What are you known for? When people speak about you, what do they centre their discussions around? Your occupation? Your family? Your education? Your kind spirit? You genuine skill at .... running? Swimming? Dancing? Cycling? What are you known for?
I've been treading water in this question for a while. What am I known for? I'm not sure of the answer, but I can tell you what I'd like to be known for; Showing up, giving my everything, being helpful, creating awareness, and always, always working towards creating some optimistic change in the world.
Lately, given our 900km trek down the Bruce Trail, I think I'm known best for running. (or maybe being the most stubborn person you've ever met) Yes I do run, rather slowly, typically behind you, and with a quiet determination that rings in my soul for the world to know that disabled athletes are here. I also knit... and cook... and bravely walk the sidewalk-less strip of road to my office. And once in a while, I think ... the struggle of being disabled in everyday life is enough, why demonstrate it in sport?
Strip me down to my bare human bones and we are not the same. None of us are. Sure we all have a set of similarities that groups us together as a species. I'll give you evolution. However, it is in difference that we find similarities. The 'disability' is a difference. It creates the similarities upon which the mainstream society has built their world. My everyday manoeuvring through mainstream obstacles is a blatant demonstration of the struggle.
Oddly, however, I don't think my message would travel far if the only struggle I illustrated was my frustration at being unable to read the ice cream signs at Kawartha Diary. Single scoop of vanilla in a waffle cone please? Why? Because everyone has vanilla, and I don't need to read the signs for that.
I am blessed to have amazing friends. Amazing, brave friends, willing to place their needs and vulnerabilities aside to take my arm and help me participate in the other worldly. I say other worldly, because, lets face it, swimming 13km in open water, spending 20 days on trail, or crawling through muddy sewage pipes isn't exactly in the everyday experience.
Friday morning, some of these amazing friends jumped in the car and swept me off to New Jersey. Tri-State Tough Mudder was calling. Why travel so far for a 10 mile race? It's true, in the ultra running world the race you run should be longer than the drive you take to get there. Well guess what? This isn't ultra running... and honey... we aren't in Kansas anymore...
Saturday morning, just past stupid o'clock we were standing in the rain meeting the other half of the team. All assembled and standing in the rain; Patrick, David, Solo, Pam, Michael, Aaron, Lisa and myself. Skilled handed picked for the day. History with the race, history with the genre, history with a camera, history with the overcoming, history with guiding and friendship. Everyone of us with a thirst to stand up tall and say we are here to do this, to open this door to obstacle racing to those with disability. And Tough Mudder welcomed us. No they didn't clear away the mud. No they didn't turn the voltage down on the Electric Shock therapy. No they didn't make anything special. And in so doing, they made everything special. Truth be told a Tough Mudder was tough for everyone. Each person standing at the start line there to overcome something. Pam and I here for our own over comings.
Each obstacle that was presented to us was a mindful metaphor for me. Hoist yourself up over an eight foot wall just to get to the start line.
My take away? Yes you need to get over yourself. Friends and strangers make that far easier than going it alone.
They called this a 'runnable' course. I assume because of it's lack of a ski hill. The extra mud in the cold wet rain made up for that. Good thing we had some runnable sections in between obstacles to warm up a bit. The Mud Mile came quickly to us on course; ditches dug in the road and filled with thick heavy mud mounds four feet tall, between each a trench of up to waist deep muddy water.
My take away? It's a slippery slope overcoming a piece of yourself, and likely on the other side... there are more slippery slopes. The ruts in between are not a good place to stop. Keep moving. Keep going, until you find solid ground again. And also, always turn around to help someone else pull themselves out We are all different, but we are all in this together.
Some of the ups and downs on course were so slippery I tried sliding down them on my ass. Yeah... ouch.... Never willingly give up your footing. Wait until it's stolen from you. I held Aaron's hand and we ran. And yes, yes I did scream like a girl.
Under cargo nets in the forest, military crawling 100 ft through mud under a net. People in front, people behind. And me, completely stuck between. There is no out. There is only forward. Encouraging words in front and behind. And me singing... Just a small town girl.... fist full of mud... Living in a lonely world.... Wait... it's not lonely here.
My take away? When you are low, you are likely not alone. Look around. We are all in the struggle. Keep moving.
