After completing Tough Muddy Philly last year, Mudder Ian Panter was in a devastating car accident that left him in a coma for a period of time. But his recovery has been truly remarkable, and he and his team will be #RunningForIan and showing off their Mudder spirit on June 2nd in Michigan.
Here’s what I remember: My excitement at meeting my friend Clint in Ohio and driving 7 hours together (in addition to the 3 I’d already driven from my home in Michigan) for Toughest Mudder Philadelphia. I had run Toughest Atlanta the previous month and was disappointed that I didn’t qualify for contender status at Worlds in Vegas that year.
I remember rolling up to the Airbnb not too far from the course, a spruced-up, modernized log cabin with several rooms and a pool table that kept our group entertained all night.
I remember setting up my bed on the couch—I’d drawn the short straw—and turning in for the night. I had a long day planned and wanted as much sleep as possible to meet my goal of 25 miles, so come November at Worlds I would be able to yell “contender coming through” with a smile on my face.
I remember waking up around 6 am to get to the course, as we were all running that Saturday morning, Toughest that night and Sunday Funday if our legs had any juice left in them. I know, not the brightest idea for someone attempting to reach 25 miles. But then again, we were all there for our love of Tough Mudder and the community of people. That’s what made every weekend feel like a vacation instead of a competition.
With the three events that weekend and a few more still to come that year, I would have reached my 25th event, and I won’t lie—the idea of the 25X silver and black headband excited me. But the idea that I had come from losing 50 pounds just four years earlier was a great motivator.
Let’s back up a bit: I was living out west at the time and remembered getting on the scale and watching it read 221 pounds. I’m 5’10 on a good day and I was already wearing a size 40 dress pant and XL suit jacket for work. I hated the way I looked and, more importantly, how I felt, so I decided to do something about it. I remember that week going for my first run in ages and huffing and puffing in the Las Vegas heat. I don’t know how far I went because MapMyRun didn’t have a setting for blocks, and I turned around deflated. But I kept at it and ran an extra block or two each time, until eventually I heard a sound I never thought I would: the voice from MapMyRun telling me I had reached a mile and the time it took to get there. I was shocked but felt extremely proud, and I vowed then and there I would go that same mile and beat my previous time my next run.
Over the next several months I joined a gym, ran almost every day, and became annoyingly strict about what I ate and drank. I don’t think I had a beer in over a year and fast food became a thing of the past. I had two goals I wanted to accomplish: running a half marathon, and completing a Tough Mudder.
They say you never forget your first….Tough Mudder that is. Mine was Michigan (I had moved home to Michigan in late 2013) in September 2014, and I ran it with my brother in-law. It didn’t take long to get a sense of the comradery on the course. My brother in-law, who is a 6’4 firefighter, was volunteered to be the bottom of obstacles like Pyramid Scheme and graciously accepted. There was always a helpful hand reaching back when I needed one, and I was hooked. That next year I completed four more events and 10 the year after that. I had even reached out to some local runners and found a meetup group run by a couple Legionnaires, John and Jordan, who taught me how to train and (theoretically) make the obstacles easier.
That Saturday morning of Tough Mudder Philly I had come across the usual cast of characters in the first wave; we listened to Sean Corvelle motivate us all and headed out for the start. The group I was hanging with that morning was attempting to map out Toughest for the night, and I stayed with them as it was a nice slow pace that would help me keep some energy for the night to come.
Our group finished the course and I sat back and relaxed with my finisher beer and free bag of chips, knowing it was going to be a long night. While watching finishers come though and succeed or fail on Kong and wrap up their day on the course I found my ride, Adam, who was staying with us at the Airbnb and also running Toughest that night.
I remember leaving the Mudder village…and that was the last thing I remember for nearly two months. I have snippets from the airplane ride back to Michigan and of the ambulance ride to rehab but luckily that’s it. Doctors say that’s actually a good thing, as it could lead to PTSD or flashbacks and anxiety while driving or being a passenger in a car—one more thing on the already lengthy list I have to be thankful for.
It was mid-June when I started being able to remember where I was at, where I had come from, and being told how I got there. I was so relieved when I learned that Adam was OK. It may sound a little crazy, but I was alive—and every other challenge I faced would be met head on.
During inpatient PT, OT, and speech therapy I had to be repeatedly told to slow down and think about something before I did it. It was frustrating: Mentally I was prepared to face the obstacle in my way, but it was still tough physically. A year later, my balance is still a problem and I’m dealing with some neurological issues, like numbness in my toes, hand, and lips that may never go away. My days of actually running are over—and I can’t decide if I’m bummed or relieved.
After a while, I was given my phone back and allowed access to social media, and it was overwhelming, to say the least, to see the enormous outpouring of support from family, friends, and the Tough Mudder community. I’m not really an emotional person, but after reading all the Facebook posts for what felt like hours, I wept. My sister and my mother told me that they finally understood my love for Tough Mudder and why I always drove hours to these events. They were in shock how quickly the community came together and raised money for the GoFundMe account that got me home to Michigan and helped pay for my medical expenses while things are getting worked out with insurance companies.
The Tough Mudder community has been even more supportive than I could have ever imagined. That’s why I’m so very excited to make my way back to the mud on June 2nd in Michigan. I will be walking the course with a large group of fellow Mudders who will be assisting me with certain obstacles. I’ve always said you may start a Tough Mudder course alone, but you certainly won’t end one that way. So if you see me, feel free to stop and say hi. I’ll I be the one with a big smile on my face.