Pre-Evangelization Inklings: Tough Mudder

Why would anyone pay to go through messy, physically demanding obstacle courses and “comically extreme” challenges (Fast Company, Jun 2017)?

Indeed. Why?

From Tough Mudder CEO, Will Dean, it’s got something to do with ritual and community.  As he explains, Tough Mudder events,

“are the pilgrimage, the big, annual festivals, like Christmas and Easter, if you use Christianity as an example. But then we also have the gym, which becomes the local church, the community gathering hub. You have the media, which is a little like praying. Then there’s the apparel, which is a little like wearing your cross or your head scarf or any other form of religious apparel.”

Together, this creates a social experience with a profound “shared sense of purpose,” that many in our North American culture lack in our day-to-day lives. Coming together to achieve a common goal is essential. Many Tough Mudder obstacles simply cannot be completed without receiving help and/or helping others through.

This experience of common effort and shared victory is indeed counter-cultural. Will Dean recounts a triathlon where, “he needed help pulling down the back zipper of his wet suit as he transitioned from swimming to cycling” and “asked fellow racers for help and was stunned when no one offered any: They didn’t want to add precious seconds to their time.” This is what life, and even church life can seem like for many today. An inherent world of competition or self-interest, rather than a world that is gift, a world with others give selflessly, expecting nothing in return.

The success of the Tough Mudder company reveals that it’s quite possible to gather and attract people by offering shared experience of gift and giving, ritual rhythms of life, and community doing the difficult–together. These are longings our culture produces. The question for us is, how can our ministries and parishes connect these desires to the reality of Christian discipleship? Share your thoughts and experiences!

Tough Mudder
Image by zapmole756 via Flickr, CC-BY-NC-2.0



2 thoughts on “Pre-Evangelization Inklings: Tough Mudder

  1. Oh, what a fascinating analogy. A friend from Chicago invited me 2 years ago to do the Tough Mudder out at the MI Speedway with him. I declined. Might there be something that the average Catholic is not challenged enough, either in an attempt to be welcoming or because we have lost sight of the true radical nature of following Christ? There is no vision cast of the heavenly glory to be lived, the huge obstacles in our culture that oppose the Kingdom of God that need to be torn down, the personal sin that needs to be fought. Since I read this 6 years ago, I continue to be inspired by this St. John Paul II quote:
    This is what is needed: a Church for young people, which will know how to speak to their heart and enkindle, comfort, and inspire enthusiasm in it with the joy of the Gospel and the strength of the Eucharist; a Church which will know how to invite and to welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel (John Paul II, 1995 World Day of Prayer for Vocations).
    I’ve seen communities respond to digging out from giant snowstorms or recovering from tornadoes. Our comforts are disrupted and the needs are so apparent that people are knocked out of their daily routines and respond with incredible generosity and communal spirit (dormant inside on most days).
    My wife and I were recently talking about the difficulty we have faced in finding other young families willing to intentionally and sacrificially commit to living in Christian community. I theorized that some of the difficulty is because we are unaware of who we, the Body of Christ, are called to be. If we understood the radical life of holiness to which we were called, we would see how inadequate we are alone and embrace others that could support us. However, if we fail to see how counter-cultural the Christian life really is, we cozy up to the dominant culture and remain comfortable in it.
    To get back to your Tough Mudder thought, almost anybody can walk a smooth mile on their own. To do a Tough Mudder takes training and community. Following Jesus as a Catholic is presented as walking a mile, but it really is a Tough Mudder.


  2. Was talking about this article with someone last night and they had a key insight. Tough Mudders are trendy right now and you can freely talk about it at work. Being a Christian is neither trendy nor acceptable conversation.


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