August 12. Today is my birthday. I am fifty-five years old. On Saturday I did Tough Mudder New England in Mount Snow, Vermont. I trained for it all summer with trail runs on Saturday mornings, hill runs on Tuesday evenings (after work), and strength training on other days. I decided over the winter that if I was ever going to do a Tough Mudder, this would be the year. That’s because with each passing year of late, age has made itself more and more known to my body. The house bag and monitor are heavier, I am less nimble getting out of the ambulance, and it takes me longer to climb to the third floor, not to mention having to get up to pee so much during the night.
I needed something to hold against age, to say I am not going quietly, to say I am not done yet. Back when I was first thinking of embarking on this quest, I discussed it with my friend and my EMS medical director, Rich. He cautioned me that I could get hurt. I said while I might get hurt or worse, humiliated, if I do this race and finish it, then I will be one bad motherfucker, and that might get me some respect should the reaper come in my neighborhood. True, he said, true.
The course was 10 miles up and down muddy and rocky ski slopes with twenty obstacles scattered throughout. While I feared the obstacles most in anticipating the race, they turned out to be welcome breaks from the relentless slopes.
Here is the course:
Much of the summer we trained in soaking humidity, but the weather for the race was perfect. Mid seventies, mostly sunny skies with a periodic light breeze. When the race starts you have to scale an eight foot wall, just to get to the starting corral, where an MC leads everyone in stirring motivational speech about the importance of teamwork, and he singles our those who have served in the military and then, those from police and fire and, yes, he added, those in emergency medical services, people who head to the action when others run from it. (Tough Mudder has raised over $5 million to date for the Wounded Warrior Project). We all take the Tough Mudder Pledge to help our fellow participants along the way, and then after singing the Star Spangled Banner, the race starts.
Here are the obstacles:
Electric Eel- crawling through charged wires
Kiss of Mud- crawling under low hanging barbed wire. The hardest obstacle for me due to not having clearance to get on my knees. I had to use my arms to drag my weary self through the mud.
Boa Constrictor- crawling through a narrow tunnel into water that fills half tunnel. Easy going down, but harder crawling back up through another tunnel. The tunnel was also to confining for me to get up on my knees.
Funky Monkey- monkey bars (The only obstacle I failed at, slipping off the bars into the water below).
Artic Enema- Jumping into an ice filled dumpster, diving under a board, then coming out and racing to get out of the dumpster before freezing. Truly the most astonishing cold I have ever experienced.
Berlin Walls- Scaling 10 foot walls, with the help of your teamates.
Just the Tip- Traversing water with your hands moving along a ledge with no foot holds.
Everest- Running up a slicked quarter pipe. As I faltered toward the top, I dove, was caught by two helpers, who hauled my tired ass up.
ElectroShock Therapy- Ruuning through dangling charged wires just prior to finish line.
While being tall helped in some of the climbing events, my added length made me a sitting duck in the electricity events. On the final obstacle — Electroshock Therapy — where you run through the dangling charged wires. The shocks knocked me completely off my feet three times. I’d get up, get shocked and go back down, but I made it through, and then crossing the line, they put an orange headband on my greying head, and gave me a cold Dos Equis and it was over.
At work the next day a supervisor asked about the scrapes on my face and elbows. When I told him I did the Tough Mudder, he said “You have to be careful, you’re getting older. You could break a hip.”
What kind of way is that to talk to a person? I thought everyone in EMS was suppossed to take a class in how not to patronize the elderly.
Just when I am getting discouraged that my effort impressed no one, I get a message on my phone from Rich, who has seen my finish line picture.
“You are one bad motherfucker,” he texts.
That’s right, I think. Yes I am.
A couple days later, I respond to a grizzled seventy-year old man who fell off a ladder cleaning his gutters. He is laying on the ground with a busted leg. “You have to be more careful at your age,” the policewoman says to him. “You shouldn’t be getting up on a ladder.”
“You were on that ladder?” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “I was.”
“And you are seventy years old?”
He nods grimly.
“Then, dude,” I say. “You are one bad motherfucker!”
He starts to smile.
I reach down to him and he returns my fist bump. Respect.
“We’re going to take you to the hospital and get your leg fixed up and get you back here so you can finish the job.” I point to the gutters.
“Now you’re talking,” he says.
“Because you aren’t done with your work here.”
“That’s right,” he says. “I ain’t done yet!”