Tough Mudder embraces your discomfort. In fact I think if we all trekked through their course with grins and no squirming, they'd just make it harder. The Arctic Enema presented itself. I'd been dreading this. A dumpster full of ice water with a plywood board in the middle you had to swim under to exit the other side. Handing my glasses off was very hard. Exposed. Hands outstretched. Feeling for my way in the dark (of course it was in the bright)... Into the intensely cold water, forward to touch the board. Impossible to take that deep breath need to dive as it was far too cold. Under and out. Under and through. Under into the unknown. Letting go of my want to know. Releasing my need to know. Control gone. My only control in my reaction.
My take away? Vision isn't a sense. It is a means to think you know something. And somethings demand to be known in far different ways. You cannot prepare for everything. All you can do is take belief of better along for the ride.
We ran towards Everest. This half pipe wall with entrance carrels like a fair ride. Guides talking, team deciding the best approach. And me watching. Everest was white. Or at least it was to me. The bodies of the mudders contrasting against it's backdrop. The slipping, the sliding back down, the chaos of bodies along the top, standing like a wall of authority and aid. The push of sure will driving the mudders up... the hope filled we can do this together making them stop atop to hold out a hand to their followers. Aaron asks do you want to try this? All of my ultra running in my head, never ask if you want to, you are in the race now.
My intention pushes me forward. My inhibitions hold me back. My perspective is the quarter toss in the air. I know that moment I start running I'd lose the hands outstretched up top. I know I'd lose my team mates below. I know none of that matters anyway. I feel the mudders as though they are a mantra... we help you, you will help us too. So I run, reaching up into the bright abyss above, hopeful some stranger might heave me up. I know solo is up there somewhere, but whether or not I"m aiming for her.....
Arms pull me up. Arms make this passing possible. Arms embracing my attempt. Arms I'm grateful for. Intention wins.
My take away? Letting go of what you can't live with is always necessary. Letting go of potential is never an option. See it through, follow the course, no easy out. Always reach for assistance when things get tough. You're almost there.
Walk the Plank towered ahead. Ladders up I'm guessing 20 feet. Again glasses handed off. Aaron on the ladder beside. Solo promising to call from the other side. Patrick in the water first in case. I ask how many seconds of fall? How many strokes to the wall? We listen while the people in front fall, 2 seconds. We listen as they swim... 10-15 seconds. Towards my name. Just fall and head towards my name. How hard is that? 20 feet above the world. My makeshift mountain. My ungraceful world teetering below. My every fear of heights close by. Noise everywhere. Vision no where. Just down and swim. Towards my name. Wonder if I remember my name after falling so far?
The falling... impossible to know when water is coming. Impossible to judge how long to hold my breath for. Impossible to know where Aaron will be once I'm submerged. The falling. The falling away. The falling apart. Ever change your mind sixty times in two seconds? Ever felt as though two seconds was sixty years? Ever wonder.... SPLASH.... okay swim... no wait.. my name? Aaron finds me. I hear my name. Four swim strokes I'm there. Up the cargo net and out.
My take away? Just because you can't see your next step doesn't mean you shouldn't take it. It merely suggests you will need to trust the ground will present itself. Ohhhh and gravity is a mean bitch. I learned that too.
It started raining again. The wind picked up. I got cold. Don't remember ever being this cold. Shivering and shaking. Unable to talk. Can we run? I was given a hat and extra shirt from Solo. I skipped the monkey bars I knew I'd fall off into the water. If only because I was so cold. It was ONLY ten miles and here I was wavering on the edge of needing a fire and the end. Only is such a primitive word...
My take away? The obstacles themselves are not the only thing you'll have to overcome in your life.
There had been some discussion of the Human Pyramid. Should we attempt this? The team was debating how. Seemed logical enough put the tough guys on the bottom... Sorry Patrick, sorry David... and push the girls up to the top. The wall itself on an angle and so slippery... three bodies tall. Patrick got a few up and then slid down. Let me try. I think he thought I was crazy. Brace my feet. I propped against his foot. And people climbed up. Knees on my shoulders. Shoes digging in my shins. Some small, some not at all. And me, grinning at this. My pay back for the day. My boost. My tomorrow bruises. I laid there long enough the team grew weary. So I clambered up. That's a lie, I was pushed up. There's no such thing as an inappropriate touch today.
