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A group of people came together to take part in the South London Tough Mudder to increase awareness of, and raise funds, for AbleChildAfrica, a charity that supports children with disabilities in Africa. The charity is UK based working with and alongside partner organizations in Africa to achieve equal rights for children with disabilities and young people. They work with some of the world’s most vulnerable children. The vision of the charity is a world in which all children with disabilities are fully included as equal members of society and are able to achieve their full potential. Their mission is to promote the realization of equal rights for children with disabilities and their families in Africa and to facilitate their meaningful inclusion in all aspects of life. I know from my experiences of working in this part of the world that there is so much to be done so when charity patron Anne Wafula Strike and other members of the team met me to persuade me to take part it was a very short conversation.
In the spirit of inclusion it would not have been right to undertake the challenge without a person with disability in the team and that role went to Dimitri Coutya a fencer who had just returned from the Paralympic Games in Brazil. Dimitri was knocked over by a car at the age of two and has a T4 Paraplegic meaning that he is paralyzed from the chest down. I have worked in disability sport since 1991 and was sure that Dimitri would complete the Tough Mudder obstacles but was not quite sure how as this was my first Tough Mudder and a challenge for me too as I don’t like heights or being plunged into dirty ice cold water.
It would not have been right to undertake the challenge without a person with disability in the team and that role went to Dimitri Coutya a fencer who had just returned from the Paralympic Games in Brazil.
So this brings me to the team. The on course leader was Ronnie Rich also known as the FitBanker. I had not met Ronnie or Dimitri until the week of the race when we got together with AbleChildAfrica for a pre-event briefing. This was Ronnie’s third Tough Mudder and first with a team member with disability. As for the rest of the team they came together over social media and put themselves forward to be part of this endeavour. As a group we met for the first time on the morning of the challenge and the team spirit and camaraderie was instantaneous. The range of experience in the team was wide ranging from first timers like me to someone doing their 30th to some who had done 50.
The course was 10.5 miles long with 22 obstacles to negotiate that included crossing bales of hay, crawling in mud under barbed wire, going over walls, through the ‘mud mile’, swinging on monkey bars over cold muddy water, crawling through tunnels and ‘electroshock therapy’! In between the obstacles the terrain was tough with fallen trees, large tree roots, water filled ditches, slippery slopes and generally uneven & sometimes very muddy trails.
So we set off in our team of 12 and with the support and encouragement of another team to negotiate the course. I got cold, wet and pushed my own boundaries as I am quite fit but not great at heights and don’t like cold water especially when it is muddy and you can’t see. The team pulled together incredibly to complete the course led by Ronnie and Dimitri. The experience of the multiple Tough Mudders was invaluable in finding solutions to get Dimitri through and over the obstacles sometimes in the wheelchair and sometimes out of it. At times I was kneeling in cold muddy water forming a human bridge and at other I was leant up against a slope with my feet on someone’s shoulders and with somebody else on my shoulders so that Dimitri could clamber over us. The team took turns to push and pull Dimitri’s chair through mud, across uneven ground and up steep slopes. The team lifted him across ditches and carried him over walls. Dimitri’s arm strength and determination made the tasks a little easier. On the flat and downhill we struggled to keep up. When Dimitri lost grip on the wet monkey bars and plunged into the water his immediate reaction was ‘Again, again.’
The experience of the multiple Tough Mudders was invaluable in finding solutions to get Dimitri through and over the obstacles sometimes in the wheelchair and sometimes out of it.
On reflection the thing that stands out for me most about taking part in this challenge is how the team came together with many of us not knowing each other to becoming a fluid and efficient unit that worked together to achieve the common goal of completing the course as a team. The support and encouragement that we received on the course from the other teams was fantastic. The stand out obstacle for me was ‘Block Ness Monster” where two large rotating blocks in water have to be negotiated. To achieve this we needed not only the cooperation of our own team but the collaboration of several other teams on the obstacle at the same time as us. This happened to be one of the obstacles on the spectator route and the reception Dimitri and the team received from fellow participants and the spectators was superb.
To achieve this we needed not only the cooperation of our own team but the collaboration of several other teams on the obstacle at the same time as us
Many thanks should go to Tough Mudder for making us so welcome and for the great concept that brings out the best in people, and to Wow Mobility for providing the wheelchair. A huge thank you to Ronnie and all the other team members for an experience that I will remember for a very long time. Thank you to Anne Wafula Strike for asking me to be involved. And finally, thank you to Dimitri for being part of the team, and the fencing challenge still stands although I think I know the outcome. It was a fantastic day.
And I am way off my fund raising target so please help me over the final obstacle and donate here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/markbullock1
[Cover photo © Mark Bullock]
Mark is an expert in Paralympic disability inclusive sport, sports development & the broader social impact of sport. He is passionate about inclusion, wellbeing, healthy lifestyles & nutrition. Whilst at the International Tennis Federation he traveled to more than 80 countries developing and promoting wheelchair tennis at all levels. He has attended four Paralympic Games & two Olympics. With extensive experience of developing & delivering sports programmes in developing countries he is keen to use his experience to enhance sporting opportunities for disabled people as a freelance consultant. Mark is experienced public speaker having presented at numerous conferences & workshops around the world.