It was dirty business for few valley residents this past weekend who traveled over to the muddy side of the state and participated in the Tough Mudder in Black Diamond. The Tough Mudder is an international event and racecourse that ranges from 5-12 kilometers with up to 25 obstacles of dirty challenges.
Less of a race and more of a challenge, the event attracts the bold and brawny who are willing to wade through pits of mud, swing over pools of crud, commando crawl under electrically charged wires, and crawl up and down cargo nets and the like. Participants work in teams to scale or slither through the obstacles, and cooperation and encouragement are emphasized.
Last year, I featured Gene Shull and his Mudder partner Abby Baur in this column. After interviewing Gene, I got excited and decided to join the 2019 team and recruited my family along with me. All summer a small group of committed Mudders met each Thursday morning at 6 a.m. at Twisp Park to train. We jumped in the river to simulate being wet, we lunged, we crawled, we crunched, we pulled. We grew strong and ready. We later found out that there was a Winthrop team training upstream. Game on!
Then two weeks ago, I tore a ligament in my hand and crushed my left shoulder, resulting in injuries that left me unable to compete (or do anything of much use like fold laundry). Anyhow, I found a surrogate team member and accompanied my team that included a crew of local U.S. Forest Service buffs like Gene, Rosemary Seifried, Jenn Zajac and Connie Mehmel, along with my own household consisting of Hans Smith and my two sons Eldon and Quin as Mini Mudders. Abby Baur, Sarah Billings, formerly of Twisp, along with some affiliated friends and family from the west side, met us on the course in Black Diamond. As I watched for our team dressed in bright pink from the spectator route, I bumped into the Winthrop team Joe and Isolde O’Driscoll, Seth and Kellen Miles, and Aemon Monahan, who were warming up.
The Tough Mudder is tough, but most agreed, it wasn’t punishment. But more than strength and endurance, it’s a battle of grit and teamwork. The obstacles are designed to require assistance with pushes and pulls from others. Teams help each other and reach out to other competitors. The Mini Mudder, designed for ages 6-12, captured three young valley athletes who, like their adult companions, didn’t shy away from the mud and gave it their all.
Take Connie Mehmel — at age 68, this is her fifth Tough Mudder. Impressive, because based on the crowd I surveyed, there weren’t many with AARP cards. Connie epitomizes grit. Last month, she retired from a lifelong career with Forest Service where she was an entomologist, firefighter and forest silviculturist, careers typically dominated by men.
Coincidentally, last week as I was listening to NPR, she was featured with her son on Story Corps, an NPR interview show that documents American’s personal stories. The interview was captured in 2009 following a wildfire where she was the crew boss in charge of her son’s crew. She noted, NPR called her in August to fact check before they ran the interview, 10 years later. I was listening and had to hush my household and say, “hey, we’re doing the with Mudder her, she’s on NPR right now!” Congratulations to Connie on her triumphant muddy finish and retirement. By the looks of it, she’s not slowing down anytime soon.