Monday, May 20, 2013

Armageddon Ambush - May 11, 2013

I wavered over what to call this post. Should I title it the way I title all of my race reports, or do I title it based on the real meaning behind the race. Because if it is the latter, the more appropriate title would be "A life changing experience," or the "race to bring it all into perspective."

Either way, that is what this post is about... both a race report, and about a life changing experience that brings it all into perspective.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Beach Beast 5K where I met an amazing man named Thomas Mills, a man who is a below-the-knee amputee who raises awareness about the needs of amputees. Then a few days later, I wrote a bit more about Tom, and his website (Superman Walks/ RAAAN), and about his experience bringing a man named Matthew (who had lost his lower left leg in a motorcycle accident 9 months ago) to his first Mud Run, and the empowering events that took place that day.

Upon hearing about the amazing things that Tom was doing, I knew that I wanted to be involved with his work, in any way possible. I messaged Tom a lot, and eventually we made an arrangement where Ray would walk the Armageddon Ambush with the Superman Walks team, and I would walk along with them as their photographer. It turned out that Ray's sprained foot wasn't doing any better (we would find out a couple of days later it was actually broken), so he bailed on the event, but I was able to still attend.


We were asked to be there at 9am to be ready to start walking at 10, but we wound up not really stepping off until the 11am wave. That allowed me some time to get to know some of the other team members and work with Felicia (Matthew's mom) in selling some bracelets to raise funds for their anticipated trip to Boston to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. I don't know what the final tally was on our fundraising efforts for the day, but the donation boxes were full by the time we packed them up in the car to head out on our race.

When it was time to start the race, there were probably about 20 team-members (the group got smaller as we progressed because Karma Athletes had a fundraiser for the superman walks project at the beach to prepare for, but it was a good turn out. We took a few photos and proceeded to the start line.

This was Matthew's second OCR, and while he had participated in an OCR in the past, this one seemed a little tough on him. The terrain was rough, and the bumps caused a lot of pain in his injured knee. He may have pushed too hard with speed out of the start line, and he quickly became fatigued. His arms were sore from the work of pushing his wheelchair, and his leg hurt from the vibration of the terrain.

But as sore as he was, he impressed me every step of the way.

As you may recall, I suffered from debilitating asthma and allergies. As an adult the asthma is a bit more under control, and after 48 months of immunotherapy, my allergies are a bit more manageable. I still get winded easily (particularly when going up stairs), and I frequently get down on myself and my own abilities. Then add in the fact that somewhere along the line this year, I developed a severe issue with the fascia across the arches of my feet, and when on uneven terrain each step can be excruciating. All of this is enough for me to kick off my running shoes and say to hell with it all. no more. I JUST CAN'T DO THIS.

But then to see the way that Matthew handles himself. It floors me. There are so many things that I can say about this event. I could tell you about terrain or the obstacles. I could tell you about the water crossings or the powder packs. I could tell you about the fact that this group quickly adopted an attitude of only going to fast as the slowest person. I could tell you about the amazing people that I met and had the opportunity to both laugh and cry with. I could tell you about the jokes or the water and mud fights. There is just so much to say.

But I wont do any of that. Because, no matter what I say, this was one of those things that you kind of had to be there to fully understand. So instead, I will tell two stories, and share some photos. 

The first story is about Matthew (and yes, I have asked if it would be OK to share this) and what happened when we reached an uneven balance beam obstacle... At first Matthew didn't know the best way to approach this obstacle. He was already in severe amounts of pain, and already feeling a bit drained physically and emotionally, and could not readily come up with a method of tacking this obstacle. He sat on the balance beam and scooted his butt across the beam, but quickly became frustrated saying that it was all pointless. He recognized that he wasn't doing the beam like it had been designed, and he was getting down on himself. When I asked what the problem was, he looked me dead in the eye and said this was something he could have done a year ago, and he wasn't going to do it like this. 

Before reaching the quarter of the way mark, Matthew stood up and asked for his chair. He was quitting the obstacle. I've been there. I understood the frustration and the feeling as if people were watching me struggle with an obstacle and fail. I've quit obstacles and felt angry with myself later for quitting so easily. The thought of Matthew quitting an obstacle without fully attempting it broke my heart.

