On Saturday, October 29, 2011, a bizarre sight unfolded at Festival Park and Badger Prairie Park in Verona, Wisconsin. A slew of runners - about 1,064 runners to be exact - descended upon the park, many dressed in costume. All of the costumes were assembled with care and creativity. All would be splattered with mud, shredded, and and for the most part ruined on the obstacles of the 5-mile course, which included a wall climb, monkey bars, a balance beam, and a giant mud pit.
One costume was worn by Maria Parker of Janesville, WI. Parker had entered the 5-mile obstacle race as a team member along with her office co-workers. While the experience was inspired by a simple desire to have a shared experience that would generate good water cooler conversation for years to come, for Parker, it ended up becoming a metaphor for life. Here, she shares her thoughts with Focal Flame Photography writer Robyn Perrin.
Focal Flame Photography: Why did you decide to participate in the Fall Challenge Mud Run?
Maria Parker: I was looking for a physical challenge to commemorate my 40th birthday. I'd considered a couple of other events but it wasn't until [some] co-workers decided to recruit a company team that I finally committed to the Mud Run. Several friends have run similar events in the past and I always thought it would be fun to participate in a Mud Run so I figured, 'Why not,' especially if I'd have co-workers along side me.
FFP: What was the story behind the costumes chosen by your team?
MP: The organizers of our group decided it would be fun to have a costume theme, but we needed something that would work for 15-20 people. The Wizard of Oz was selected. There are so many characters to pick from that it allowed each of us to find something that matched our personalities. I choose to be Auntie Em.
FFP: How did the race unfold?
MP: I had expected to be completing the event with a couple of co-workers by my side to assist with obstacles but they had all left me behind even before the first one. This turned out to be a really nice, actually - it allowed me to reflective on the event and the reason why I had signed up to begin with: to celebrate my 40th.
In some ways the Mud Run was like the journey of life. At the beginning, I was all gung ho but yet had some apprehension. But when I arrived at the first obstacle, all I could think was, 'What am I getting myself into?!' That thought was followed by, 'You can't back down now, just jump in and plunge ahead!'
Not being as fit as most participants, I knew I'd be walking most of the course and that there would be be obstacles I would have to forego and walk around. So each one became a decision as to whether I should even attempt it. Just like taking risks in life, you weigh each obstacle based on a number of factors, make a decision, and go with it. 'Plan Bs' are optional, often developed on the fly, and your fears may not be realized until mid-stream. But the best part of all was crossing the finish line. I completed the course and crawled through mud, ready to take on whatever came before me.
FFP: So what's next?
MP: What lies before me is another journey. As I turn 40, I'm embarking on a new path. My life partner and I are forming a women's tackle football team based in Rockford, IL. The Rockford Riveters will provide women in Northwestern Illinois the opportunity to play a sport that has traditionally been off-limits to them. As with any business venture, I expect many ups and downs to come along with this path. Some challenges will be easy, some will bring hesitation, some will bring fear - but the goal is to meet them all and to stand strong in the end.
All of these points were brought home while I completed the Mud Run, and all of them were points that we hope to see fulfilled on the gridiron for the women who play for the Rockford Riveters and for the fans in the stands.
Focal Flame Photography is honored to share the stories of Maria Parker and other participants in the Madison Mud Run. We've included several of our favorite images from the race. To see more, visit the 2011 Mud Run Galleries on the Focal Flame Photography online store. All images are available for purchase as prints, digitals, T-shirts, or more.