Thursday, May 23, 2013

When I say David, you say Warsen


Last weekend was one of the craziest weekends I’ve had in a long time.  My husband and I traveled to the Chicago area to watch my brother Brian compete in the 2013 Chicago Tough Mudder event.  If you’ve never heard of the Tough Mudder before, you have to check it out.  My brother and his best Air Force buddy Chad decided last year that they’d both begin training, grow Duck Dynasty-type beards, and plan to run this 11-mile military obstacle course.  But, it’s no ordinary course.  It’s dubbed as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”  There is fire involved.  There is ice involved.  There is electric shock involved.  And, of course, there is a lot of mud involved.  It’s not as much a race as it is a physical and mental challenge.  And believe it or not, the quirky event organizers turn it into a Philanthropic Frenzy! 

The concept of charitably helping others was evident in every aspect of this event that can only be described as organized chaos.  Tough Mudders all across the world raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).  To date Tough Mudder has raised over $5.5M for WWP to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members.  BiC 4 Good was at the Mudder as well. The well-known razor company donated money to WWP for each and every Mohawk they cut that day.  Yes, my 40-year old brother and his each member of his team got one! (Their wives were thrilled! J)  But, hey, it was for a good cause, right? 

Then at the end of the race, participants donated their mud-covered tennis shoes to a group called GreenSneakers.  They de-mud-ify the shoes and provide them to those that have none in developing countries like Tanzania.  With more than 460,000 competitors in 2012…that’s a lot of shoes!  The giving just never stopped.  It was just one crazy philanthropic-filled day!

Brian’s flight launched at 9:20 with a drill sergeant giving them directions and motivating them to work as a team.  It was a people-watchers paradise as many wore outrageous costumes, super hero capes, cheetah bodysuits and one 3-piece suit, just to name a few.   The Tough Mudder commander walked the crowd billowing orders via a bullhorn (although I doubt that he really needed it).  Then he quietly stopped.  He came across an older gentleman with Team Warsen printed across his chest.  When asked what Team Warsen meant, we all learned that David Warsen was one of America’s Wounded Warriors that didn’t make it home from Afghanistan last August.  I researched this when I got home (see nerd blog from last week).  Warsen, 27, a Navy SEAL, was among 11 killed, including seven U.S. troops, in a Special Operations mission in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.  Team Warsen was completing this challenge in David’s memory.  Upon hearing this heartbreaking news, the drill sergeant began a cadence (listen here) to bring them all back to the real reason they were there.  When I say Wounded, you say Warrior:  Wounded, tap-tap, Warrior, tap-tap.  When I say David, you say Warsen:  David, tap-tap, Warsen, tap-tap. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more American than at that very moment.  I didn’t know David Warsen, but I’ll never forget him.

Another highlight was sitting on the bleachers watching the Everest obstacle.  As you would expect from the name, there was tall wall that each participant had to climb over.  The problem was all of the mud and muck.  It made the surface so slippery that gaining traction after a running start was impossible.  So, we got to watch hundreds of people run as far as they could and then jump as high as they could in hopes that someone at the top of Everest would catch them by the hand and pull them up to the top.  They simply could not have made it to the top without others pulling them up and over.  It looked hard.  Many had to try multiple times.  Plus, after running 11 miles and completing 21 out of 22 challenges, they were exhausted.   That’s why the audience was in such awe to see one Wounded Warrior, with both his left arm and left leg amputated, attempt Everest.  As spectators, we sat there confused as to how this would even be possible.  Then one woman laid down at the bottom of Everest.  The Wounded Warrior stood on her shoulders.  Then another man stood on her shoulders as he pushed the Wounded Warrior up another body’s length.  They built a human chain up to the top of the mountain until someone could catch his hands and pull him up and over.  It obviously had not been planned, yet was orchestrated with such perfection that I had shiver bumps on my arms and tears filling my eyes.  Wounded Warrior made it to the top to roaring cheers and enormous applause and then…he began catching hands and pulling others up and over.  Amazing.  Heartwarming.  Incredible.  That’s what the day was all about.

I never knew David Warsen and never got to meet the Wounded Warrior that they pushed and pulled to the top of Everest.  But, I’m thankful to both of them, as well as my brother Brian and friend Chad, for their service to our country so we can enjoy the freedoms we have in America today.  We often take them for granted.  We shouldn’t.  The Warsen family doesn’t and never will.  Neither will the families of the thousands of Wounded Warriors that do make it back home. 

Want to say thank you?  Click here to make a donation to The Howard L. and Maribel P. Crouse Fund held here at the Community Foundation.  This endowment specifically benefits the Wounded Warrior Project and the terrific work they do.  Or you could always get grow a Duck Dynasty-type beard, get a Mohawk, and run 11 miles through 22 obstacles in an upcoming Tough Mudder.  But, online donations are much easier and a lot less muddy.

P.S.  Want to see more of these crazy pics from my Tough Mudder weekend?  Check them out on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/comfdn.

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