The Ultimate Towner is a down and dirty four mile race in which participants overcome 25 obstacles ranging from mud crawls and rope swings to 20 foot walls. Tim Walther, the founder of Grand Dynamics, started the race four years ago after a climbing accident and a breakup – one of the most difficult times in his life. He was inspired to create a course of physical obstacles and to bring attention to the connection between inner and outer challenges. He asks participants to pick a quote and a song and he creates a supportive atmosphere to help the community overcome adversity and connect. The race can be competitive or fun and individual or by team. Ultimately, it is a metaphor for life.
Walther says: “You’ve got to believe in yourself to overcome obstacles”. So he created the race full of obstacles with empowering themes. He also encourages participants to choose a personal challenge to address while participating in the rigorous course.
Self love and forgiveness are my biggest obstacles. So I decided I didn’t need to finish before I started the Ultimate Towner. I was tired and not feeling well—I was scheduled to have surgical procedure the following week. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep up with my 10 year old son and 13 year old daughter. Given my physical condition, I clearly had no problem humbling myself, but asking for forgiveness is hard for me. Forgiving myself is even harder.
The life-size fuzzy elephant in a tutu and the cheesy 80’s style dance warm up offered a good laugh and were perfect for getting my mind off my problems. Walther chose the elephant mascot of this annual community event to represent Ganesha, the Hindu god known as the remover of obstacles.
Before we reached the first obstacle, my tears started flowing. They were warmer and softer than the mud I had to crawl through and jump across. My friend Jill decided to run with me at the last minute. Her daughter was running with my daughter who quickly fell behind. Jill and I talked about how we want to do things with our kids that our parents didn’t do with us. To be there for them in a new way: to show up. “My mom would never do something like this with me,” she said. I dried my eyes and we all met on the top of the victory wall to pose for a picture.
GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY IN THE MUD PIT.
I thought of my niece who was graduating from college that day and how she wrote a note in the graduation program thanking my sister and my mom, who has acted as her surrogate dad since she was 6 years old. I missed my family. I thought of my pending divorce and how hard it is to share custody of my kids with their father and his family. Could I forgive myself for splitting up our family?
We tunneled under ropes and swung over barricades. This was a great therapy session, really. Jill said she has the same tendency to play the victim living in a town where half your friends have access to private jets and it’s hard to find a professional job. As we approached the next wall, we came to a group of women in German maiden dresses. One had roller skates on so she required some extra help.
As we rolled tires across Miller Park, we rattled on about how good we feel when we give back to the community. Jill spends a lot of time helping people from her church with household chores and taking care of their kids when they have to work. I used to give more than I do, I said with a pang of guilt. I want to give more. I asked, could I forgive myself for being more on the receiving end than the giving end these days?
Receiving is sometimes harder than giving, but it is a huge part of what makes the world a better place. I have learned to accept help from my friends, who have become my family here in Jackson. So I took the vitamin C candy that someone offered and powered on, putting a smallish rock on the big rock pile and turning the corner to catch up with Jill. My son was long gone at that point, crossing the finish line on his own while our daughters decided to stop at home for a snack.
The girls were on bikes when we met up at the last obstacle, another wall. They had already forgiven themselves for deciding to skip the last few obstacles and not finish the race. Jill and I scaled the wall at the end and gave each other a high five.
I surprised myself by completing the course even though I hadn’t committed to it. As Walther says, “Giving yourself permission to fail is what often leads to success.” And I realized that letting go and receiving are integral parts to self love and forgiveness.