hear how this was this best summer of his life. I didn’t get it. And then he came up with an idea.

“Why don’t you work there with me next summer?” It was such an odd concept. Could I even do that? I didn’t go to the program, could I work there? But a few months later he forwarded me the application info and said do it. And it was the best decision I could have made.

Now I have the pleasure to say I’ve had two wonderful summers with PCC. I’ve cried more than I ever thought I would, I’ve met some of the most wonderful people I ever could have imagined and I have learned some of the most important lessons of my life.

Things I know now that I didn’t know then.

I have done lots of different kinds of work. I have worked in the food industry. I have done international service work. I have been a designer, a writer and a speaker. No work is as rewarding as working with young teens. I pinpoint on that age group for a reason. When I look back at my life at that age and look at the kids I have worked with in the past two years, I have seen how imperative that age is as a growing stage. I consider myself blessed to witness the transformation of so many young gentlemen and ladies. Working with teens is so rewarding because while you will teach them so much and give them all your time and energy, they will teach you more than you could ever imagine. Whether it’s how to make a friendship bracelet, how to do a card trick or how thankful you should be for the blessings in your life.

If you don’t cry, that is a problem. Not really. But after 6 weeks, possibly 12 if you have the chance to see a student go through the whole program, it is amazing how much you invest in them. What is so hard is that when you say goodbye, for some it is goodbye forever. There is no security or guarantee that your relationship with them will continue and that is hard. These kids teach you so much about yourself, and you teach them all about growing up and act as a role model. So as the program winds down and the realization that your relationships with these students has an expiration date, it becomes a very emotional process.

A good teacher has no shame. I once had an English teacher who was trying to help my class analyze a poem. There was a word representing a sound and none of us knew what it meant so she stood in front of the class and made the sound. It was a horrifying growl that startled all of us. When she was done we all stared and she looked disappointed. She then told us that a good teacher has no shame. They will do whatever it takes to teach. Working at this program, you must have absolutely NO shame. Part of growing up at this age is learning to be comfortable with yourself. They can’t learn that if they don’t see a staff who is comfortable with themselves. And you have to be really comfortable with yourself. Nobody told me of the things I would do while working at this program in front of 500 teenagers.

Nobody told me that I would pretend to be sexy sax man

Sexy Sax Man pumping up the crowd

Nobody told me that I would wear spandex

80’s All Male Dance Troop

Nobody told me a guy would kiss me in a kiddie pool

Mr. Estrella and me getting it on

Nobody told me I would do any of those things. Some of my friends outside the program ask how I am so comfortable with my life and I don’t get awkward or anything. I worked at this camp for two years and these are only 3 instances. But if you could see the look on kid’s laughing faces when you make a fool of yourself. If you could hear them crack up and scream at your ridiculousness. If you could hear them say things like “If someone could do that, I could do anything.” If you could witness their growth because you were just being silly and having a bit of fun, you would have NO shame too.

There are so many stories to be told and I’m sure explanations will be wanted for the above photos, and I continue to share. What you have to understand at the beginning is that this is no ordinary summer camp. There is no job like it and no experience that can be related to it. It is something completely different. Keep reading to try to get a glimpse.

GROW.

I am dedicating this post to Ms. Nguyen for her birthday!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TRAMMY

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the PCC stories

PCC is something that no matter how many blog posts I write I can never truly put into words. Some people call it summer camp, some call it summer school. It has many variations of what it actually is. When people ask what I do all summer long, I usually just say I teach / work at a summer program for high school students. It seems to be the easiest way to explain it. Because if I were to actually try to sit down and put into words or relay my experiences, I couldn’t do it justice.

But here, I can try.

What is nice about having a blog is that I have infinite space to tell my tales. Not totally true since WordPress does have a limit eventually. But I have quite a ways to go. But I tend to dabble in eloquent writing and I am hoping that I can somewhat relate to whomever is curious to read these stories, what I actually lived through for two summers.

This post is a buffer. No real adventure accounts quite yet. These are very detailed stories of individuals, moments and memories from the past summer. For the record, I won’t be using names because I was dealing with students. I usually don’t use names for courteous anonymity. But this is a bit different. For my safety and the safety of other’s identities, its more of a precautionary measure. As I get into the  stories and they become more personal then you may see why it is I am explaining this. I may occasionally use fake names if I am highlighting one individual, which I intend to do.

Back at the end of April, a close friend convinced me to come back to PCC. I told her I wanted to write about it and she was curious what my take on it would be. Being someone who never attended the program as a student, it changes the perception of everything you experience over 6 weeks.

So as I begin this journey of storytelling, I hope you enjoy what is to come. There are lots of moments to share. My next 10 blog posts won’t all be PCC either. I intend to mix ’em up.

GROW

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MINE MINE MINE! Not Anymore.

About a month before I graduated college, I had a meeting with my campus minister. She asked how I was feeling about graduation approaching. I responded, “I don’t really feel anything.”

One of my favorite TV shows is Scrubs. I remember in high school when it was actually airing I had a few friends that shared a love for the show with me. When the show ended, I missed the finale. My good friend told me that I needed to watch it before we graduated high school. I made sure I did. He wanted me to watch it before that was because its message is so appropriate when leaving somewhere you’ve been for a while.

The message shared that when you leave school, work, anywhere that you’ve been, it doesn’t stop. When you graduate, the school doesn’t stop functioning. The organizations you were a part of don’t fall apart. The friend’s who aren’t leaving yet are fine without you.

I think a difficulty in graduating is accepting that all the things that you were a part of will be ok without you. To think that something or someone you may have made an impact on will be able to function just fine without you. It is a hard concept to take on faith. But the truth is they all are ok.

I remember my last moments at Assumption on the day of graduation. I hugged my roommate of four years and felt my eyes well up. I quoted our favorite film with him and walked down the stairwell. I went out the unalarmed fire exit back door of my building, like I did every day, and walked to my car. I walked up to the driver’s side door and turned around to look at the building that had been my home for a year. I felt the tears come back a little. I wiped my eyes, got in the car and drove away.

