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Tough Mudder Fire walk

when the going gets tough, get a team

Recently, I completed the Tough Mudder event at Pocono Manor. It was definitely tough and very muddy.Tough Mudder Fire walk

I knew it would be a challenging run, so I trained hard. I used a variety of workouts to try to prepare my body. And for the last few days before the event, I did my best to focus almost solely on preparing my mind. Little did I know…

My team mates were also training hard. We had personal and email exchanges about fears and worries that came up. We offered each other affirmation and encouragement and support through the preparations. But for me, the team was key on the day of the event.

My two teammates are Charlie Smith and Greg Tapler. They are younger than me. And that was part of my fear: that I would be old and slow enough that I would frustrate them or at least hold them back.

Tough Mudder Wall

We started off and I felt strong. I focused on the trail — and a good thing as sometimes it was quite rough. The initial challenges seemed surmountable: a wall to climb, mud to crawl through and icy barbed wire to crawl under. Then, we hit the ice bath known as Arctic Enema. The memory lingers just like the intrusive, blue dye that was so hard to wash off. Hitting that freezing cold water, I knew that my muscles would have to work even harder after that chill. But we carried on.

The temperature that morning was only in the upper 30’s (Fahrenheit), so the chill never wore off. By the time we hit the 8th mile, each of us had experienced chattering teeth at least once. My right hip was painful and barely wanted to work when I asked it to. And the obstacles kept coming: Everest, Walk the Plank, and so on. Each one was a challenge in its own way.

Somewhere around 10 or 11 miles, one of my teammates asked if I could jog. My response was simple and instantaneous: “No.” Both teammates indicated that this was fine and they would go at my pace. My fear that I would hold the team back set in again.

If I had been on the course by myself, I would have stopped at this point. I would have said that my hip hurt too much and I needed to just rest. I don’t know if it was shame, fear, passion or some combination, but I knew I wanted to keep going because I was part of the team. I focused my thoughts on keeping my joints loose and light. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the pain really took hold. I kept going.

Greg Tapler rises from the Arctic Enema

But the fear was also at work, so I said: “If you guys want to run ahead, feel free.” One of my teammates answered, “What part of ‘Crossing the finish line together’ don’t you understand?” That line has stuck with me and kept me pondering the wonder of being part of a team ever since.

As an artist, it’s easy to try to go it alone. Maybe we think no one else can or will help us. Maybe we think no one can do things the way we want them. Maybe we’re afraid that we’ll look dumb or like a failure if we ask for help.

What I know right now is that being part of a team is an awesome experience and one that can enliven parts of us that we may not be conscious of without the team. As artists, we can invite supporters, friends, experts in other fields, and so on to be part of our team that will get us through the course. It may or may not be about full collaboration on the art or music. Teamwork in our artistic life just means support of whatever sort we need — much like I experienced in this obstacle course with my team.

Stan Stewart and Charlie Smith at Tough Mudder FinishMay you complete whatever your “Tough Mudder” is these days with the people who will encourage you to cross the finish line.

Playful blessings,

7 thoughts on “when the going gets tough, get a team”

  1. Stan,

    This post made me cry.  (I was also moved to tears in the studio last week when you improvised your “postcard.”)  I felt the intense emotions as I read and followed your journey through the course.

    I know that I don’t want to run the course alone & I don’t want to cross the finish line alone.  It is an incredible feeling to be part of a team and to complete something together. It is so much more meaningful.  People and relationships matter…and really keep us going.  Supporting others and being supported…that’s what life is about.

    For many years of my life, I always chose to go through everything alone…would never ask for help, would never share my process with others.  I was full of fear.  I didn’t want people to judge me as weak, as inferior.  I felt like a nuisance, felt like I’d be in the way.  I didn’t think anyone cared.  And I felt disconnected…from humanity and from myself…and did not know the joy that comes from connection.

    Being part of a team requires vulnerability.  It requires us to open ourselves to others, to allow them to see who we are, what we have to offer, …and what we need.  We also have to listen…really listen…and get to know our teammates at their core level.  It is truly beautiful.  The artistic process does not have to be lonely.  It is a joy to join together and support each other, and the community you have cultivated through your blogging here is a sweet example of artists connecting and supporting each other.

    And I know that you see how this all relates to vulnerability.  It is awesome how you have reflected on this and have viewed this race as not only a test of physical ability but as an opportunity to experience the amazing bond and the commitment and responsibility of being part of a team & that you have seen your run of the Tough Mudder course as a personal growth experience.  I congratulate you for completing the Tough Mudder course and for being willing to open yourself and grow from the lessons it offered you, and I thank you for sharing these reflections and lessons with us!

    1. Susan,

      You’ve been such an incredible supporter through my “Tough Mudder phase”. I’m honored and grateful to have such a wonderful friend.

      Thanks, too, for this comment. I appreciate your vulnerability in responding in such an introspective way.


    1. Thanks, Shannon. Obviously, I know just what you mean. Whether in my marriage, art, business, civic work or anywhere else, doing it as a supportive team makes all the difference.

      Playful blessings,

  2. Sadly, I know some folk whose response to the going getting tough is to ditch whatever team they have around them and struggle on alone – saddest thing ever! You can see them really suffering but if you try to help they fight you off…

    1. Hey, Matt,

      Good to see you outside the Twittersphere.

      I really hear what you’re saying. So, we can only do what we can do: offer help and then be willing to work with the team when it’s our turn to be in stress or struggle.

      I know that it can still be a challenge for me to choose to accept the help of the team. Just curious — Do you find it easy or difficult to allow the team to help you when you’re in over your head?

      Playful blessings,

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