Local firefighters Gideon Schwartz and Rich Olsen enjoy finding ways to challenge themselves.
Both participate in triathlons and marathons and have tried mud runs, races resembling obstacle courses but with more extreme challenges and elements.
Schwartz and Olsen decided they wanted to create an event that would not only test physical strength, but also personify the traits of being firefighters.
The result, named the “Hardcore Mudd Run” is a series of more than 20 obstacles located on the hillsides and forests of Tussey Mountain coming this September.
“The reason they started it was because they had done some races, and they saw it as a great way to have a fun event to instill ideals of firefighting, camaraderie, the effort and dedication it takes,” Fred Williamson, HMR director of public relations and marketing, said.
This will be the first HMR by Schwartz and Olsen. The event is taking place Sept. 8 and 9, and so far about 1,000 people are registered to participate, Williamson said. The course can accommodate up to 5,000 people, he said.
During these two days, participants will face obstacles that Williamson said require contestants to utilize one of the most significant traits of firemen: brotherhood.
“There are obstacles there that 90 percent of people could not do by themselves,” he said. “Anybody can do it if you have enough people helping you.”
One such obstacle is called “Up and Over.” Participants will need to climb up-and-over a series of rock walls that range from eight to 12 feet in height.
Another obstacle, “Cargo Mountain,” requires participants to climb a 22-foot tall cargo net set at a 45-degree incline.
But not all the obstacles involve climbing.
An example is “Welcome to the Jungle,” which the HMR website describes “think bungee cord maze coupled with an obstacle course in a jungle gym in pitch-black darkness!”
Crawling and wading through water and mud is necessary in many of the obstacles. The obstacle “Sugar Cookie” has participants run through a pool of water. They then have to crawl through a sandpit, which Williamson said leads to discomfort.
Finally, there is “Fire Diver.” Participants need to crawl under fire-lit propane rods while trudging through mud. One wrong maneuver can lead to some hair loss, Williamson said.
The obstacles have been designed so about only 50 percent of all the participants finish the entire course, he said.
Participants do not have to fully complete an obstacle to finish the course, however. The only way a participant can be disqualified is if they do not at least attempt all the obstacles, Williamson said.
Even if a participant fails to complete the obstacle, they are allowed to advance. Those who are disqualified can complete the course, but they will not receive the T-shirt or dogtags awarded as prizes afterward.
Despite the course’s intensity, Schwartz said he encourages anybody to attempt the course. Anyone who participates does not have to have an athletic physique, he said — it depends more on determination.
There are currently more women than men signed up, Williamson said, and the average age of the participants is between 30 and 35.
Also, unlike other mud runs, there is no timing or winners in the HMR. Schwarz said one purpose of the race is for people to work together instead of competing against one another.
“The only competition you have is with yourself,” he said.
Schwartz and Olsen also created the competition as a means to give back to the community.
Some of the proceeds gathered from the registration costs will go to the Geisinger Children’s Medical Network. Schwartz said Olsen chose the network because of the help it provided to his son when the latter was ill.
Some members of the Children’s Miracle Network are participating in the HMR, too. Vanessa Houser, a fundraising coordinator with the network, will be attending with the team “Miracle Mothers,” which consists of her two sisters and brother-in-law.
Houser said she started preparing for the HMR by doing some running and strength exercises, but she is jumping into the competition with little experience. Despite this, Houser said she saw the HMR as a great cause and a benefit to the Children’s Miracle Network.
Houser said she is slightly intimidated by some of the obstacles, but she thinks her team will complete the course.
“We’re a little too stubborn to give up,” she said.
At the end of the challenge, participants have the option of donating their shoes to an orphanage in Rwanda. Schwartz said he visited Rwanda and has done mission work there. It was his idea to donate the shoes after they have been cleaned.