Posted by: joshjasper | July 29, 2011

We Shall Overcome

I knew I was facing a terrific challenge as I stood at the start line of the Tough Mudder event this past weekend.  Of the 10,000 participants, 30% were not going to finish this 10 mile run through 20 obstacles.  My stomach was churning, I could feel a cold sweat coming on, and my heart rate was picking up by the minute.  My years in the Marine Corps were more than a decade ago.  I wasn’t sure how I would do and I couldn’t imagine completing the course alone.

Before the race started, we were asked to raise our right hands and recite the Tough Mudder pledge:

* I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.

* I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.

* I do not whine – kids whine.

* I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.

* I overcome all fears.

I felt sincerely thankful that my fellow teammates were by my side.  The pledge said it all.  We were a team and we were going to act as such.  We truly were going to put teamwork and the needs of others first.  I felt confident that I would not be alone on that course; that I would be supported by many.  It was probably a combination of the Tough Mudder pledge and the singing of the National Anthem that got my adrenaline really pumping.  I was ready for whatever came our way.

My mind wandered a bit, thinking about my work with Riverview Center.  Our vision of a community free of violence can feel daunting at times.  I struggle with how to realize sustainable change that will positively impact generations to come.  The FXB and Riverview Center team agreed that we needed to redefine what it means to be tough to include strength of character, moral courage, and integrity.   My hope was that through our efforts together we would model positive behavior for others to follow and encourage more people to get involved in our important work.  As I looked around at my fellow teammates, and before we took our first steps together,  I knew we had accomplished that very important mission.

It was shortly after our Tough Mudder team raced up a mile and a half ski slope and just past mile marker number two when our team’s pledge came into question.  One of our teammates was really struggling and was ready to give up.  I could hear the frustration and disappointment in his voice as he shared with others that he was quitting.    Before I could double back to offer some encouraging words, teammates were at his side pushing him to move forward, reminding him that we would not leave him behind, no matter what.  I later wondered what he must have felt as he crossed the finish line with the team.

The sun was beginning to beat down on us and all I could hear was the wail of ambulance sirens throughout the course.  We had seen one water station through the first four miles and the water there was luke warm….at best.  It was shortly thereafter that I realized that I had not properly eaten before the event and my body was beginning to shut down.  I needed something to drink and eat if I was going to finish.   As fate would have it, we were making our way past a golf course when John caught the attention of the beverage cart attendant.  He immediately pulled a one hundred-dollar bill from his pocket and bought four-dollar Powerades for everyone on the team.  I don’t believe I would have finished the race without John’s incredible generosity.

The Tough Mudder event bills itself as an opportunity to push yourself to physical extremes while overcoming some of your greatest fears.  It was at the “Walk the Plank” obstacle that a few of our team members were able to face their fears head on.  Participants were “asked” to jump from a 15 foot platform into a lake, and then swim across while going underneath floating barrels.  We had team members that were afraid of heights and questioned their swimming abilities.  Team members waded in the water, encouraging teammates to jump, letting them know that they would be there to help them should they struggle in the water.  During other water obstacles, members of our team literally carried some teammates to ensure their safety.  Watching people help others in that way was surreal.  It’s hard to put into words what I was feeling as I watched that happen.  An unbreakable bond was being forged right before our eyes.

More people than I could count did not complete the race due to injuries.  I saw a man break his leg, another dislocate his shoulder, and a woman break her ankle.  People were littered throughout the last few miles on the ground, writhing in pain from muscle cramps.  Our team of 25 not only finished together but did so without injury.  I was so very thankful for being pushed to my level 10 at Farrell’s for the last six months, and even more appreciative of the 24 people who ran by my side throughout the race.

We crossed the finish line with our arms locked together, covered in mud, battered and beaten, but beaming with pride from what we had accomplished together.  We were each given an orange Tough Mudder headband as a trophy for our efforts. I was confident that this experience would stay with me throughout my life.

The team photo of us at the finish line wearing our headbands, holding onto one another, hangs in my office as a reminder of how powerful a group of people can be.  In the end, I’ve had it all wrong.  I spend my days thinking, speaking, and dreaming about ending violence when what I need to do more of is sharing that dream with others so that together, we can realize greatness.

Margaret Mead said it best:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  



  1. Congratulations! I think I might want to do this! Is it okay to cry and cuss like a sailor the entire time?

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