ANDOVER – They plunged into frigid water, withstood electric zaps and emerged caked in mud.
All to prove they’re one Tough Mudder.
The scene unfolded on a 12-mile course that looped through rugged terrain in this Allegany County town, the latest stop for the physically taxing, team-oriented obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test physical boundaries. On Saturday, mudders, as the participants are called, gave their all as they attempted 15 obstacles including the dreaded “Electric Eel,” which required the athletes slide, belly-down, across a muddied path as electrically charged wires threatened overhead.
An estimated 12,000 mudders will have attempted the course by the end of the two-day event today, including Wheatfield resident Matt Bove, who promised to tackle the course alongside a childhood friend who helped him shed 100 pounds.
“Never thought that was going to happen,” Bove said of the weight loss. But over three years, Bove, 20, and Ryan Hulub crammed daily workout sessions at odd hours, going late into the night or starting early in the evening.
Now, Bove weighs in at 176 pounds and intends to make good on that promise. He’s scheduled to embark on the course today as part of the six-person Team Skins, self-named because they plan on running the course shirtless.
Bove admits he’s anxious. “I don’t want to be electrocuted,” he said, referring to the obstacle dubbed “Electroshock Therapy,” a second electrically charged challenge that features lives wires carrying up to 10,000 volts of electric shock.
“You really hope it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bove added.
If Saturday was any indicator, it is.
Charged electrical wires dangled from a wooden apparatus, zapping muddied men and women as they barreled through the obstacle, feet from reaching the finish. Mudders showcased a variety of techniques in an attempt to fend-off the shocks – some kept their forearms parallel to their faces, others appeared to blaze through the obstacle as quickly as possible.
“They’re enough to knock you off your feet,” said Salvatore Rachuna of the zaps.
Rachuna, 29, linked arms with his 14-person team before attempting to conquer the obstacle as a unit, garnering cheers and applause from spectators. The chain broke apart moments after entering the obstacle, but Rachuna didn’t waver. The Buffalo native made relatively quick work of the obstacle but paused to help a team member who took a tumble midway.
Rachuna said he wanted to finish the race the way it began – together.
Team unity and camaraderie were common themes Saturday.
In some cases, it was virtually impossible to advance through the course without team work, including at “Everest,” an obstacle that had mudders rushing up the curved body of a wall. Taking off with a running start, mudders willed themselves until they were able to cling to the top.
Some relied on sheer grit to hoist themselves on the platform, positioning themselves to pull teammates and fellow mudders who followed.
Devon Mahaney, 30, conquered the wall with a little help from her teammates, who pulled her over the edge – a scene that was replicated time and again Saturday. Mahaney gave birth eight months ago and considered training for Tough Mudder, which consisted of pushups and lifting weights, “recovery.”
Surrounded by sweeping fields of corn, one of the most intimidating obstacles for Mahaney was “Walk the Plank,” which required mudders to step off a platform and into murky, dirty water. Plunging into the muddy pool, unaware of the water’s depth, was an unsettling experience for Mahaney, a Jamestown native who attended the University at Buffalo’s pharmacy school.
“It made your heart jump,” she said. “The race challenged your physical ability, but you had to overcome mental stuff, too.”
More daring mudders punctuated their dives with flair, opting to back flip before splashing into the water.
Between the seventh and eighth mile, mudders were met with a chilling experience, their systems jolted after leaping into frigid water at the unnervingly named “Arctic Enema.”
“Your whole body went numb,” said Roger Roll, a 32-year veteran with the Buffalo Airport Fire Department who completed the course with company members. By the end of the course, half his body dripped with mud.
All the while, onlookers snapped photos, streaming through an abbreviated spectator path that ran near the busiest section of the course.
As the activity unfolded in Andover Saturday, Bove and Hulub’s anticipation built as they waited in Buffalo for Team Skins’ turn. They’ll make the drive to Andover early today. It’s been a long time coming for Hulub, who said he’s watched every Tough Mudder video uploaded on YouTube and flipped tractor trailer tires in open fields with teammates as practice.
“I can’t believe it’s finally here, and I cannot wait to get out here and show Tough Mudder what Team Skins is all about,” Hulub said.