All summer long people have been telling me that I was going to be bothered come the end of August. The time when students would be moving back to school, I would start to become emotional and upset. This idea seemed like something I couldn’t relate to. Sure I was sad that last day. Who wouldn’t be? I was saying goodbye to my home. But the greater idea of “missing college” was one I didn’t quite worry about.

A big part of my senior year was the Campus Ministry Core Team. Alongside 14 other faithful individuals, I promoted faith life on campus by leading retreats and attending faith based events at Assumption. On August 16, I received an email from my former Campus Ministry director. The subject line said “missing you on move in day”. It was an email to all the recent graduates from the core team. It was a few lines of sharing sentimental thoughts and then asked if all of us could share our current life updates. One of my closest friends, a senior this year, moved in on this day. I talked to her so many nights on the phone hearing updates about the team and talking about how weird it was that I wasn’t there.

It was in this moment that I felt all those insecurities. Every person that told me I was going to “miss it” and “be sad” come the end of August was right. I was so sad. At the time, I couldn’t even tell you why I was so emotional about it. I just hated not being a part of it. I hated not knowing things and needing to get nightly phone updates. I felt like I should be there to hear it firsthand. Of course I knew I couldn’t do this. But I wanted to. I missed my home.

I had to go up to school on August 21 to meet with a professor and all I thought about the whole drive up was, I can’t wait. I wanted to get back to MY Worcester. I wanted to see MY Assumption. I wanted to walk on MY campus. The reason I was meeting with a professor is because I am in the midst of applying for a Fulbright scholarship to be an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in Vietnam next year. I was traveling back to school to meet with her and get a firm start on this process.

But again I was there; I wanted to see MY professors, visit MY friends and be at MY home. After a good meeting with my advisor, I saw some old professors and updated them on my life and them on theirs. Afterwards I met with my old mentor at Assumption and talked a lot about Fulbright and future plans. I saw an old friend and he had to ask, “Are you being a creepy alum and coming back early?” He knew that wasn’t me, so I quickly informed him about Fulbright. I then went and got a coffee from MY favorite coffee shop in Worcester (BODOs of course). I returned to campus and met with the newspaper staff; I used to be an editor and visited MY former office. I then got a call from my close friend (the one who I had all the phone conversations with) and we decided to meet before her meeting and it was surreal.

When I first met this girl at the beginning of MY senior year, she was the quietest, shyest little thing I had ever met. By the time I said goodbye at the end of senior year she was the loudest, most vibrant, hot mess I knew. During our very recent phone conversations, she talked about being nervous fulfilling her position with my graduated and gone. We had worked and learned a lot together, so I was terribly nervous for her to be back without me. But when I pulled up to see her, like I said, it was surreal.

I don’t know what it was, but it was as if she had grown up. I had seen her no more than month earlier. And she didn’t look very different. But from shy girl, to hot mess, she just had herself together. She was confident and mature. We talked about the team training she had been involved in so far and how it had been going so well. She gave her phone a quick look and said she had to run to her meeting. She gave me a hug, gathered her things and left the car. Usually I was the one leaving our chit chats for meetings, and here she was, all grown up, taking it all on like she should be doing.

I met up with my old roommate and we caught up for a while and then had dinner with another close friend. During dinner, my friend was overwhelmingly stressed. She was about to start her first big graduated girl job as a history teacher. She ordered a strong drink and I thought she was going to burst into tears. I have only ever known this girl to always be put together. While I have seen at her at some of her worst moments, I have always seen her at her best. But here she was Bachelor’s degree in hand, about to start this big, unknown journey. All I said was, “you’re going to have your FIRST class at some point, why not now?” She seemed to leave a bit calmer and collected.

I went back to school to visit the close friend. She had to let ME in MY old apartment building and I even walked by MY old apartment. It was such an obscure thought to see that door which I had passed through countless times and now be so aware that it wasn’t MY room anymore. But I walked into HER apartment and got the tour. She showed me around and we went and visited some other friends. We then took a walk around MY old campus and it began to fully hit me. It wasn’t MY campus anymore. It was HERS. It was every other senior’s. It was every student in attendance of the school and every student that would soon come. But it wasn’t MINE anymore.

We came back to her apartment and as we were saying our goodbyes, she walked me downstairs. I told her I was going to go out the unalarmed fire exit door in the back and she told me not to. But I said with a sense of timely wisdom that I had gone through it literally hundreds of times last year and never once was it a problem. We said goodbye and as I walked through the door, a campus police officer pulled me over. I literally couldn’t believe it. He asked for my student ID and luckily I had it in my wallet. I handed it to him and he demanded my room number. I gave him my old one and he said my RA would be in touch soon. He drove away and I laughed. I really hope he got back to the station to enter my information and realized I wasn’t a student there anymore.

As I stepped up to my car door in that parking lot again, I spun around and looked at the building that was no longer MINE. I thought about how this campus isn’t MINE anymore. The professors aren’t MINE to learn from and the experiences aren’t MINE to live out. They are all there for them. It was in this moment that the Scrubs’ season finale really came back to me. And I thought about the one of the last lines said before the end which felt so appropriate as I shared this last moment with my old home.

“Even though it felt warm and safe, I knew it had to end. It’s never good to live in the past too long. As for the future, it didn’t seem so scary anymore; it could be whatever I wanted it to be.”

I drove home and said goodbye to Assumption College. It took me the whole summer to realize it, but it was time to leave. And now I fully knew I was leaving it in good hands and there was no reason to worry. It was all going to be alright.

This past Monday was the first day of school for Assumption. I woke up in my mother’s basement, not my apartment or dorm building. I made my own breakfast, didn’t go to the on campus Dunks or Taylor dining hall. I sat at my computer to job hunt, didn’t walk to class and get a new syllabus.

I am not in college anymore.

And that is OK.

My friend, the teacher, had taught her first real classes and survived.

My friend, the senior, had an amazing first week, and I am so so proud of her for doing it on her own and being the amazing independent leader I’ve always known she is.

I found out that having a degree can get you a job that pays A LOT more money than not having one.

