- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There was an event in Virginia the last week of October called Tough Mudder. These events are popping up around the country and are typically 10 miles of grueling endurance tests loaded with obstacles that are wholly unsafe for the unprepared.

In Wintergreen, Va., the course wound around the steep elevation changes of skiing slopes. The people who choose to do these events sign a death waiver and pay an entry fee to participate. Injuries are probable.

Unlike typical 10K races or biathlons I have done, the Tough Mudder truly sets itself apart on a few crucial levels. First, it is not so much about pure fitness, as evidenced by the likely outcome of injury, nor is it so much about a race, since almost no one is trying to win. It’s also not a status event; you won’t see a photograph of a filthy and bleeding Tough Mudder crossing a finish line on the cover of Time or even a Wheaties box. The race is about toughness, but there is something else there, something deeper and distinctly cultural that should be appreciated.

Classically American traits, such as rugged individualism, strength, enterprise, cheerfulness and, of course, toughness are on full display throughout the day at a Tough Mudder event. There was even a moment of public prayer at the start of the recent Virginian event.

Reflecting on this, I have come to believe there are cultural forces at work that shed light on what is fueling this phenomenon. America is struggling with the effects of a poor economy, heightened political divisiveness and multiple wars. People can sense unrest and yet have few ways to materially respond. There are people who have a need to demonstrate their kinship and solidarity with the burdens our society is facing. Those who participate in this event are offering a rebuke to the notion that America is weak, soft or lazy. They are viscerally protesting the sense that they can’t succeed at something on their own, they are demonstrating that they can face - even crave - difficult challenges.

They are the sort of people who are offended by trophies given out just for showing up, the banning of dodgeball or tag as too dangerous or too damaging to fragile emotional states. They are revulsed by people who produce nothing, take risks with other people’s money and then expect exemptions from consequence if the risk fails.

These tough Americans are the intellectual descendents of pilgrims, pioneers and prospectors, probably once all considered “nuts” by those on the sidelines. These folks provide an emotional polar opposite to those who protest for more handouts from the government. They are risk-takers, entrepreneurs and in many cases, veterans - and their spirit is the quality that revives and renews America in her hours of need.

America still possesses vast numbers of citizens such as these. At events such as the Tough Mudder, they are saying: We are still here. We still love life and liberty and we’re still happy. God bless all “tough” Americans.

PATRICK SWANSON

Manassas Park, Va.

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