In early 2015, I had a conversation with Randy Pierce. We were reminiscing about all the fun and misery we had experienced at Tough Mudder’s Great Northeast event the preceding August, en route to Randy becoming the first blind person to complete a Tough Mudder. It was a great day. So much so that its greatness had caught the eyes of some of our more adventurous cohorts and multiple inquiries had been filed as to the possibilities of Randy’s return to the course.
Randy assured me that he was in no way interested in pursuing the sequel at that time. He had his first ever Boston Marathon coming up in April and we were headed to Tanzania in September to take a shot at Kilimanjaro and he had no interest in jeopardizing those two goals by putting his ankles and knees through a 10+ mile minefield of risk. So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a call from that very same Randy Pierce in February of that year to ask me if I was interested in going to California with him to do a Tough Mudder. The conversation went something like this (with some creative liberties, mind you):
Randy: Hey Greg, do you wanna to join me on a trip to California to do a Tough Mudder?
Me: I seem to recall you telling me, very specifically, that there was no way you were doing a Tough Mudder this year. I think you may have used the phrase “under no circumstances.”
Randy: You are correct, I did say that. However, my fraternity brother, Court Crandall (I don’t know if I’ve told you about him, he owns a marketing company and he wrote the screenplay for the movie “Old School”)…
Me: You mean Will Ferrell’s “Old School”?
Randy: Yes, that one, so his company has been contracted by Oberto…
Me: The beef jerky people?
Randy: Yes, them, so anyway he is shooting a commercial for Oberto and he wants us to fly out to California next month to run another Tough Mudder so he can film it and use it for the ad campaign.
Me: …I’m listening.
Randy: They will pay for the whole trip, airfare, hotels, and all that and they are going to make a donation to 2020 Vision Quest!
Me: So, let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to fly to California, meet up with the guy that made “Old School”, and run a Tough Mudder while being filmed for a beef jerky commercial?
Randy: Yeah, that’s pretty much the gist of it.
Me: You had me at beef jerky.
The truth is more likely that he had me at “Hey Greg, do you wanna…”. I’m always down for an adventure and this one sounded more interesting than average. However, he almost lost me again when I asked him who else was going.
He neglected to include in his original sales pitch that the whole plan was predicated on me guiding him all by myself for 10+ miles, over hill and dale, oh, and 20+ obstacles for good measure. Not to mention that I was in mid-winter form, we were far removed from the days of pushing for 48 peaks in a single winter season, and I was much less than confident that my physical conditioning was where it needed to be for a 10-mile mud run, much less while guiding to boot. I inquired about some additional guiding muscle, but the deal had been brokered for just the two of us. Any prospective teammates would need to be convinced to make the trip on their own dime.
Fortunately, we have friends almost as daft as we are and it didn’t take much arm twisting to convince three folks to sign on for this fantastic voyage. Loren O’Neil made the journey out from New Hampshire, Jose Acevedo traveled down from Washington, and Sky Prendergast conveniently lived in Santa Monica and was just a couple-hour car ride away.
Reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever done a Tough Mudder before, but I can assure you the experience is MUCH different when you’re being followed by a camera crew. I had never been referred to as “the talent” before. Prior to that I had never experienced the joy of successfully completing an obstacle followed by the not as joyful surprise of being asked to do it again in pursuit of a better camera angle. I had never worn a camera on my head while filming my friend crossing a set of monkey bars. I had never had the luxury of summoning a production assistant to fetch me some duct tape to reattach the big toe nail I’d nearly lost (in mile one, mind you). You can imagine the looks on the faces of our fellow Mudders when the camera crew pulled up and jumped out of the mini truck with towels to wipe our faces and ice-cold bottles of water and (I kid you not) one of the crew gave me one of the tacos they had brought in for their lunch. Unreal.
The only thing that rivaled this reaction was a much more familiar incredulity, that of people realizing that a blind man was out there with them on the Tough Mudder course. Watching that unfold will absolutely never lose its magic.
The spirit and camaraderie on the Tough Mudder course are unrivaled. There is always someone in your vicinity to give you a word of encouragement or lend you a hand as you attempt to surmount that 8-foot wall. At the bigger, more exciting, or more entertaining obstacles, there is always a crowd watching to give a cheer, a laugh, or (in the event of a face plant) an “oh!”
With camera crew in tow, we were hard to miss. Those additional eyes quickly figured out what was up with that one guy being led by another by way of a 6-foot pole. When they did, they were keen to see how this tactic would work out when plied on Tough Mudder obstacles. Quite a few of the aforementioned “oh’s” were bestowed upon us as our seemingly miraculous and instant success at getting Randy up the steep wall of a quarter pipe at the Great Northeast event gave way to a half dozen failed attempts (including a couple of those face plants) and a great big cheer when we finally met with success.
None could rival the experience at the King of Swingers obstacle, made famous by a viral video, over 300,000 views strong when last I checked. The crowd chanting Randy’s name as he lined up to attempt a blind jump to grab a T-bar, then swing through the air and dismount and attempt to reach out and hit a bell that he couldn’t see. The chants could only be overshadowed by the absolute roar of that same crowd when he managed, just by the tip of his finger, to hit that bell. It was electric.
To round out the day, we ended with a surprise invite to the VIP tent to sip free drinks and share “mud, sweat, and tears” stories with 90’s sitcom stars and possibly my favorite moment in a weekend full of moments. As Randy stood waxing philosophical (as he will) with a TV icon of my youth hanging on his every word, a wayward gentleman with tattered clothes, plastered in mud, and limping a bit, was wandering by. He looked over at the twosome engaged in conversation and I saw him double take and immediately change direction, headed right toward the VIP tent. He walked up to me and said:
“Excuse me, do you think it would be possible for me to get my picture taken… with Randy?”
“Yes sir, I can make that happen, I know people.”
There was so much more to this experience, so many things that made it the most bizarre and interesting weekend of my life. The looks I get when I tell this story to people at parties–I feel like they must think I’m making it up. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it either. Within 48 hours I flew to California, met a new friend, met some old friends, met the guy who created one of my favorite movies, did a Tough Mudder (the second ever completed by a blind person!), filmed a commercial for beef jerky, raised money for charity, and drank beer with someone I grew up watching grow up on TV, and was back in New Hampshire lying in bed wondering if it was all some weird dream.
Randy, thanks for the wild ride.
That trip to California was pretty good too.
– Greg Neault