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Living through the Mudder Challenge

The Rev. Doug Kempton pulls himself across a muddy ramp. Live electrial wires hang down. Photos courtesy Tanya Rowland Kudla

August 08, 2013
Among the 16,000 men and women participating in the Tough Mudder contest June 29 were three Grace Community Church ministers and they all crossed the finish line in less than three hours.

The reverends, John Gardner, Doug Kempton and Karl Messenger, plus 10 teammates, many Grace congregants, took on the challenge held in Brooklyn. The 13-mile race course had 200 obstacles. Contestants endured a course pockmarked with mud, fire, ice and electrical shock, which Kempton completed in 2 hours and 36 minutes and Messenger was just four minutes behind him. They ran, jumped off towers, swam through icy muddy waters, crawled through muddy tunnels and scaled 12-foot walls, as a team.

"The most painful was swimming in ice water," Kempton said. "It hurt physically. The electrical shock was a significant jolt with the ice water hurt."

Live electrical wires dangle above participants during swimming and crawling events. Other challenges included swimming through underwater tunnels, walking on beams suspended over water, climbing rope webs and through trenches.

Gardner agreed that jumping into a tub of 34 degree water and the electrical shocks were the worst.

"I went into survival mode and knew I had to get out. You have to go underwater and swim under a barbed wire and crawl out. The most painful was crawling through the mud with electrical shocks. The voltage is enough to send your muscles into spasms," he said.

The elements in which upper body strength were crucial were probably the most physically demanding, Gardner added. The easiest was going up and down bales of hay.

Messenger said he found the obstacles were the easiest and the hardest was running.

"The running was harder than I thought," he said.

Gardner said he found the jogging between obstacles a chance to stretch his legs and prepare him for the next obstacle.

Crossing the finish line, Kempton said he felt a sense of accomplishment.

Though Kempton said he and the other team members didn't get sick from the Norvovirus, as did many participants, he did come home with scrapes and bruises and "definitely muddy."

Gardner, 31, said he came home with a sore knee.

"My feet hurt," Messenger said. "You get so muddy and so wet, they were bruised."

Kempton noted it took him a couple days to recover, but said he would definitely register for another contest because one of the best elements of the Tough Mudder event was the camaraderie.

Gardner added, "So much of what we do today is individual. We have self victories. It was gratifying to not focus on myself, but we were doing it together."

Kempton had been participating in road races and found out about the Tough Mudder through Facebook. He said he gave a sermon on the contest, inviting congregation members to train with him.

To prepare, Kempton, Messenger and Gardner underwent extensive cross training both as an individual and as a group with two trainers.

"They had us running up and down Balduck (Park) and in parking structures," Kempton said. "I was 35 pounds heavier and this was inspirational. I pushed myself to get in shape."

"We lifted a lot of weights," Messenger said of his training. "I would do less lifting and more running. The 12 miles was the longest I've run."

Both Messenger and Kempton said they would consider entering the challenge again.

"I don't want to do it," Messenger began, "(But) I would do it. Training and showing up together had a cool community type of feel to it."

Since the three have been through one challenge, they know what type of training to focus on to complete a course that, according to the Tough Mudder website, 78 percent successfully complete.

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