By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Middle East District
WINCHESTER, Va. -- Tough Mudder claims that is "probably the toughest event on the planet," but it wasn't too tough for seven Middle East District employees.
Erick Barnes, Shawn Baublitz, Blake Burd, Jason Dalton, Pete DeMattei, Cecelia Mayer, and Rippert Roberts tackled a nearly 10-mile course Oct. 23 at Wintergreen Resort, Va., that included 25 military-style obstacles designed by British Special Forces. More than a race, this extreme obstacle course presents a challenge. That challenge, of course, is not to find out how fast you can finish but to find out if you can finish at all.
"I think of it more as a journey toward self-discovery than a race against time," said Barnes, only half joking. "In the span of one mile you could go from laughing and enjoying the mountaintop scenery to being on the verge of tears and quitting. While it may not be life-changing, it certainly does answer some questions about your physical and mental toughness."
"I had not been familiar with Tough Mudder prior to hearing that Pete [DeMattei] was putting a team together to participate in memory of his close friend who died in Afghanistan," said Burd. "However, once I learned about the event, it looked like something that suited me. I had recently lost some weight and I was getting in better shape, so this looked like a great challenge for me to see where I stood in terms of my physical strength and stamina.
"And, very importantly," added Burd, "Tough Mudder supports the Wounded Warrior Project. This is a great cause, and, as a former Soldier, I saw this as a great opportunity to support it."
DeMattei said he signed up for the event and formed a team to honor Lt. Brendan Looney, a Navy special warfare operator with SEAL Team 3 who was killed Sept. 21, 2010, in Ayatalah Village, Afghanistan, when his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during combat operations. The two attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., and stayed in touch after graduation. DeMattei attended the Air Force Academy and Brendan went to the Naval Academy, but their friendship remained strong. He said that he even played a part in introducing Looney to his wife. The lieutenant was only a week away from returning home when he was killed.
"The death of my friend was hard to handle, and I wanted to do something in his honor," said DeMattei. "The Tough Mudder seemed like a great way to accomplish that. The event benefits the Wounded Warrior Project - a charity close to my heart - and I know Brendan would be proud that we were doing something to help our wounded heroes.
"I started the team expecting only a few people to join me. Little did I know that we would have 54 people join to honor my friend, seven of whom were from right here at the Middle East District," said DeMattei. "We had teammates who knew Brendan personally, and many others who did not, but wanted to honor his memory. I was moved."
The team joined more than 16,000 participants who took on the course during a two-day period, and they all agreed on one thing: going straight up a ski slope is hard.
"If I could describe the Virginia Tough Mudder in one word it would be: Brutal," said Burd.
"Prior to the event, I thought the most difficult obstacle would be the construction dumpster filled with ice and water that they tint with dye to make it look radioactive. Truth is, that was one of the easier obstacles, although the coldest," said DeMattei. "The most physically daunting obstacle was the mile-long hike we had up a black diamond slope halfway through the event. It was so steep and long, I discovered pain in muscles I never knew I had."
"The hardest part was definitely the hills," agreed Baublitz. "I wasn't prepared for just how far that was going to push me."
Consensus was not reserved only for the toughest obstacle though, but was also found in a positive part of the overall experience.
"At no point did I feel like I was taking on this massive challenge alone," said Barnes. "I prepared my body and mind in advance, but, in the end, it was my team that got me across the finish line."
"I only knew a few of the people on our team, but we all worked so well together. There was never any question; we all just helped each other out," added Burd. "Spectacular camaraderie. The entire event felt like we were among friends."
"The team we had was absolutely amazing," agreed DeMattei. "The camaraderie and determination to finish and get every teammate through each obstacle made the event a joy. Never once did I feel I would not finish. I knew I had teammates that would carry me on their backs if they had to."
After all of the mud, blood, sweat, and maybe even a few tears, would they do it again? Absolutely. Probably more than once, several members of the team said. Baublitz has made plans to participate in a Tough Mudder event in Vermont this Spring, while DeMattei and several others have started preparations to attend the next event in Virginia or Washington D.C.
"I definitely came away achieving more than I set out to do," said Burd. "I knew I could do the course, I just did not know how 'tough' it would ultimately be. I was able to far exceed my own personal physical expectations. There is, however, always another challenge out there waiting for me. Such is life."
"We had such a great time that we will participate in the next local Tough Mudder," said DeMattei. "Our team will be named 'Team Looney: Friends for the Fallen' to carry on our original goal of honoring Brendan. However, we have chosen to also highlight the memory of other brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. One amazing hero we are honoring is 1st Sgt. Billy Joe Sierck. He and his wife, Georgeanne, wanted to compete in Tough Mudder. To honor her husband, she has decided to join us and carry on their shared goal.
"We currently have more than 120 people who have stated they would like to join our team when the event opens. Hopefully, we can accomplish this goal and raise some great donations for the Wounded Warrior Project."