I asked to speak with him privately and told him that I've struggled a lot with limitations in my life. But Amy, you don't know what it is like to lose your leg. As much as hearing him say that to me stung, he was right.

I DON'T know what it is like. And *thank God* for that. It absolutely sucks that anyone has to know what it is like to lose their leg, and it sounds callous, but thankfully it was someone else other than me. I am NOWHERE near strong enough to handle something like that. Thankfully, I don't have to know what it is like to lose a limb, and hopefully I never have to experience that, but we each have our proverbial crosses to bear.

We each have limitations. I have mine, and for years I allowed myself to be defined by my limitations (and I even sunk so low as to define myself by my limitations). At some point though, we have to step up and say enough is enough. I will not be defined by what I *can't* do. I will only be defined by what I *CAN* do.

I told Matthew all of this. And perhaps my delivery wasn't that great. Perhaps I came across as meaner than I had intended, and the next few days I felt awful for how I said what I did, but the truth is... I needed Matthew to try the obstacles to the best of his ability. I needed inspiration to get me through the obstacles that I am sure to face throughout the rest of my life. I needed to see someone else overcome diversity. I needed that extra boost for the next time I get down on myself.

Because somewhere deep inside, I realize that if anyone deserves the right to wallow in self-pity or to get down on themselves, it is someone who has experienced something so life-altering as unexpected limb loss. I'm not saying that he should do those things, but rather that I would understand if he did. I told him all of this, and more. And in the end, he agreed to give it another shot with the support of a couple of the men on the team. And we cheered. We cheered like we had never cheered before. And Matthew did it. And the smile on his face at the end, and seeing how empowered he had become by having given it another shot made it all worth it.

The second story is about me. The next obstacle on the course (after the balance beam) was a half pipe ramp that we were supposed to get a running start on and pull ourselves to the top of. I have seen this at events before... and knew that I would never be able to accomplish something like this for a plethora of reasons. I have problems with breathing when sprinting (something needed to overcome this obstacle), I seriously lack the upper body strength to pull myself requiring that someone help me, I am so self-conscious about my weight that I worry that people at the top of the ramp wont be able to pull me to the top if I need help, and lets not forget that dang foot pain.

Thomas knew that I had some significant reservations about this obstacle... and he insisted that everyone (read: EVERYONE) have the opportunity to overcome this obstacle.

And coming off of the inspirational high from witnessing Matthew overcome the balance beam, I was ready to give this ramp a try. Tom and Matthew's father lay on the platform and everyone else gathered around for encouragement, as I raced toward the ramp and began the incline. I felt that I was going to come up short and everything happened in slow motion. I gave one final push with my legs and my fingertips grazed Tom's. I thought for sure I was going to fall.

Yes, that's me!
But I felt hands close around my wrists and I realized my feet were still underneath me. Using them to help stabilize me, I pulled myself to the top, and did something I thought was never possible.

It sounds like such a small thing at the end of this post about people who are stronger than me and who overcome things I hope to never be faced with, but I cannot explain how amazing it was to go to this event expecting to help empower someone else to overcome life's challenges, and realize that I have been encouraged and empowered to step out of my own comfort zone just the same.

Ray and I are not new to obstacle races as we have done a few by now, but we are definitely no experts. Ray continues to want to do this type of event, while me, I am not sure that my feet can handle the uneven ground... I actually told Ray after the Beach Beast event that I was finished with OCRs altogether... but as long as there is a place for me on the Superman Walks Project team, I'll be there with bells on.

There is just something so amazing about being involved in something so much larger than ourselves. I am proud to have participated in this event and am thankful for the new friendships I have made. I look forward to next time.

If my readers don't quite understand how life altering this event was, I would encourage them to join me on the next event that I attend with the Superman Walks Project team. That way, you can see for yourself!

Go ahead. Join us. I dare you.


  1. Awesome blog Amy! So heartfelt! It was an honor and pleasure meeting you and walking with you on this team. I look forward to many more races. You have also inspired me to start running more. I currently can only last a mile before i am ready to die. I have had heart surgery and then a lung biopsy last year so my lung capacity is not great but I will not let that be a factor for me!!

    1. Thank you so much. I am so touched by your story as well, and excited to hear that you have taken at least a small amount of inspiration from hearing about what I've been doing. I would suggest double checking with your doctors before pushing it... but when you've done that, you are welcome on my team any time!