While there will be plenty of bittersweet moments and memories to surface in the future, accepting things as they are seems to be a good plan for now. I don’t care to still get every daily update from Assumption.com on my email and it is sad when my friend is unable to say “let’s meet in the lounge to chat”, but as the quote says, here is my future; it can be anything I want it to be.

Time to work.

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Tough Mudder – Probably the toughest event on the planet

Part 5 – Arriving at Mt. Snow

We pulled into the Mountains’s ski resort area around 8:30 am and saw signs everywhere with big bold font saying “WELCOME MUDDERS”. We parked close to the main entrance. We found some bathrooms to relieve ourselves after a 4 hour drive and collected ourselves. Our wave didn’t start until 9:40 am, so we had a bit of time to register and prepare. We got our death waivers and got in line to register. If there is one thing I can speak very highly about, this event is extremely and very thoroughly organized. I had heard that it was and was not disappointed at all. With over 1,000 runners at our event, we were registered within 10 minutes. After handing our death waivers in, they gave us each our number. There was one volunteer to check you in and one with a large sharpie. The sign hanging up in between the volunteers said “We don’t care if you have to work tomorrow, you’re getting your # sharpied on your face.” After having this strange man write on my arm, leg and forehead, I met up with my team and we admired each other’s new markings. We walked back to the cars to collect our stuff and do last minute gear checks and black out our eyes.

We walked back into the area and walked around a little bit. Beyond the registration table was not just the starting and finishing lines, but a whole fair of things to see. Vendors from all kinds of sports and athletic brands were there giving free samples of stuff out to participants and spectators. We checked our bags in and did a quick keg toss before the race, NBD, tough mudder! We did one more bathroom run and then found my sister and two cousins who came to spectate. They laughed at us. The race hadn’t started and we were covered in sharpie and black paint.

Dave and I before the race. I drew the reddit symbol on his stomach. Notice he still has the camera.

The head MC at the starting line had a megaphone and started screaming for the 9:40 wave to get to the starting line. We said goodbye to our little fan club and went to the starting line.

You had to climb a wall just to get to the starting line.

At first we thought this was ridiculous but then considered what we were about to spend four hours doing and reconsidered that this wasn’t ridiculous at all. As 500 men and women filled this caged pit, a very fit, very spirited guy stood on a ladder under the starting gate. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” began to blare, he got everyone in the pit chanting and cheering. His job is to get everyone pumped and psyched before they embark on this insane journey. After about five minutes of pure adrenaline rushing through the crowd, the MC got off his ladder and walked to the center of the crowd and told everyone to take a knee. The crowed lowered allowing him to gaze over everyone. The music stopped and he began to speak. He asked if any military was there running and about a dozen men stood up to receive loud cheers from everyone. The MC thanked them for their work and continued on. He talked about what we were doing there. This race is a lot of things, but primarily, it is a race to support soldiers wounded in action. This race is to test yourself, physically and mentally. He began to almost get angry about how we as a society don’t push ourselves anymore and nobody is pushing us. This day, this event was a challenge. How often do people challenge themselves like this anymore? Physically? Mentally? He talked about the philosophy of this event. It doesn’t matter if you finish first, middle or last, you finished something. If you can do this, you can do anything you set your mind to. He spoke about the camaraderie aspect. This whole challenge relates to life in the sense of you can’t do it on your own. You need others to help you, to push you, to motivate you. And in respect you do it for them.

He then returned to the front as the Star Spangled Banner blared and everyone, participants and spectators, silenced themselves to reflect on what he had just said. After that it got quiet and some eerie but inspiring music came on and he had everyone raise their right hand to say the pledge.

  • I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race, but a challenge.
  • I put team work and camraderie before my course time.
  • I do not whine. KIDS WHINE.
  • I help my fellow mudders complete the course.
  • I overcome ALL fears.

My sister still teases me because I got pretty excited to say the pledge. This one year of waiting and working harder was about to pay off.

The three of us in the pit moments before the race started.

“Eye of the Tiger” came on and the MC’s mike belted out over it. 5…4…3…2…1…The whistle blew and it had begun.

Part 6 – Tough Mudder: Probably the toughest event on the planet

After the whistle blew, we tried to just take off, but with 500 people trying to rush out of the gate, we just kind of power walked out of it. But as everyone began to space out, the running began. Up. Straight up the mountain. We could see our turning point about a 1/10 of a mile up the mountain. Not bad. Everyone still on a high from the MC’s riveting speech, people cheered and pushed hard. We got to the turn and began to come back down. Picking up a little speed we circled right back to the other side of the starting gate to come up to our first obstacle.

the arctic enema – This was Dave’s biggest fear when it came to the obstacles. He was pissed when he found out it was the first one. This obstacle consists of a dumpster filled with 80,000 pounds of ice, a board in the middle and barbed wire hanging above it. The objective is to jump in, swim under the board and pull yourself out on the other side. I really underestimated this one. I thought it would be a chilly in and out. NOPE. The guy in front of me jumped and splashed back a little. I felt the melted ice and thought, “not that bad”. I stood up and cannon balled in. When I stood up in the dumpster and gathered my footing, something I could not imagine happened. My whole body was paralyzed. I literally couldn’t move any extremity. A surge of fear filled me up and in an instant, all my mental strength had to push me through it. I ducked under the board and suffered pry my body out of the ice. I reached the other end and pulled myself out of the ice. When I got to the ground I quickly remembered reading in an advice blog that you should do some push ups or jumping jacks after this obstacle to loosen the muscles up. I did a few jumping jacks and when Dave and Greg got out, we started to make moves. But I literally felt all my muscles weakened within the 15 seconds I had been in that dumpster. I shook it off and pushed on.

