This blogpost was written with the help of Deanna Blegg and in of celebration of upcoming release of It Takes A Tribe: Building The Tough Mudder Movement by Tough Mudder CEO and Founder Will Dean.
Deanna Blegg first learned about World’s Toughest Mudder after hearing about Tough Mudder Nation on the radio in her home country, Australia in 2012. She immediately went on Google to learn more and World’s Toughest Mudder came up. She knew she had to sign up. It combines her passions: running, adventure, and the unknown, after all.
The first time she took the course she might not have understood the camaraderie, respect, encouragement, cheer and inspiration of Mudder Nation. But now, Deanna is no stranger to Mudder Nation or World’s Toughest Mudder, and has become a well-known name in the mud. At the second WTM in 2012, Deanna placed second female and third overall. The following year, at WTM 2013, she placed first, boasting 85 miles, or 17 laps on the 5-mile loop course. Then again in 2015 she was on the podium with another third place win to her name.
While many are aware of Deanna’s accomplishments on course, few know her story out of the mud.
At the age of 23 Deanna contracted HIV, and shortly after, AIDS. It wasn’t until 1996 when medication became available in Australia, but “It was then I could start focusing on living again and not just waiting to die,” she says. Her first goal was to start a family and her second was to gain back the fitness she had lost while sick.
So after having two children, one at the age of 28 and the second five years later at age 33, Deanna started to workout out again. Soon she was studying to become a personal trainer, which gave her flexible hours to train and workout once her kids began school.
Deanna’s first stunt at adventure racing was the Tough Bloke Challenge, a 5K obstacle course race. Shortly after she heard about and took on a much muddier challenge: Tough Mudder Melbourne. Her goal to be within the top 5% so she could qualify for WTM. She was successful.
Soon, adventure racing was traded entirely for obstacle racing. “Obstacle racing was a lot less demanding on the body and the community support in OCR was a joyful surprise” Deanna said. Plus, she says,“Elitism is very hard to find in the sport” which is just part of the reason why she kept (and keeps) returning to World's Toughest Mudder.
But in June of 2016 while in China, Deanna noticed a lump on her ribs. The first day she returned home, she had it checked out by her doctor. “He didn’t like the look of it so he referred me to get a mammogram and ultrasound,” she says. Deanna was diagnosed with grade 3 triple-negative invasive aggressive breast cancer. WTM 2016 was immediately off the table.
At first, she did as much research as she could on her condition. But then she stopped. “The prognosis didn’t look good. I didn’t need to read that, and instead thought that if Lance Armstrong can have a 2% chance of survival and make it through, so can I.”
Rather than fret over what she couldn’t control, Deanna took a different approach. “I look at most things in life as “adapt and overcome,” she says. “I accepted the cancer and accepted the process I needed to go through to have it treated. I was not at war with it. I was really at peace. I did what I could in my days. Often I felt really well and could train. Other days I spent time in bed resting.” Her goals for the 2016 Tough Mudder season were to recover and do all the healing she needed to become vital again.
This year, Deanna’s health, tenacity, strength, and love of WTM will bring her home to her Tough Mudder family at the 2017 WTM event.
‘There is no event like WTM on the planet. The support for every individual out there on course was very new to me. All through the night at every obstacle, every person who passes offers words (and sometimes grunts) of encouragement.” While Deanna often struggles to explain the magic of WTM to Australian friends and family and why she is returning for the 2017 season, she’s learned to succinctly describe the experience: “I just say you have to do it–then you will understand.”
To read more inspiring Tough Mudder stories, pre-order It Takes A Tribe: Building The Tough Mudder Movement written by Tough Mudder CEO and Founder Will Dean.