In training for a Tough Mudder, most people execute their extreme workouts in gyms. Others take a more hands-on approach—hitting the great outdoors and channeling their inner animal. One Mudder, however, takes animalistic training to a whole new level.
Meet 24-year-old safari park keeper and future Tough Mudder Scotland finisher Graeme Alexander, practitioner of quite possibly the world’s ‘wildest’ workout routine. So with whom and where does Graeme train? With Rhinos. At a safari park. In Scotland.
Yeah. We had some questions too.
So Graeme, what exactly do you do for a living?
I'm a large mammal keeper at Blairdrummond Safari Park. I look after two African elephants, four southern white rhinos and three Grant’s zebras. I clean out enclosures, feed the animals and look out for their health and wellbeing.
How did you hear about Tough Mudder Scotland?
A friend and colleague, who is also a keeper here, and I were discussing participating in runs or physical challenges to raise money for charity. We looked online for events taking place nearby and my friend stumbled across Tough Mudder. He sent me the link, and the rest is history.
What charities are you raising money for?
I’m raising money for two charities: Help for Heroes, which supports wounded members of the military and Tusk, which promotes wildlife conservation and education programs across Africa. Help for Heroes is a charity that everybody should hold dear to their hearts because these men and women offer to give their lives for us. On the other hand, working with African elephants and southern white rhinos is really what inspired me to raise money for Tusk. What makes this charity stand out for me is their aim to educate. Everyone knows conservation is important but education is key.
What was your boss’s reaction when you asked him to use the park to train?
To be honest, it was my manager that put forward the idea. When I first told him I was doing a Tough Mudder, he made a joke about how I would need to train. It didn't stay a joke for very long though, as I was soon doing pull-ups in the elephant house, running with hay bales and wading through mud. It was all my manager’s idea.
My job is physically demanding, so I just use it to my advantage.
What is your overall Tough Mudder training regimen like?
I go to the gym when I can and go for a run most nights. I live near the bottom of Stirling Castle, one of Scotland's largest castles, so to run up to there most nights is a challenge in itself. At the safari park, I don’t really have a set regimen. My job is physically demanding, so I just use it to my advantage. It cuts down on the time I need to spend in a gym.
What do safari park patrons say when they get a glimpse of you training?
To be fair, the public don't actually see me training. I do most of my training once my work is complete or on my break, and mostly, it’s out of view of the public. After all, they come to see the animals, not some crazy man covered in mud. However, I have explained to people what I’ve been doing and that I’ve been doing it for charity. The feedback I have received has been positive, and I appreciate all the sponsors that have helped thus far.
More importantly: what reaction do the rhinos have to you sludging around in the mud?
I must say that at no point am I in the same yard as the rhinos, but they can sometimes see me from the other yard. It's hard to read a rhinos' expressions, but I think I see what-on-earth-is-he-doing confusion. Generally, though, they just get on with their own thing.
Educate us. What’s one thing that everyone should know about endangered animals?
The one thing that everyone should know is that [animals becoming endangered] is a very real problem. If things don't change, these animals are going to become extinct. Everyone has heard the term “endangered,” but I don't think that people actually realize what that means. For example, rhinos are being poached at such a rate that there is a very, very real chance that they won't exist in our children's lifetime. It's real, it's happening, and we all have to play our part to make it stop. These beautiful animals should live forever and not die for greed.