In pre-race discussions, we all had our “fears” about the race. Dave hated the ice. Greg wasn’t a fan of getting electrocuted. I did NOT want to run up the mountain. Especially with a bad toe from my PCC injury. After the first obstacle we walked up to a muddy hill with snow machines blowing at us. When we turned the corner of that path, we looked up. Straight up a black diamond ski trail. Time to run. Dave and Greg moved right along and I felt weak. Between the ice and my toe, it was as if I hadn’t trained at all for this race. Getting up the ski trail was, for me, the HARDEST part of the event. And that was expected. There wasn’t much sense of surprise when I turned that corner and looked up. After about a half hour, I had arrived at not the top, but the first water check point. I filled a small plastic cup and just threw it at my face. I started seeing signs that said “If you’re huffin and puffin now, you’re in trouble”. I felt a bit disheartened by this. At this point I just wanted to chop my toe off. The searing pressure was becoming a real nuisance on this journey. We picked up a light jog and came up to our next obstacle.

kiss of mud – This was about 40 feet of uphill mud which we had to crawl through under barbed wire. As the continuous waves of mudders loaded in, we joined. I finally felt useful. This obstacle is all triceps and finally the training came in handy. Resting on my forearms and letting my arms drag my weary body through the mud, I joined in the laughing and cheering of other mudders as we laughed at the hilarious situation that was us crawling in deep, wet, sticky, smelly mud for FUN. I got out first, pulled out Dave and Greg and a few others. Camaraderie gets much more important as the obstacles go on, I wanted to start early. After a few minutes of helping complete strangers, we let some others take our spots and moved along.

When we turned the corner, there was just more straight up. The steep incline just got worse and we literally found ourselves using our hands to pull ourselves up. After a few minutes of this misery, we finally arrived to the mountain summit. It wasn’t until after the race when I looked at the map and put it together, but we just ran up a mountain. I’ve been climbing mountains for years, but we literally just ran up one, soaking wet, freezing from ice and covered in mud. When we got to the top, our little fan club had taken the ski lift up and was waiting for us with other fans. My sister tossed me a bottle of Gatorade and looked at me a bit nervous. She asked if I was ok and I admitted I wasn’t sure. This was REALLY hard. We hadn’t even gotten to mile 3 of this grueling 10 mile venture and I was already worn as hell.

Early struggles

But despite feeling tired, I pulled out some mental strength and pushed forward. I gave her the bottle and a muddy hug, and we started running hard. As the trail began to level out and go downhill a bit, we finally started picking up speed. The rocky terrain of the summit allowed for decent footing and generous speed. We ran about a mile straight until we came up to the next obstacle.

trench warfare – while some obstacles have more thorough stories than others, this isn’t one. This was a underground trench filled in pitch black. There was mud in random spots that would splash up if you slipped in. The three of us went in the same tunnel and just laughed the whole way through. At the end, the dark tunnels spit us out into a deep pool of mud. They really don’t want you dry ever during the course of the race.

If you don’t laugh during this whole race, it is miserable. The race itself is a total punch in the face, but it’s fun. If you do it, HAVE FUN. Once you start taking it TOO seriously, the mental grit will knock you down and that’s when it becomes impossible. 

Trench Warfare – Crawl Under

We came upon the next water station. It seemed like we had come SO far, only mile 3. The next obstacle was going to be our first toughie.

berlin walls – These walls were about 8 feet high. The objective, get over two sets of them. I ran, jumped off Dave and Greg and pulled myself up. Next was Greg who leaped, took my hand and together we got him up. Last was Dave who jumped up and we helped him get to the top. We all just kind of jumped down. No use in being extraordinarily careful at this point. The next wall we used the same strategy. This time before Dave came up, a man and woman came over and asked if we could help her get up. Without question, we reached down. Dave and this man pushed her up, Greg and I pulled her up and she was so thankful. We all got up and went down together.

Berlin Walls

devil’s beard – The next obstacle was right around the corner. This one was just annoying. While a lot of the obstacles are a huge test of strength and endurance. Some are put in place to wear you down (This includes the beginning 2 mile run up the mountain which weens out about 30% of the runners). After the walls we came to see we were going back up the mountain. After the nice brisk run down a portion of the mountain, we were going back to the top. But this time wasn’t so casual as power walking up. There was about 50 feet of heavy cargo net laid out up the mountain. The point of this obstacle is to lift it over your head. So while you are going up the steep incline, you are pulling a heavy cargo net over your head.

Finishing this obstacle, this thought floated through our heads, we must be close to done. We were only just getting to the 4th mile and that was only the 5th obstacle. Moving forward was the only way to go. The next obstacle was one of the hardest, but definitely one of the most rewarding.

hold your wood – When we got back to the top of the summit, there was massive piles of huge logs. This obstacle objective, grab a hunk of tree, walk down the mountain and walk back up with it on your shoulder. I really prayed hard during this obstacle. With that chunk of awkward tree weighing down my shoulder, I was had “Our Father” on repeat in my head giving me strength. I got to the top to see the fan group, supportive as ever, as the three of us reached the top with this annoying tree trunks.

I carry logs up mountain for fun. No big deal.

We threw them into the big pile and our journey continued. Since we were at the summit again there was no where to go except down. And down we went. Running through the mountain’s ski slopes we felt a bit of energy kick in. As we free fell down we quickly came up to our next obstacle. Greg’s favorite. Electricity.

electric eel– When I told anyone about this race and explained that inevitable I would be electrocuted during it, they thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy. I wasn’t a huge fan of having 10,000 volts run through my body. But I wasn’t going to avoid it, and I certainly was not here to skip obstacles, neither were my teammates. So as we approached this one, we cursed that the time had come and took our places. What I hated about this one was that I got stuck behind a slower woman. While I respect everyone goes at their own pace, with electricity forcing its way through my body, I wasn’t up for going slow. This obstacle is probably a 30 foot long, 1 foot deep pool. You would get in and lay flat so you were completely in the water. But there were electrical wires that dangled about an inch or two above the surface of that water. So when you came up to breath or used any method of pushing your body forward, you were getting hit with wires. The first time I got hit with a shock, it went right into my lower back. People who had done the race before commented that getting shocked felt like getting punched with a sharp point at the center. This is exactly right. What they didn’t mention was that post shock, you were numb in that area. After a few minutes of struggling, I finally passed this woman and found my way to the end. I got out and pulled her out after me.