My take away? I always have something to give. Stop underestimating myself.
There was a stretch we were instructed to carry our teammates on our backs. Aaron carried me. And I spent these 30 seconds apologetic for my breakfast. At the switch he hesitated. Aaron, my friend, you got me here... let me carry you a few feet. Unbelieving, we managed it. Together we managed it. I looked forward to see my team all there waiting. We race together. Clock turned off.
My take away? Burdens are only as heavy as you let them be. And friendship is NEVER a burden.
The Sewage Pipe found us. It found me in my biggest fear today. Willingly crawling under barbed wire to enter the dark muddy pipe that ascended up hill for maybe 20 feet and emptied 5 feet above a muddy trench. I made the mistake of not handing over my glasses. Aaron went first. Patrick behind. My own personal body guards. In under the wire. Nope, get lower... that stuff is sharp. Crawling forward. Pushing forward. And darkness. Turn onto your back and pull up with the rope. Aaron calling to keep moving. Patrick inspiring below. And me, nearly lost in fear of dark closed spaces. Overcoming some old piece of me decades old. At the top I sat and looked down. Aaron at the bottom treading water asking me to pass my glasses down. Hugging the pipe, leaning off the edge, holding on. The holding on, before the letting go. In the pipe to my right a mudder named Shane emerged. Looked down and asked do we just fall? I'm not sure I can just fall? Shane, I shook his hand, me neither. Lets go together he says. and we do. Hand releasing from the rough metal pipe edges. ego still clinging to the hope that we hadn't actually done that. And the fall, again the fall. But backwards this time. Once the water graced my entry I was worried I wouldn't find the surface. Disoriented from the backwards bit. But thankfully gravity pushed me up. Swim to my name again.
My take away? We all have identities, even in the deep dark places. We are all the same in our difference, only we are here for very different reasons.
I found Shane again on the top of the exit cargo net, or rather he found me. We hugged and I thought carry on distance solider.
Lots more mud, lots and lots more mud... and the ending... the finale.. the dreaded Electric Shock Therapy. Standing there taking it in you could hear the snaps as the wires attacked the other passing mudders. Snap.. Rhonda there's muddy hay we SNAP have to jump SNAP SNAP SNAP over once we are in there. Patrick is lost to me. Solo missing too. David tells me he's earned his keep on this on already. SNAP SNAP .... I link his arm... and whisper an inaudible pled to come through again. Aaron is waiting for my girl tantrum to pass. There is nothing appealing about running 20 feet through hanging charged wires. SNAP! Oh god.. are you ready??? SNAP SNAP...
And in we run. Okay it's more of a delicate rush than a run. And first shock was, well shocking. Gravity, I'm sure was standing aside laughing as we travelled through. How do you like me now Gravity was asking... SNAP SNAP... oh my god... that is my snap, my body shaking, my everything vibrating with a SNAP SNAP... jump over the hay, fall in the mud... Get up Rhonda... SNAP... make it stop.. SNAP SNAP... Aaron grabs my arm and pulls, literally drags me out. Am I that fallen? SNAP... maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe I'm lost in hallucinations along some trail at 3am. Maybe this is just a mind trick of staying on my feet. SNAP...
and we are out. I fall on my back never so grateful to just be still.
My take away? Life is about a feeling. And I am a good conductor.
Too often we tune out, turn off and coast. A mudder doesn't coast. A mudder stands up and shows up and gives everything. A mudder pulls everyone through, gets pulled through and smiles at the end. A mudder is an identity, a subset of the other world I have come to love. A mudder will hose you off in your underthings surrounded by 100's of other mudders, all shivering and hoping they aren't too late to sign up again next year.
Life is about a feeling. Life is about what you make it. Life is embracing the unknown. Life is chasing down your dreams, even the really really shockingly scary ones.
And I am a good conductor.
THANK YOU TRI-STATE TOUGH MUDDER!!! thank you for welcoming us and our team.
Thank you team!! I love you all for your bravery and guts. I love you for pushing and pulling me. I love you for not judging me or my underthings in the aftermath. I love you for not looking at me as disabled, but as a potential Mudder. I love you for sharing the day in the shivering muddy cold.