This past weekend’s tragedy at the Original Mud Run is still resonating across the obstacle racing world. I think for many it’s brought into sharp focus something we have joked about and race founders tout as a marketing grab; “you could die!” While it may never be known what exactly led to that competitor’s death, we can assume he drowned while trying to negotiate a river crossing. Race organizers claim there were safety personnel on site and precautions in place. Participants of the event are giving conflicting accounts. Some claim there were no lifeguards, others that there were. Already the inevitable round of blame and finger pointing is in full swing.
Across the sport supporters of different races are using this sad event to promote their own races superiority and supremacy. I have already heard my fill of the “this could never happen at our events,” claims. Frankly the whole thing saddens me. Not once at any of the events I’ve been to have I seen trained qualified safety personnel anywhere on the course besides the festival area. In fact the majority of these races are staffed by volunteers, many of which sign up to receive a free race and most of which have no first responder training whatsoever.
It is debatable whether or not the presence of a lifeguard could have saved the man lost in Texas, apparently in a crowded river surrounded by people he literally disappeared without a trace. Did OMR fail in their responsibilities to provide a safe atmosphere? What responsibilities did they have legally? If you go by the waiver all of us have had to sign to register for these events, it would seem that the race organizers have no responsibilities whatsoever and the risk and liability is entirely your own. After all if they warn you that the course is inherently dangerous and even potentially life threatening and you proceed any way is it not your fault if something goes wrong? Should race organizers be required to save you from yourself?
Accidents happen. Why is it that whenever they do there’s a rush to demonize someone; someone has to pay! Well in this circumstance someone did pay; with his life. The one responsible for exposing himself to a life-threatening condition died for it. These races by their very danger are extremely risky and dangerous. If you’re living and racing under the delusion that this is all in good fun you need to wake up before you hurt yourself or someone around you. Anytime you engage in activities that seek to emulate a military training experience it’s going to be dangerous. Strange though that when someone dies in the military it’s sad but we tell ourselves it’s part of their job, when someone dies during a weekend race in which they voluntarily entered themselves in, with full awareness of the risk it’s a crime.
Let me put it another way. What did you think was going to happen? Obstacle Racers, this is not a game and it’s not a joke. You’re competing in crazy events that are intentionally dangerous and by their very construction and design life-threatening. I am not shocked someone died; indeed it’s not the first time. What I am amazed at is that so few have lost their lives so far; when you consider the blatant lack of organization and oversight present at most of these events.
Unfortunately for the sport as a whole this incident could be the catalyst for some opportunistic politician to make a name for themselves by protecting us in the sport from our own foolishness. If we are lucky this death will not lead to a slew of new safety laws and requirements the cost of which the race organizers will most likely pass on to us in increased registration fees, never mind the fact that these precautions should have been in place before hand. It is unfortunate that someone has died. I am not callus to the tragedy of it all and my heart goes out to his friends and family. However I view this loss of life as no different than any life lost in the pursuit of reckless recreation and thrill seeking. As a thrill seeker myself, I am constantly aware of the risks I take and the danger involved in my pursuit of fun.
I was not in Texas this past weekend and apparently those that were are no closer to understanding what led to this tragedy. I can say from experience and observation though that oftentimes such accidents involve two types of people; the very inexperienced and the over confident. One panics and goes into shock, waiting for someone to save them and the other charges on oblivious to the impending doom, relying on previous experience to guide them over the reality staring them in the face. Oftentimes too the inexperienced individual will cause harm to those around them when they freeze, shut down, or flail about like crazed madmen. The experienced athlete will push on when they get in over their head instead of turning back or going around.
There’s no way to say if either of these scenarios apply to this accident. It may have just been a fluke. People seem to forget in today’s civilization that sometimes things just happen. Anytime you involve human beings, who are chaotic and unpredictable at best, into a system it’s not a question of will something go wrong; but when. As an observer and participant of these events I will give my opinion on the matter as a whole by saying this. Volunteers are not viable substitutes for trained safety personnel. These race heats are quickly becoming far too crowded. This leads to bunching up, impatience, frustration and in the end accidents. Too many of the competitors at these events do not take what they are about to do seriously, and honestly have no business being there. I know that this sport as a whole likes to promote itself as the “every man’s sport” but wishful thinking and reality oftentimes clash.
Many of the races and obstacles today are quickly ratcheting up the difficulty in an effort to one-up each other. It has gotten out of hand recently and races seem to be bent on torturing their participants over providing them with a challenging experience. But this falls back into blaming the races for injuries and deaths. I just in good conscience can’t jump on that bandwagon. I know the following comment is bound to make a few people angry but the fact remains that the only person to blame in this past weekend’s tragedy is the victim himself. He knew the risk, granted like most of us he probably believed given his fitness and ability that he had nothing to fear. In the end though he signed the waiver, agreed to run, and pushed on. Now he’s dead and no amount of finger pointing or legislation can bring him back.
I only hope that this tragedy shocks enough people into the reality around our sport; you could die! Is it worth it to you? If you are not aware of the inherent risk you are about to expose yourself to at the starting line you need to turn around. If you don’t get a shiver down your spine at the thought of what you are about to do you need to turn around. The life you save could be your own or the person on either side of you.