If you zoom in, you can see the wires above the water.

dong dangler – (funny names right?) A brisk run continuing down the mountain and we arrived at the next obstacle where there was massive back up. Usually getting to an obstacle, there was the few moments of wait time merely to collect yourself, but this was different. There were tons of mudders waiting to get through this one. This obstacle was over a small lake. There were probably a dozen plastic heavy duty ropes that were strung from one end to the other. The objective was to grab on, thrown your legs over it, and pull yourself across. Seems easy right? Sorry, nope. What was causing the back up was because of safety, they couldn’t let everyone go at their own pace because when people fell into the water they had to get cleared to the other side before another could continue forward. When we got up to the platform, Dave went first, I followed and then Greg. I couldn’t see them because I was focusing on keeping myself locked onto the rope, but I heard a splash and looked down. Dave was in the water. I pulled a bit further and as I felt myself beginning to slow down I let go. While this was the only obstacle the three of us “didn’t finish” it was worth it. Falling into the lake was so refreshing and definitely worth not wasting strength trying to hold on. Greg fell in about where I did and we met up on the other side.

cliff hanger – This was miserable. This was just a straight up cliff. We got on our hands and knees and crawled to the top. This was just no fun at all. Blah.

Another water station and some breath catching. We were feeling pretty good at this point. We were just under half way there and our team was filled with some positive vibes.

tired yet? – After our water break we headed up to the next trial. 50 yards of tires. High knees all the way. What made this obstacle not awful was the snow machines blowing on us. The cool ice slowly raining down on us felt quite refreshing.

spider web – As we came up from the tires, we turned the corner to see our fan club and a 30-40 foot high cargo net. We walked over to them and shared some muddy hugs, had a drink and got in line for the climb. This was one of the obstacles where camaraderie played a huge role. As we stepped up to the cargo nets, we were careful not to step on the fingers of people on the other side holding it down for upcoming climbers. What one might not realize upon looking at this obstacle is that the net is free. It just hangs from the top with no leverage at the bottom. So if you were to just start climbing it would swing back and forth. After climbing it, it was customary to take the place of someone else to weight it down so that climbers could have an easier go. My sister commented about how much she loved seeing complete strangers help one another. It was a nice site and something you kind of wished would happen more in life.

Climbing Up!

Holding down the net for the next wave of climbers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then proceeded to run. This was the first time in a little while that we just straight ran. Through the woods it was actually pretty beautiful. The nice trails were a relief for our muscles after so much climbing and such. As we came out of the woods, more uphill. EW. You could hear the groans of fellow mudders as we saw more straight up climbing. I remembered reading some guy’s blog on the event that said the hardest part of the whole thing was going up and down the mountain. I second this statement. The climb to the top led us to the next obstacle.

the ringer – This was an interesting obstacle, not particularly hard. The objective was to approach this custom built set up which involved two sets of two large heavy barrels hanging in the air. With some help, one would have to be pushed between the two barrels and then through the next two and then spit out into a big pool of mud. During this whole scene, considerably cold water poured out on top of everything and everyone to ensure you were soaked. It is hard to explain because it was considerably hard to fathom when we looked at it.

We started running afterward. We were approaching the next one when an older gentleman in a truck started lobbing bottles of water to each of the runners. He was just a funny guy having fun watching insane individuals run this thing. We shared a bottle, took some gulps of water and dumped the rest on our faces. Which was completely unnecessary as we approached the next trial.

walk the plank – This was my favorite obstacle. Though Dave might argue it was the worst. As we approached the obstacle and watched, we kind of starred for a moment. This was a 20ft high wall with ropes hanging down. We had to climb to the top and leap off into a lake. Once in the lake we had to swim around the wall back to shore. People were allowed to skip this one because of the considerable swimming skill needed. While I find it easy to swim, after running near 6 miles and climbing, crawling and swimming through other stuff, you are pretty tired and your body is pretty worn. But there was no way we weren’t going to fly off this thing. We climbed to the  top and waited for the lifeguards to give us the go. When we got to the top and looked at how high we were, it was a bit nerve racking. But I turned to Dave and said put the camera on because I wanted to back flip off. He laughed and said no way would I do it. I made sure the camera was rolling and pushed off and did an awesome flip off the wall into the water. I came to the surface and the cold water felt so refreshing. Greg and Dave were laughing at me and I pushed back and told them to jump. As I was watching them prepare to go, I looked over and noticed other guys with their Go Pro cameras in their hand. It quickly dawned on me that flying off this wall into the lake is probably enough pressure to push an elastic headband with a camera off your head. But before I could say anything I looked up and Dave was mid jump with the camera resting on top of his head. The lifeguards told us to keep swimming so I missed him hit the water. But when I climbed onto shore and spun around, his head was bare.

He hadn’t had the camera for 24 hours and the force of hitting the lake pushed it off. When he got to shore he called over a volunteer and explained it and all they said was you can’t dive in now. Come back later. After the race, he went to the information desk and they gave him a map to the lake. He went up and dove and never found it. Somewhere on Mt. Snow there is a Go Pro camera with my sweet back flip footage and it is lost forever. Though Dave was much more angry than I was. All I lost was some footage. He lost a $350 camera after owning it for 20 hours! 

The loss was frustrating and Dave ran ahead to blow of some steam and Greg and I slowed down to catch our breath. The next few obstacles weren’t too memorable. In about knee high mud we had to climb over and under knocked down trees. It was tough but not very eventful. Then we came to the next fun one. Another favorite of Greg’s. MORE ELECTRICITY.

dark lightning– This obstacle was actually kind of freighting. We walked up to see a bunker looking set up. It had barbed wire about 3 feet off the ground with signs that said start crawling. There were hanging curtains that we needed to crawl through before we could see what exactly we were crawling into. But once inside, we still couldn’t see. I have no concept of how long this distance was. We were in a pitch black room with water showering down on us and the loud sounds of lightning crackling all around. After 10 seconds in the dark a strobe light went off and we saw them, more dangling electric wires. What was somewhat terrifying about this was if you didn’t pay attention you might get one in the face. The crawl was a strategic one. We waited for the lightning to go off and when the light would shine in for a brief moment we would crawl as fast as we could avoiding wires. About 3/4 of the way through my ankle got shocked. This is where the numbness hurt me. I couldn’t use that ankle and had to employ my other extremities to work harder to get out of this thing.

