Monday, May 21, 2012

Beyond Tough Mudder, this father's love

It's Monday. I purposely scheduled today off so I could hear my internal voice screaming, "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"
My right leg, a month earlier begging for a knee replacement, now is swollen, painful and wrapped in an Ace bandage. It's very angry with me. I have a bruise the shape (and size) of Nevada on my inner thigh. My upper body muscles are sore and as I am writing this my clothes are soaking in buckets of water to loosen up the caked up mud from Saturday.
That was when the Twin Cities Tough Mudder was held (not in Minnesota but at Somerset, Wisc. Go figure). It's a nationwide charity event that helps fund the Wounded Warrior Project and attracted about 11,000 contestants and spectators on Saturday alone. The big news was Minnesota Wild's coach Mike Yeo was supposed to be there. I don't know if he made it but my whole family did, including daughter Alex from Los Angeles. She flew out for another try after last year's disastrous Snow Valley Tough Mudder. It had dipped to 29 degrees and a number of people including Alex dropped out due to hypothermia.
It was last July, when daughter Chandra was an entrant in the Devil's Head Wisconsin Tough Mudder. My wife and I were the support team. There was one particular obstacle called Everest, a half pipe, that eluded her. It required a fast dash up the pipe, scaling the curve, then - if you're lucky or an orangutan - grabbing the lip and pulling yourself up. More often, it took those on top to assist. After 14 tries, she couldn't get close enough for a helpful grab, relented and climbed up the side brace rather than up the pipe. Dejected, she joined Alex in setting Twin Cities TM as their goal to complete each obstacle.
Chandra encouraged us to make it a family event. Being a cheapskate, I couldn't pass up the veteran's discount so I was in. She got shirts printed with our team's name "For a relaxing time, make it Santori Time" an often misquoted line from Bill Murray's movie "Lost in Translation." She made CDs with adrenalin-pumping music and dog tags - I'm guessing in case our bodies needed to be identified.
Her boyfriend, Michael Westforth, came in from Montana. My son, Michael (I know, we're getting confused too) was working the grounds as a supervisor but his newly-announced fiance, Jacinta, joined my wife and grandson to be our support team, slogging energy drinks, bars and gels.
We were in the first group of 600 out and after two miles of the 12-mile course it was going fairly well. My team advised me not to jog and I took their advice. A group of spectators said "Hey look, they're walking." At which my ever-protective daughter Danielle turned around and, with gun-slinger eyes, shot back "Yeah, well I don't see you joining us!" They retreated apologetically. Gotta love her.
It was about mile four when my inner voice started to whisper the doubts but I didn't let on. The leg was starting to hurt and each team member took turns being my brace on the descents. They never actually said it but I'm pretty sure they thought I lost my marbles. A perceptive father knows these things.
This event clearly was made for younger people, more athletic with seeming unlimted energy. Every one of my team members were joking, laughing and even Danielle was bounding on tree stumps like a kangaroo. They were taking the challenges like ninjas. I was taking it like a retired sumo wrestler.
By now, I was determined to at least get through most of the course. I had to skip a couple of the obstacles, especially the 12-foot Berlin Walls. And there were some I should have skipped like the Electric Eel, a nasty bit of sadism that involves belly crawling in a muddy swamp through dangling electric wires occasionally shooting 10,000 volts. When it hits, it forces your body to contract driving your face into the mud. Danielle's husband Mark and I walked away with mud beards. Alex was shocked four times coupled with smoke and loud pops. She was not amused.
There were 22 obstacles included diving in iced slime tanks (Arctic Enema), toting logs for half mile (Hold Your Wood), tube crawls, balance beams, monkey bars and mud mounds that were nearly impossible to scale without help.
It was that awareness that formed a smile in my heart. Here was my family, my team, not only helping me and each other but taking time to help others over the obstacles. When they weren't walking slowing and patiently with the old guy, they were grabbing wrists, thrusting their shoulders, shoving up bodies of complete strangers over obstacles to help. They were talking up another team, the Mudd Uglies, for how much they helped others. My team - muddied, wet, shivering in the cold - didn't admire those who were faster or stronger; they looked up to those who sacrificed. I had to finish now; not for me but for them.
Toward the end of the course, we finally reached Everest, the half-pipe. Everyone of them made it up and Chandra was the last of the team. She tried twice, each time missing within inches of outstretched hands. She returned for a third try and dug in her heels. I was rehearsing on how I would deal with her disappointment. I then looked back at the pipe to see that Michael was stretched unnaturally far from the lip. Mark had grabbed his ankles. If he fell, he'd be sliding down the pipe and picking splinters out of his face. The crowd started to notice and shouted to Chandra "Come on, you can do it." "Go, go, go!!" Chandra sprinted to the pipe, launched from the bottom and their fingers clasped together. He grabbed her other wrist and started slowly pulling up but losing strength. "Stand on my head!" he shouted. She yelled "I'm not going to stand on your head!" Voices in the crowd yelled "Help her! Help her!" and others on top moved over and helped pull her on top of the lip. Loud roars of "Yeah!!" and applause followed.
A father's pride grew three sizes that day.
At the finish, rather than individually dashing across the finish line, daughter Alex - who was also celebrating her birthday -- had us link arms and together we walked into the end zone to receive our orange headbands, a cup of beer and some energy bars. Each member of that team could have finished the course in three hours. But, because they stuck by my side, it took us six hours. It didn't seem to matter to them how long it took; they genuinely wanted to do this together.
Today, I sit here with my hot cup of tea, my leg propped up on pillows and feeling proud of these big-hearted people who I call my family and soon to be family.
Oh, yeah. The next day Michael, using the Jumbotron at the Cubs-Sox game, proposed to Chandra. She accepted.
Did I bury the lead again?
UPDATE: Found out May 30 that, in fact, I will need a knee replacement. Bone on bone, doctor says. I'll have a matching set.