If you’ve run a Tough Mudder anytime since 2011, you’ve probably seen Mudder Nation’s most decorated Legionnaire: Jim Campbell, or as he is more widely known “Da Goat”. Named for for his aggressive Incline running style, Campbell became the first person to finish 100 Tough Mudder events when he crossed the finish line at Tough Mudder Colorado 2016, the same site where he completed his first and fiftieth mudder event.
While he didn’t step onto the course and into the mud until 2011, Da Goat’s Tough Mudder journey started in October of 2009. It was then that, at age 45, the former top-ranked American Motorcycle Association racer was struck by two semi trucks and thrown over a highway embankment and into a ravine. His 800-pound Harley Screamin’ Eagle Ultra-Classic landed on him, breaking his neck and driving his femur through his hip. “When people rushed out of their cars, I overheard them saying that I was dead,” Jim recalls. “I gained enough strength to move my hand, and someone screamed that I was alive.”
Shocked at any sign of life from the wreckage, the stranger on the scene ran toward Jim and lifted the bike off his body. The bystanding civilians were far from the only ones who initially counted Jim out, however. “When they were putting me in the ambulance, a policeman tried to get a statement from me,” says Jim. “The paramedic shut the door on his face adding, ‘He won’t even make it to the hospital.’”
Jim spent the next six months confined to a cerebral halo in and out of ICUs. “My neurosurgeon said that I should be paralyzed,” Jim says. “My orthopedic surgeon said I’d be lucky to walk again.” Living with four stainless steel pins screwed into his head, Jim was warned that even a slight fall could leave him dead. For the top ranked AMA racer and a 1984 USA Olympic windsurfing team qualifier, a life of stagnancy was unthinkable.
Over the next year, Jim had one mission: to get his life back on track. Setbacks came and went, but he vowed to not become his injury. “If it wasn’t for those two doctors saying I’d never return to my former self, I could have given up,” Jim says. “My motto became: Someday someone will tell you you can’t do something. Later you will thank them.”
In the months of recovery that followed, physical baby steps became metaphorical leaps and bounds. “The miracles just don’t stop with you,” Jim remembers one doctor telling him.
Then one day in February 2011, a post in Jim’s Facebook feed caught his eye. “I saw a photo of a guy jumping through fire,” Jim recalls. “One of my Facebook friends shared a post looking for teammates to join The Toughest Event On the Planet.” Almost instinctively, Jim opened a private message. “As long as you don’t mind an old cripple on your team, I’m in,” he wrote. Having received no other serious inquiries, Jim’s friend was relieved to have a teammate.
“This was the challenge I needed to shoot for,” says Jim, who started training at Colorado Springs’s storied Manitou Incline, a steep-grade hiking trail that rises over 2,000 feet in just under a mile, in preparation for his first mud run. Throughout training, the on-course obstacles in his future symbolized the real life obstacles of his present. “Sometimes people who want to fight stuff in life have no avenue,” says Jim. For him, training for Tough Mudder became this avenue. And as the positivity in Jim’s attitude increased, so did the outcomes of his doctors’ visits. “One day, I went to the doctor’s and he was absolutely shocked at the improvement of my cardiovascular system,” says Jim. “My Incline training was obviously paying off.”
While Jim was clearly getting back into shape, any hiking trail is a far cry from a full military obstacle course. And as event day grew closer, Jim accepted that he was as ready as he’d ever be.
“At the start line, I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’” Jim admits. “I was so nervous and filled with doubt.” As the sound of the start gun faded into the thin Colorado air, however, so did some nerves. “At the beginning I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad,’” says Jim. “Then out of nowhere I had my ‘shit just got real’ moment.”
But after hours of overcoming obstacles, both internal and external, Jim finished his first Tough Mudder. “I was limping, covered in mud,” Jim recalls. But the finish line was only the beginning, “Tough Mudder quickly went from a challenge to a lifestyle for me,” said Jim.
In the years that followed, Jim traveled the world attending more and more events. He completed 6 events in Canada, 4 in Ireland, 4 in Scotland, 4 in England, and 2 in Germany. He’s also one of only a handful of people who have competed in all 5 World’s Toughest Mudder events.
When you attend as many events as Jim, you manage to make a few friends. Or in his case, hundreds of them. And many of them flew in from all around the country to help him celebrate his monumental achievement. The Saturday morning 8am start wave in Snowmass was packed with friends and admirers, all wearing gear with his signature #GOATTOUGH logo.
Throughout his lap, Jim did as he always does. He cruised along at a steady pace, chatting and laughing with friends and strangers alike. As Jim and his team approached Electroshock Therapy, the final obstacle of his 100th event, they were joined by even more of of his friends. Many had finished their laps earlier, and had waited around to witness Jim get presented with a hand crafted steel “100th Tough Mudder” headband.
As the headband was placed on his head, Jim joked at how similar it looked to the steel cerebral halo that he had been confined to for all those months following his accident. In a way, it was a fitting reminder of how far he had come, and how much he had achieved.