Spectators could peek in, so my sister snapped this photo of Dave and I planning our strategy as quick as possible.

We crawled out, this obstacle took a huge toll on us. We were cut up and bloody and bruised. We did however see a sign saying mile 8. This was a big moment of hope that the end was near! We started running and saw ANOTHER FREAKING PATH UP THE MOUNTAIN. My sister who had a map shouted this was our last time going up it. Thank God. We pushed through and stopped at the top to catch our breath, trying to gather which of the obstacles we had left to do. We crossed through a path in the woods and saw our next challenge.

funky monkey – I enjoy pull ups. I was so excited for this rendition of the childhood activity of monkey bars. These were monkey bars that went up and down and hovered over a large pool of ice cold water. What few people know is that these bars are continuously greased with vegetable oil. So despite having gloves, getting a grip on this one was much easier said than done. However all that being said, all 3 of us got across. We were so proud of each other for not falling into the water. Especially as people climbed out of the pool saying it was freezing. We had a little bro hug and pushed on proud of the team.

Climbing on some monkey bars

We approached a water station and took a little bit of a longer breather. We only a 6 obstacles left and wanted to gain some energy. Drinking some water and talking about the monkey bars, we had high spirits and decided to push on.

berlin walls 2 – There are two sets of walls during the race. The first ones we did early on were 8 feet high. These were 12 feet. It didn’t seem like a big difference at first but as we walked up, we grimaced at the much bigger difference in height. Our strategy was the same as the first time. Though Dave needed a boost to get up to us. We moved through the two sets of walls and walked out. This one was very tough and took a lot out of us.

fire walker – A quick run through the woods brought us out to the fire run. This was running on very muddy ground, between two large sets of hale bales on fire with smoke everywhere. The trick to this was holding your breath. If you breathed at all, you were getting lungs full of smoke and going down into mud. This was pretty easy overall. The run through was not nearly as long as we thought it would be. Running through was just very hot. But keeping focused we got out quick.

twinkle toes + boa constrictor – Twinkle toes was a balancing beam over cold water which we all made it over without falling. Pretty easy. Boar constrictor was two large sets of tubing, one set going down into water, the other set coming up out of it, both set at about a 45 degree angle. I found this one tough because I have pretty broad shoulders and they rubbed against the sides of the tubing. I had to kick and push with my feet because my arms were pretty useless for this one. But after some consistent fidgeting I made it through. Dave and Greg laughed at me as I pushed out of the last tube. And as we got up seeing only two obstacles left, we grimaced at them.

everest – This is a 15 foot high half pipe slicked with vegetable oil with pool of water and mud before it. Objective is to get to the top by any means necessary. Again, a very proud moment for team rage face, we all made it up in one run. This is a famous obstacle for TM and is known for the camaraderie aspect. Along the top of the ramp are about 2 dozen mudders laying on their stomachs with their arms hanging down. As you run and jump and launch up the ramp, they grab and pull. A few guys helped me up first and then I helped the other two. We decided to stay up there and were helping for about 10 minutes. After watching some attempts to get up I was so thankful we made it up in one go because some guys would launch in a full sprint, leap over the mud pool and slip on the oily ramp to fall face first into a plexy glass ramp. All you could hear was the LOUD thud of their skulls against the ground. There was a woman who kept falling and me and a guy laying beside me told her to run to us. She did and we got her up and gave us both a peck on the cheek. Cute moment.

The three of us began our venture down from top and soon found ourselves facing the last obstacle.

ELECTRICSHOCK THERAPY

The last and most dreaded obstacle. A straight shot through 40 yards of dangling wires charged with 10,000 volts. Once we got through here, it was all done. Underneath the wires were pools of water and mud with small walls forcing you to jump into wires of all lengths.  We waited til it was clear and the three of us shared a moment. We knew this was it. We screamed a little OOH RAH and we were off. At this point I was only in my head. I had read that people get shocked on this one and just drop because of the pain. As I entered the electric field I realized something that I didn’t know before going into this. The wires collected on your body. So as you ran, they would drag up until they fell off.

Through the first pool, over the mound.

I started feeling the zaps. The adrenaline was so high at this point I wasn’t stopping. Months of training and anticipation lead to this moment.

Through the second pool and over the middle mound. I felt the wires collecting more and more on my chest and felt the hard shocks hitting me all over.

Through the last pool and a leap over the last mound to get out. I felt a shock hit me in the face as I came back to connect to the ground. And it was done. I through my hands in the air. I did it.

The little smudge on my face is a wire hitting my cheek.

Final moments of the race in beast mode

As the adrenaline cooled down I spun around to see Dave crawling out and Greg beside them. After watching the video later on, I saw that they had fallen in at the second pool and crawled out. I hugged Dave and we waited for Greg and had a team hug. We had started and finished together. All the pains of the race led to this great success.

After crossing the finish

lineWe walked through and some volunteers placed the Tough Mudder Orange Headband on each of us. We moved forward and got our runners shirts. Each of us grabbed a cup of water and scarfed down a banana. We then followed finisher tradition and picked up a beer each. We walked through to find our fan club all excited and we hugged and stood speechless after this whole ordeal. What a freaking day. We took pictures and showered under some cold hoses to get mud out. Though I didn’t get all the mud off for about 3 days. Dave went up the mountain to search for the camera so we said our goodbyes. I walked over to my cousin’s car and we loaded in. Slowly as the adrenaline began to fade, ALL THE PAIN SET IN. I was a hurting pup. Everything hurt. Literally parts of me I didn’t know existed hurt. I would soon learn that I was electrocuted between the legs so I was hurting there as well. I passed out in the car and they drove me to work. Yeah, I freaking went to work after all this insanity. I got there late and got smiles and thumbs up from friends. People asked about it and all I could really process at the time was, “it hurt, a lot”. I laid in bed that night with the sweet smile of satisfaction. Sure I was in pain, sure I was going to be struggling the next morning. But I did it. I accomplished something. Something that took both physical and mental strength. Something that took determination and will power. Something that I would never forget and something I would strive to accomplish again.

