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Sports you’ve never heard of: Tough guy competition

Some would argue that there is no universal standard for toughness: everybody has their own personal strengths and weaknesses. The Tough Guy Competition, however, might be as close to that standard as possible. Contestants face fire, ice cold water, heights, underground tunnels, barbed wire, cross country running, mud crawling, rope climbing, and electric shocks. In fact, competitors need to sign a “death warrant” before they can even start the race.

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Date Posted: June 7, 2011
Print Edition: May 27, 2011

By Chelsea Thornton (The Cascade) – Email

Image by swissrolli

Some would argue that there is no universal standard for toughness: everybody has their own personal strengths and weaknesses.

The Tough Guy Competition, however, might be as close to that standard as possible. Contestants face fire, ice cold water, heights, underground tunnels, barbed wire, cross country running, mud crawling, rope climbing, and electric shocks. In fact, competitors need to sign a “death warrant” before they can even start the race.

The race has been held on the last Sunday in January every year since 1986, on a farm in Staffordshire, England. The creator of the event, Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson claims that no one has ever completed the race to his stringent standards, although a winner is still declared every year.

The event often attracts more than 6000 competitors from 20 countries, more than a third of which often fail to finish at all. Competitors must be at least 16-years-old, and both men and women are welcome to compete.

The event has two fatalities to its name: one man died of a heart attack induced by intense hypothermia, another collapsed in the heat during the event’s summertime equivalent. The Saint John Ambulance Service sets up a triage centre at each race.

On the Tough Guy official website, the following mental exercise to prepare for the race is recommended: imagine you are running and behind you, you can hear the sound of a herd of angry stallions. Ahead of you is a giant wall – climb it. The stallions are still after you. Climb through muddy underground tunnels – you can’t see, you can’t breathe. Exit the tunnel and look upon an endless field of obstacles: barbed wire, live electric wire, sucking mud pits and fences. When you finally reach the other side, the sound of stallions is fading. Wake up from the nightmare and realize it is reality.

What Dana White is to the UFC, Mr. Mouse is to the Tough Guy Competition. As the creator of this brutal sport, he appears to relish its punishing power. In the race’s promotional video, he is seen proudly boasting:, “Tough Guy is too tough, for everyone. For everyone!” He wears a classic red British officer’s uniform, complete with gigantic steely moustache, and nostalgically reminisces about contestants’ past suffering: “1992 was a cold year. There were six hundred people with hypothermia, all in serious trouble; and there was a line of broken legs waiting to go, all whining and crying. A young woman said ‘Shut up and quit whining, that won’t kill you but this [hypothermia] will.’”

The Tough Guy Competition now includes a variety of related events, like Nettle Warrior, its summer equivalent; Screwball (T).H.U.G, an event for kids aged 10 to 16; and Toughest Army, a challenge Mr. Mouse has issued to the world’s armies to compete against each other in the original Tough Guy Competition. Mr. Mouse promises a good time for all: “They all go home with the same feeling. Marvelous. Thanks Mr Mouse!”

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