I slammed the trunk closed, running down my mental checklist. “Yup,” I think to myself, “I’ve lost my mind.” It was a brisk October morning that would send me off to the Pisgah National forest. I would be “glamping” it up at The Bike Farm thanks to Peace of Adventure. Three days I would push my body past its limits. Hand-cycling through the mountains kicked my butt, (it didn’t help I had a Tougher and Tough Mudder the Saturday and Sunday before).
On Thusday I took off from the mountains of North Carolina. The destination was Ironman Raceway for the last round of GNCC Racing. The entire ace field missed the 10 second call. You would have thought our single seat Polaris ACE’s were bumper cars as we approached turn number two. I lost my door on lap number one removing the protection that keeps my body parts in the car. I had to adjust my leg a few times as it kept trying to escape. The emotion I felt FINALLY seeing the finish of a race, tears escaped. I had a “mini-quad 2008” kind-off season; finishing two out of six races.
Sunday came and I had my mind set on Colorado. “I’m taking a week long vacation from my own life,” I jokingly told my friends. The week that would follow would be unimaginable. My wheel-friend Kevin kindly gave me a place to stay for the week. Throughout the week I would meet phenomenal people, gaining new wheel and non wheel friends. During my vacation I made lifetime’s worth of memories including viewing Buffalo Bill’s grave, visiting Red Rocks Amphitheater, and rock climbing out doors for the first time.
The week came to an end and I hit the road again. My drive to Vegas was around twelve hours, lucky for me one of the wheel-friends I made had another wheel-friend that lived in Grand Junction. Andy and Sara gave me a place to stay to break up my drive to Vegas. I am beyond grateful to be apart of the close wheelchair community.
Being a wheelchair athlete with an abled bodied competitor’s mindset is a difficult and humbling experience. I wanted to complete my 50 mile goal to raise as much money for the Wheel With Me Foundation as possible. Combining that with a 24-hour obstacle race course creates an intense array of emotions, especially among a team.
We started out with a great pace. Finishing the first first lap quickly we stopped in the pit. Before leaving the pit my team captain, Sarah, urge we put a shortie wetsuit on me. Me being inpatient with how long the pits felt I said we would be fine and we continued on. The sun went down and I began to shiver. One mile separated me and my XTERRA wetsuit. Throughout that mile I heard complaints of cold from various teammates. My goal of fifty miles slowly deteriorating in addition to my morale.
Arriving in the pit, I was quickly layered, restoring my warmth. A key piece of my gear were the prototype Neptune pants Sarah made. They have waterproof pouches for hand warmers, to help keep my legs warm, making up for the poor circulation. The rest of the team started gearing up in their wetsuits, and we were on our way again.
The night brings a different element to the race. With nothing more than a small headlamp lighting the way, you become blind to large rocks or holes in the path. Without the warmth of the sun, raising your body’s temperature after water obstacles becomes almost impossible. You are putting your not only your physical strength, but your mental strength to the ultimate test.
Lap number 3 came to an end and we were in the pit again. Looking around, the team began to look worn. I wrapped myself in my dryrobe waiting to continue. As time passed pin pricks of cold began kissing my shoulders working their way down my spine. I started moving, working to get the shivers away, but the kisses were persistent. Sarah and Amie pleaded we stay in the pit over night in fearing I would hypothermic. Fifty miles was completely out of the question. Sarah promised me we would get 25, and I was carried into the tent, wrapped in blankets, attempting to shiver my way back to warmth.
I vaguely remember Sam and Grace coming in and out of the tent urging me to get up and get dressed, but I couldn’t move. The shivers were uncontrollably aggressive. I was past cold. Everything went dark again. Sometime passed and Sam was back. He said I would be lucky if I got one more lap in. Jumping up, Grace quickly helped me get dressed. Sam went out to ralley the rest of the group. The clock struck 4 and I was ready to hit the road, but the rest of the team not so much. E and Cliff were on course with Tyson (another paraplegic athlete), while the rest of the team woke up. After about an hour and a half, we were on our way.
The last lap was rough for the team. All of the obstacles were open for business. A chill came over me. I balled my Rock Tape gloved hands deeper in my Blegg Mitts, punching at the air in front of me to get my blood circulating. The athleticism it takes not only for yourself but for an wheelchair athlete to get through the course is almost impossible, but we managed to assemble a team of lunatics that go after impossible.
Because I’m healing I take the penalty for any obstacle we cannot confidently belay on. We continued on to the penalty while the team completed the Cliff, where you jumped off the ledge into a body of water. This was the last obstacle before the finish where Eric and Sarah would make “walking” across the finish possible for me. We finished with twenty miles and the first paraplegic athlete to Holy Grail in the Tough Mudder series. Tyson from team Go Hard reached his goal of 25 miles. I was honored to headband him upon his finish.
I’m excited for an east coast Worlds Toughest Mudder next year, so excited, I’ve already bought my registration. I cannot thank everyone who made this possible.
A special thanks Sue and the entire Merrell team along with everyone who cheered us on along the way. Words cannot describe what Worlds Toughest Mudder taught me both physically and mentally. From my team, Sarah, E, Cliff, Jeff, Amie, Jenn thank you for supporting me through the good, bad, and ugly and pushing your bodies beyond they’re breaking point. To the folks in the pit, Dirk, Francis, Grace, Sam, and the Volunteers in the orphan tent, Rhonda, thank you for your time and efforts in making this worlds an amazing experience.
See you guys in the mud.
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Podcast interview with Living Adaptive.