If you have read the entire story to this point. THANK YOU. It means a lot that you have followed my journey. When I taught the workshop on the race and it’s philosophy to students over the summer, their reactions were interesting and hilarious. A group of boys asked if I would do it with them when they were of age. A few said that the idea behind it was quite inspiring. One girl told her proctor she pretty much learned 23 ways to kill herself by listening to Mr. Frazier. I apologize to my friends and family who have heard about it way more than they may have liked. But as you can see it was very important to me. Thank you to them for listening to my stories, giving me support and believing in me when I didn’t.

Greg in beast mode

Dave in beast mode

Now equipped with mudder’s shirt and famous headband

My little sister and I

The three of us amazed we did it

TOUGH MUDDER!!!

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Tough Mudder Part 1 – A year to get there

I have been wanting to write this blog post for just over a month now. I could have tried to write it during my time working at Stonehill, but I didn’t want to half ass it. I apologize now to my PCC friends who heard nothing but students screaming “TOUGH MUDDER” for the last 4 weeks of the program. I taught a workshop about the philosophy and training for the event and it lead to kids screaming it obnoxiously all summer. Regardless, it was a very significant event in my life that I won’t forget anytime soon and absolutely something worth writing about. From hearing about it a year ago to crossing the finish line, this was a process and challenge that really put me and my friends to the test. This is a long story, definitely worth telling, and I think worth hearing.

Part 1 – Discovering and Deciding

Last summer, a year ago, I received a message via Facebook chat from a close friend. It was a link with a comment that said, “Check this thing out. This is absolutely nuts.” I clicked the link which brought me to the Tough Mudder page on YouTube and watched the trailer for one of the events. I watched the muddy display of pain and struggle before me and was hooked. She was right, this looked insane. But I wanted in. My friends know I am not one to turn down a challenge any time soon. I picked up my phone and quickly called my oldest friend David Muir. I told him I was sending him  a link for a video to this event I just learned about and that we were going to do it. If anyone was crazy enough to join me in this insane venture, it was him. After about two minutes of hearing the faint sounds of the intense video through the phone, Dave laughed and just said, “YES”. At the time we were both working at Stonehill. We slowly started to spread the word around that we discovered this race and we were going to do it next summer. We found ourselves obsessed with training videos and occasionally did little spurts of training for it.

One day in particular we were at the beach swimming and drinking with friends and he looked at me and said, “Let’s run to the end of the beach, it’ll be good TM training.” I agreed. A belly full of beer, a three mile run, on a beach…not a good combination, nor a good start to the “training” we engaged in.

The summer ended and we both went back to school but both promised not to forget the race. As the Fall semester began, I spent a decent amount of time in the gym, but never focused on any specific race training. Winter break came before I knew it and we were out at a bar and after a catching up and reflecting on the fact that we were about to have our last semester, we talked about the summer. TM was brought up and we both quickly agreed that it was still definitely going to happen. We agreed that when we went back for spring semester, we would train hard so that by the time summer came, we would be in great shape to run the race. While in Ecuador, I became friends with two girls who ran track at Assumption. They gave me great advice for training to run. I got back to Assumption and ran for about three weeks. But as the semester went on, like every other semester, it became harder and time spent at the gym was limited.

A few days after graduation I called Dave. His was a week after mine so he was still engaging in senior week activities. I asked if he was serious about running the race. It was late at night and he was a bit drunk, but screamed yes into the phone. I could hear him screaming in the night air of his actual location that we were going to be “Tough Mudders soon enough”. About a week after his graduation, I called him and said we needed to register. It finally came time to decide. Were we going to do this? Commit to this insane event? After some back and forth, I got a phone call from a good friend from high school who we remained close to over the years named Greg Grillone. Dave called him and chatted and he was calling me to ask if he could run it with us. The three of us thought about it, talked it out and made our decision. We registered and we were officially, TEAM RAGE FACE. If you are an imgurian or redditor you will understand the reference. If not, it’s a comic strip. Time to train.

Part 2 – Training

I’ve been an avid gym goer for about four years now. But never have I trained as hard as I did. I did a lot of thorough research about the event. I read blogs, watched videos, analyzed obstacles. I probably over obsessed in preparing for the race a lot, but I wanted to be prepared. I was not in any way going to show up on event day and leave without finishing this thing. For the first two months of summer, I spent every day in the gym for about 3 or 4 hours. If I wasn’t lifting in the gym, I was running.

On top of the research that went into training for the race, I changed my diet to support myself for heavy lifts and long runs. I didn’t lose much weight in this time period, but I gained a lot of muscle.

SIDENOTE – When I get into talking about obstacles, I had little trouble with them because I had an immense amount of body strength to get through them, however I wish I ran more in the training period. 

The tough mudder training site recommends being able to a minimum of the following before running in the event.

  • Run 5 miles
  • 30 Push Ups
  • 6 Pull Ups

That was it? After running this thing I can say, I’m glad I trained harder than that. But by the time I had to slow down my training I could run 5 miles and was plenty satisfied with it. After I finished a four week intensive weight training regime, I switched over to the tough mudder endurance training workout. This was a 50 minute workout that had me crawling out of the gym the first week of doing it. It was an interval based workout that rotated between hard cardio and hard strength training for 50 straight minutes.

IT. HURT.

But after a week, I could finally do it pretty decently. It still had me keeling over by the end, but I was definitely feeling prepared for the race.

Part 3 – Keeping fit at Stonehill

I was well aware that my job was going to be an interesting obstacle before the event even started. I had been training hard for two months and I was starting a 24/7 on call job two weeks before I would run this race. Would I still be able to train during the program? Would I go without any kind of training and just have to show up the day of and hope I was still at my peak condition?

