By: Heather McTeer (@heathermcteer)
Clearly I have lost my mind...
Those were my thoughts as we boarded the school bus that would take us to Warrior Dash 2012, the first of it's kind in Mississippi. If you've never heard of Warrior Dash, don't be alarmed. It's a 5k with obstacles that guarantees to be the "craziest frigging day of your life!" When I first read about the event, I said to myself, there's no way in hell I'm doing anything close to running through mud. Yet, here I stood, my new Black Girls Run! shirt on display, in line with people dressed as princesses, green lantern and Hulk Hogan, to partake in God knows what of a race. Yep, my mind was definitely gone.
My love of racing actually started about six years ago. I was Mayor of Greenville, MS and we were preparing to host our first 10k called the "Cotton Classic". I'd never really run in any race since college and certainly nothing more than a mile or 2. Yet with the staggering statistics of obesity in Mississippi and my own issues with weight, I decided that I would participate as an example that it could be done. What could one little race do right? Well, I caught the bug and have now completed a full marathon, 3 halfs, 3 triathlons and a host of 10ks and 5ks. I don't run to win, I run to encourage other black women to run. I run to encourage other people who may be a little "fluffy" that they can do it too. I run to bring attention to the need of exercise paths and bike trails in minority and/or poor communities. I run for charity. I run for the gift bag and t-shirt. I run for the fun of it.
Dexter, and Little Dexter accompanied me as my support team (and personal ambulance if need be). On the way to the site, we watched as the highway turned into a dirt road, looked at each other and said, "Uh oh..." We saw woods, we saw trees, we saw water, we saw small woodland creatures... we saw that Heather would NOT be in her comfort zone. After realizing neither of us had a cell signal, I knew I was really in for a "different afternoon". Let me say here that I am not the camping/outdoors type. I have traveled to over ten countries, three of them in Africa, lived in Kenya for three months in a hut and I STILL have an inherent dislike for all things dirty, muddy, and buggy. Nevertheless, we finally arrived at the Adventure Outdoor Jackson site and stepped into a massive crowd of great music, wonderful smelling food, and people as far as the eye could see. There were easily over 10,000 people present and buses were steadily picking up and dropping off eager participants. Dexter said, "Babe, is that Moses, or Gandolf the Grey?" I turned around to see a man dressed in costume from head to toe, headed to the starting line. Yep, this was going to be an event.
You could clearly see the last four obstacles on the course from the finish area. I made my way over to see what I would be facing. Swimming? (Didn't realize it, but OK, I can do that.) Crawling over a netted wall? (If that lady in the pink tutu just did it then so can I.) Jumping over fire? (alright Jesus we need to discuss some things...) Finally, the amount of mud that the finishers were bathed in was unbelievable, until I saw the final mud pit we had to crawl through before the finish line. At this point, my main objective is to strategies. Must protect the weave! (Go slow, keep your head up. Got it.) I made my way over to the starting line. "Watch out for the water moccasins!" I hear this laughingly from my support team that at this point, I'm ready to fire. I was running by myself so I said I'd go find a group to run with and make a new friend or two. The crowd was excited, I was ready and the next thing I knew, we were off!
The race started with everyone running together, happy, cheering and anxious about what obstacles lie ahead. The first was the tire run. I took my time and ran through the tires without falling. The faster people took off while us slower folks slowed to catch our breath and jog to the next obstacle. This is where I met Sandra.
I noticed this lady that looked about like me, same pace, and she didn't seem to be running with anyone else. So we started talking. As we came to the next obstacle (running through a tire jungle) we figured, we may as well stick together and at least support each other. (You never know when you'll need someone to pull you out of the mud...literally) I learned that Sandra lived and worked in Vicksburg and that she enjoyed running like I did. She had a sweet spirit and I really enjoyed her company. She was encouraging too! We shared a lot of common interest and really want people to know and be free to run in events even if they're not the fastest, slimmest, sleekest people on the course. It's all about being in good health and having fun.
And have fun we did. Sandra was the best motivation I could have on that course. When we came to the mud pits, we'd go through it together, holding onto one another so that we wouldn't fall or if we did, we went down together. When we came to the steeple climb/crawl, she went first and I followed. At the balance beams, she waited patiently as I hovered up and down praying that I didn't fall. "You're doing great!" she would say and we'd trot off together to face the next challenge together.
As we walked/sludged/jogged, we talked about the issues women have with weight, appearance and why we don't get out and run. I was proudly displaying my Black Girls Run! shirt and shared that I hope more black women would be encouraged to know that there ARE black women who run. In fact, I was surprised at how many people asked me about my shirt and where they could get one! In Mississippi, the highest obesity rate is among African Americans. Mississippians have some of the highest rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes in the NATION. Still, we are a slim minority participation in local races, health groups and events. We talked about how fuller women sometimes feel a little out of place at races but should be just as comfortable and welcome as anyone else. Sandra and I were kindred spirits on a journey together and we were determined to show the world that we could do it.
Sandra and rounded the bend to what was a grueling set of obstacles. There was a rope wall, foxhole crawl and a rock climbing wall. We watched and devised a strategy: I would hold the rope while Sandra climbed over, then she would come around and hold it for me. It worked. We made it over the wall, under the foxhole and then to the rock climbing wall. Now I am good for running, but horrible for climbing, and while Sandra made it up, I fell... twice. Finally I decided to go sideways and just when I thought I couldn't make it, I looked up and there was Sandra, waiting with an outstretched arm to help me up and over. After that, the rest was a piece of cake.
We completed the last mile over the rope bridge, through the deep water swim and across logs. We jumped over fire and crawled through the mud pit. (yes my weave did survive without an ounce of mud in it. I'm a professional!) By the end, we were muddy, dirty, and wet, but we were warriors and I was glad to have a new friend.
Needless to say, I've shared my pictures and stories with all of my friends and yes, encouraged them to join me next year for warrior dash. Hopefully, I can be to someone what Sandra was to me; an undiscovered sister and friend, ready to help along the way.
Heather McTeer was the first African- American and first female to serve as Mayor of Greenville, MS (2004-2012). She is a beginner runner and huge supporter of Black Girls RUN!