This past weekend, hundreds of people descended upon Toronto for a unique event. Named “Tough Mudder“, the event is the adult’s extreme version of the obstacle courses you ran through as a child. From the Tough Mudder website:
Hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. As the leading company in the booming obstacle course industry, Tough Mudder has already challenged half a million inspiring participants worldwide and raised more than $3 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.
As described above, the event is more than a physical challenge. It’s designed to push you to your limits, and to be more than a single person fighting for the lead. It’s not a competition, it’s a group challenge. And when you take a look at some of the obstacles, you see why: jumping into a tank full of ice and water and swimming underneath a bar below the ice; running through a field of fire; crawling through pipes buried under the ground; and finally, running through a 20-foot-long area with thousands of live wires hanging down, some with thousands of volts coursing through them. By no means an easy challenge.
But a larger point of the challenge is supporting your group of fellow challengers, urging them on to the finish, helping them over walls, helping them up when they stumble and encouraging them when they start to falter mentally. In the end, it’s not about finishing the fastest, or beating your friends, but rather completing an event that pushes every muscle and uses all your mental will.
That’s why the Olympics capture our attention. Contra my colleague Peter Stockland’s blog last week, that’s why sports matter. As great as it is to win, it’s the journey that compels us.
Put aside the Olympics’ patriotism and gold medals, and you find amateur athletes who are dedicating years and training day in and day out to be able to compete for just two weeks—usually one or two days per athlete—on the world stage. The journey is not an easy one. It can’t be done without support and hard work. It can’t be done without falling down and being able to muster the strength to get back up. It’s not possible to continue without someone encouraging you, telling you that those live wires are merely playing against your fears more than anything else.
Peter missed the point of the Olympics. It’s not about the medals, but about the obstacles that were overcome. Whether we consciously admit it or not, the journey is what captures us.