My two weeks were interesting. Some students remembered from the year before that I would be running in it and were quickly interested in hearing updates. At PCC, it is pretty hard to keep something quiet if a student knows about it, so naturally within the first week, I had a lot of students asking about it. I tried to organize my days to force me into hard activity to keep my body conditioned. I kept in as much tough with Dave during the first two weeks and confided that I was nervous about the lack of training to which he responded, “a day at PCC is harder training that anything you could do in a gym.” Sad thing is, he was kind of right. But I kept positive and did well keeping active. Any spare time I had during the day I would work out in my room trying to just keep up.

In all my time of ruthless training, I was very cautious to not get hurt. I started the summer off boxing a lot and despite it only being against a heavy bag, I slowly strayed away from it to not get hurt. I was very aware of pains and aches and treated them thoroughly. But then the worst happened. My race was Sunday morning. It was the Wednesday before. The REC directors asked me the night before if I would be interested in hosting the proctor/student kickball game that afternoon. I agreed and showed up to a very popular event. We played for about an hour and a half and had a lot of fun. After our “at bat” we ran to the outfield and I hopped on first base. A few students went and then one walked up to the plate. The balled was released and  he gave it a light bunt right back to the pitcher. Keeping my foot on the base, I reached out to her and shouted for her to throw me the ball. With my eye on the prize, it happened, the most searing pain. In an instant, I fell to the ground. I didn’t see what happened. My boss explained it to me later.

The student was running to first base and saw that I was about to catch the ball and decided his best option was to throw his body at the base. In doing so he slid / fell / THREW HIS FREAKING BODY on my foot.

I quickly climbed to standing position to make sure I could, but it hurt. The pain just wouldn’t give up and I felt the blood drain from my face as the pressure built up. My boss who was playing with us ran over to me and asked if I needed the nurse. I nodded and hobbled to her golf cart. I put my name tag in my mouth and bit down until we were out of earshot from any students and just started screaming in pain. She said the second I fell she knew it had to have been painful. I went to the nurse and after taking my shoe off, blood was just draining from my toe and my nail was welling up. The nurse just shrugged and said, you are going to lose the nail, just a matter of time. I quickly snapped back that I was running a 10-mile military obstacle course in 4 days and “a matter of time” wasn’t going to be good enough. After some back and forth, I went to the ER where I had a hole drilled in my toe to drain the blood so I could run without pressure.

I called Dave to tell him the story and he asked if I could run still, I said I didn’t care if I had to walk, I was finishing this race.

I returned a bit disheartened. All this time training and it seemed like it might all go to waste because of this accident. But I still tried to stay positive. Two days later the kids were packing up to leave class when my fellow intern screamed out loud that there was one more thing to do before the weekend. I had no idea what she was talking about and out of her bag she pulled a big card signed by all my students.

A card from my fellow intern and wonderful students.

Thank you Ms. Grab and company!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It definitely cheered me up after a disheartening week. I felt good and ready. That night I went to a bonfire at a friend’s house. Dave was there and as we left to go home and get a good night sleep before this crazy adventure, our friends hugged us, wished us luck and begged us to not die and come home safe. We said goodnight. The next day, the adventure would begin.

Part 4 – Getting to Tough Mudder

I awoke the next morning around 10 am. Filled with nerves, I double checked I had all my gear.

  • Waterproof under armor shirt
  • Light weight shorts
  • Running shoes
  • Gloves
  • Energy drink
  • Protein bar

Check, check, check, I was good. I printed off my team’s death waivers and confirmation papers, kissed my mom and sister goodbye and drove off. I pulled into Dave’s driveway around 11 am. I walked in and he looked off. He was flustered trying to get his gear together. I stood in his kitchen with his girlfriend Krystal who would be joining us and asked if he was alright and she said he seemed a bit nervous. Could I blame him? I had his freaking DEATH WAIVER in my car. We packed up his big van and headed out. We stopped for coffee and he admitted to the two of us that he felt like puking and just wanted to get there. We then stopped at Best Buy.

The reason we were at Best Buy was so Dave could buy his camera. This is a story that goes on through the rest of the post, but I’ll say now, it doesn’t end well. The camera was a Go PRO, a head-cam which videos what you see. With insurance, this thing cost $350. It was a really cool gadget. Lightweight and it shot HD video. 

We got back on the road and it was pretty smooth seas. We listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audio tape on the way up. Everything was chill and fun until about half way up.

About a month previous to this, I asked if he was interested in getting a motel across from the mountain. It was going to cost extra money but was a ten minute drive from the base of the mountain where the race would start. When Greg had decided to join our team, the motel idea was dismissed because Greg lives in Vermont. I asked how far he lived from Mt. Snow and they assured only about 45 minutes. While I didn’t want to wake up too early on race day, this seemed reasonable.

As we continued driving, I said I was going to map out the next day’s drive to see what we were looking at for directions. I plugged in Greg’s address and Mt. Snow’s…

“No, that can’t be right…Dave, it says Greg’s apartment is 4 and a half hours from the mountain…I must have entered something wrong, let me try again…um, still 4 hours.”

Dave and I in a quick panic decided to call Greg.

“GREG, hi, we pulled up directions to the MT. from your house and it says 4 hours…that’s wrong? Can you check it?”

I listened to Greg’s increasingly heavy breathing as I heard him typing into his own map quest the two addresses and after a few moments just heard, “FUCK!” He quickly started apologizing. He was convinced it was under an hour. I hung up and looked at Dave. We were both letting it sync in that we would be waking up at 4 am to make it to the race on time. Absolutely. GROSS. After a few hours, we arrived to Greg’s apartment right outside Burlington, VT. He showed us around and we walked around the city for a little while. We then feasted on a big pasta dinner, as is customary the night before any big race. I had gotten a hair cut a few weeks before the race and decided to get a mohawk in good fun for the race. I brought my clippers and sure enough, Dave and Greg wanted hawks too. So I cut their hair and we passed out around 10pm. Before we knew it, the alarms were going off and it was time to leave. 

Hawks at 4am. From left to right, Dave, me and Greg in the apartment before leaving for Mt. Snow

We ate some light breakfast, loaded our bags, piled into the cars and we were off. There really is NOBODY on the road at 4am. We flew down to southern Vermont  and after some dirt roads and questionably sketchy towns, we arrived at Mt. Snow.

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