I sat atop the climbing wall, catching my breath. The cheers of other participants surrounded me — people of all ages and backgrounds, all body types, all competing together against this challenging obstacle course. The air smelled of sweat and dry dust.

Suddenly, I noticed the other people on the wall looking downward. A woman was having a harder time than most. She looked to be in her mid-60s, heavy set, curly brown hair.

“Never mind, guys.” She was nearly in tears as she clung to the wall. “I just can’t do it.”

Instantly, we were united in our goal: helping her over that wall became our most important task of the day. A dozen hands reached down to grab her.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you!” cried out a thin twenty-something girl.

“You got this!” said a man in his fifties.

All of us gave her boosts and hands, pushed and pulled, and got her over the top. When she landed on the other side, the entire crowd erupted into applause.

This is the sort of camaraderie you will find on the course of Tough Mudder, one of the most fun, most challenging and most rewarding obstacle courses you could ever run.

While completing this challenge will give you a great sense of personal accomplishment, the best part is the camaraderie. You’ll feel intimately close to everyone on the course, even complete strangers.

Mildred Wilson of Missouri gets help to go over the “Everest” obstacle at a Tough Mudder event. Wilson is the event’s oldest participant, according to Tough Mudder. (Photo courtesy of Tough Mudder)

Calling it a “race” is a bit misleading, since Tough Mudder isn’t about competitive macho head-games. The participants aren’t really competing against each other, after all — you’re all competing together against the course. 

Sure, you will see 19 and 20 year olds in their prime. You’ll also see all ages, all body types and walks of life, and everyone going at their own pace. It was encouraging to see how many people in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s were out there on the course, smiling and crawling through the mud along with the rest of us. The oldest recorded participant is Mildred Wilson of Missouri, who in 2019 did her first Tough Mudder at 80 years old, and repeated the feat at age 81 this year.

Yes, it’s physically demanding, but the pressure is low. No one will judge you if you skip an obstacle or two. You don’t even have to finish the course if it becomes too difficult. When you push yourself to complete a challenge, however, you’ll find a crowd of strangers cheering you on — just like that woman we helped over the climbing wall.

That’s what makes it worth it. These obstacle courses can be a great excuse to get into better shape, but the lessons they teach us go much deeper. They remind us that none of us can go it alone. We need each other. We can help each other over that wall, no matter the age and weight that appear on our driver’s license. We will cheer each other on, we’ll give each other a boost, and when we fall in the mud, we’ll laugh it off and keep going.

After months of isolation and social distancing, we could all use such camaraderie.

David J. Schmidt is an author, podcaster, multilingual translator, and homebrewer who splits his time between Mexico City and San Diego, California.

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