Former drug dealer becomes Ironman altruist

No one in the whole of Tough Guy’s twenty-two years has ever won Tough Guy and arrived first over the line. No one. Tough Guy is too tough for everyone. Everyone.”

Mr. Mouse wears a scarlet British Army uniform, sports a bushy white moustache, and, at one race, fired live ammunition over the heads of participants as they crawled under barbed wire in the freezing mud. “The course is recognized throughout the British Army as the most arduous test of mental and physical ability,” he says from an armchair in a self-produced video, staring into the camera seriously. “It is the safest, most dangerous sport in the world.” The race is called Tough Guy, and it's as kooky as the man who created it.

Although the obstacles are updated annually, Tough Guy has followed a consistent pattern in each of its twenty-four years. Each race is held in January on Mr. Mouse’s farm in Staffordshire, England and begins with a six mile cross country run, followed by a hill slalom, which sounds like fun but really isn’t.

After completing the easy part of the race, participants continue onto the obstacle course, a series of twenty-four obstructions that are collectively referred to as “the Killing Fields.” The most terrifying of the twenty-four is the underwater tunnels, where racers pass from section to section by swimming through underwater concrete corridors. Other obstacles include “The Tiger,” a wooden A-frame that competitors scramble through while being shocked by dangling electrical wires, a forty-foot vertical wall climb, a knee-deep mud crossing, water ditches followed by burning hay bales, and a twenty-foot crawl underneath barbed wire.

Mr. Mouse and his event organizers warn potential racers of a horrifying list of maladies posed by the Killing Fields, including “barbed wire, cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration, hypothermia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, electric shocks, sprains, twists, joint dislocation and broken bones.”

Knowing this, it would seem a wonder that Mr. Mouse could get anyone to volunteer their bodies for his race, yet, surprisingly, the race draws nearly five thousand participants a year. So what’s the attraction of Tough Guy?

From trafficking to triumph

One person who can shed light on this question is Capilano student Jeff Torres, who has never competed in the Tough Guy race, but has the distinction of being able to call himself an Ironman. On August 24th, 2008, 19 year-old Torres became the youngest male finisher of the Ironman Canada triathlon, placing 988th out of 2,211 participants. For Torres, Ironman presented an opportunity to prove he was in control of his life.

[In high school] I found myself getting into criminal habits such as drug dealing. When I was arrested in Grade 11 and nearly charged with trafficking, I asked myself, ‘Is this really where I want my life to end up?’”

Trying to straighten out his life proved difficult, however, and Torres found it hard to balance his past life and the one he truly wanted. In his senior year he found himself in trouble for dealing again.

It looked like I was going to get a criminal charge this time, but when [the officer] decided to give me one more chance, I said to myself ‘What am I going to do this time so that I don't make the same mistake as I did last time? How am I going to turn my life around?’” For Torres, Ironman offered the chance of proving that he could conquer an “impossibility.”

Tough Guy offers the same opportunity for average people to achieve this. Not everyone is a Tough Guy, nor an Ironman, yet achieving the title of one offers a tangible reward that validates life goals, gives proof to physical training, or as evidenced by Torres, proves you have the control to shape your life for the better.

Eventually I also came up with the idea for the "Ironman Fundraiser" when I thought of doing the race for others as well, so I set another goal: to raise $10,000 for World Vision through racing the Ironman.” As of January 1st, 2009 Torres has raised $10,427, although he points out that completing Ironman was just as beneficial to himself. “When I got home afterwards people saw me differently. They now believed in me, and so did I.”

// Mac Fairbairn
sports editor

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: