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One for all and all for mud

Parksville friends excel in first 'Tough Mudder' challenge at Whistler's Olympic Park

As competitors, a quintet of Parksville-area athletes did not exactly bring the killer instinct to their first try at the Tough Mudder competition at Whistler’s Olympic Park late last month.

As their closest pursuers closed in, the five men did not put the hammer down. They reached out a lending hand.

“What struck me the most about it was the camaraderie, as well as the challenge of the course,” said Paiton Brierley of Parksville, 23. “It’s a bit of an awesome feeling being in the middle of it. I thought it would be mainly an individual thing, helping your own team. But everybody was willing to help out others.”

The Tough Mudder at Whistler is one of a series of obstacle-course events that pit adventure-seeking athletes against a series of man-made barriers. It is not a competition, per se, and there were no winner’s prizes or trophies awarded.

But Brierley and teammates Colton Schoenke, Austin Gibson, Caleb Price and Tom Davison did manage to finish first in their “wave” of approximately 75 participants, despite stopping to help teams lagging in the back of the previous start wave.

They also assisted their closest pursuers in their own wave, a group from New Brunswick that travelled cross-country to take part in the challenge.

“We were almost like one, bigger group at the end,” said Brierley.

Brierley and Schoenke recruited their teammates after finally deciding to take on their first Tough Mudder earlier this spring. They were spurred to take on the challenge after talking with friends who had completed a Mudder or similar challenge and were intrigued by event videos and television programs like American Ninja Warrior, which also feature obstacle challenges.

“We’re all quite into being athletic and being active,” said Brierley, who rowed competitively at Cardiff University in Wales after medalling in the Canadian High School rowing championships. “I think we saw it as a challenge and a chance to try something new and different.”

Many of the obstacles involved mud pits and steep climbs, and some could only be negotiated with the help of others. Some entrants, Brierley said, took on the challenge as individuals, but had to get help along the way.

“It seemed to be instinctive, the way other teams would stop to lend each other a hand,” he said. “Very few people you saw would just run by other people and leave them stuck.”

Two obstacles that stood out for Brierley were Everest, a tall, slippery wall that the men had to scale before jumping to grab a ledge at the top; and Pyramid Scheme, a 14-foot-tall slippery wall with mud pit in front of it.

“You’re unable to run up,” Brierley said. “We stacked our group members and created a ladder and crawled over one another; it seemed to be the best technique.

“We kind of came up with that on the fly; we got compliments from the organizers who were up at the top. They said, ‘You’re the fastest team we’ve seen on this one.’”

The friends had so much fun they remained at the obstacle for another 10 minutes, helping other groups scale the pyramid.

Initially, the challenge was going to be a one-time effort, Brierley said. But Davison, a friend Schoenke recruited, told them about the World’s Toughest Mudder, a $10,000, 24-hour endurance obstacle challenge near Las Vegas scheduled for next fall. After jokingly agreeing that sounded like fun, the five friends began contemplating actually making the trip, and have since started their own Facebook group to discuss planning for a possible trip there next year.

“I think (Tough Mudder) started out as a bucket list thing, but once we completed it we caught sort of a bug,” said Brierley. “We’re gung-ho on doing more.”

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