This past weekend, I took part in the ultimate display of people helping people.
What turned out to be the toughest event of my life thus far, also turned out to be the most rewarding and inspiring.
The Tough Mudder, held at Mount St. Louis Moonstone Aug. 18 and 19, brought together roughly 17,000 people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, to complete a 16-km obstacle course designed by the British Special Forces. The course tested participants' strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.
I was one of a number of Sudburians who took the challenge. And it was just that, a challenge, not a race. The goal was not to win, but to complete the course, and help others do the same. In fact, we took a pledge that no Mudder should be left behind. And no Mudder was.
There were times on the course I was struggling to move forward, whether because of physical or mental barriers. When the muddy slope of a hill became too slippery to climb, I'd look up to see a stranger's outstretched hand, ready to pull me to the top. When the crest of a wall was beyond my reach, there was a stranger's knee or shoulder to diminish the wall's intimidating height. And when I wasn't sure I could run another step, my spirits lower than the muddy tunnels we had to crawl through, a stranger would pass by with a friendly word of encouragement.
And I paid it forward whenever I could, stretching out my hand to help pull another struggling Mudder through a daunting obstacle.
On our first trip up the side of Mount St. Louis, one man was struggling to carry on. Within moments, his teammates were around his side, arms slung around his waist, helping him conquer the mountain.
It was heart-warming just to see that kind of selfless devotion to helping a fellow human being succeed. There's an immense amount of comfort that comes from knowing you're not alone. It makes you more determined to succeed and more confident to step out of your comfort zone, knowing that someone will catch you if you stumble or fall.
I had been training for the Tough Mudder for several months with Chantal Laurin, owner and operator of CYL Yoga and Fitness in New Sudbury. Not only did she prepare me physically for the event, she was by my side throughout the entire four hours, helping me navigate the next obstacle, trudge through the next kilometre and finally, step gloriously across the finish line.
Chantal and I were the perfect complement for each other's strengths and weaknesses. When she was hesitant to leap off a high ledge to the pool of murky water below, hand-in-hand we took the leap together. When I put on the brakes heading into the two electric shock stations, Chantal guided me to a route through the wires, and said "We're going to go together."
That was the overwhelming force that drove the entire day — everybody was doing everything together. Whatever fears were slowing me down, there was solace in seeing thousands of other participants accomplishing and surviving the exact same task. It meant it was possible. It meant if they could do it, I could do it.
The community spirit went beyond the obstacle course as well. Tough Mudder is a proud supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project and has raised more than $3 million for the charity to date. Wounded Warrior assists injured veterans returning from the battlefield transition into civilian life, through combat stress recovery programs, adaptive sports programs, counselling and employment services.
In addition, the majority of participants parted with their running shoes after crossing the finish line, tossing their muddy pair onto an ever-growing pile. Through the GreenSneakers Program, the sneakers will be professionally cleaned and made available as affordable footwear to people in need around the world.
The Tough Mudder was something truly remarkable to be a part of. It challenged me. It inspired me. And it reminded me that sometimes all you need is a firm grip on an outstretched hand to let you know anything is possible.
For more information on Tough Mudder, visit toughmudder.com.
Laurel Myers is the sports and lifestyle editor of Northern Life.