We’re all running tough mudders … you’ve got what it takes

We’re all running tough mudders … you’ve got what it takes November 25, 2013


Burn this picture into your memory: Four men at the finish line of Seattle’s Tough Mudder competition.

No, none of them are me, but the guy on the far left with the beard and the shaved head is my good friend Brian Porteous.

The Tough Mudder competition, for the uninitiated, is more of an international movement than a race. There are no pretty-boy trophies handed out at the end. There’s no time clock to speak of. I don’t even think anyone keeps track of the top finishers.

Designed by the British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength, the competition is all about attempting the race, finishing it, and not collapsing along the way.

You and your buddies sign up to run 12 miles through mud, water, ice, blood, and grit. Along the way, every two miles or so, you complete an obstacle.

In one, you jump into a huge tank filled with ice water, swim downward and underneath a plank, then pull yourself back up on the other side to carry on with the run.

In another, literal electrical cords each carrying 10,000 volts of lightning dangle over a field of mud. You’ve got to elbow crawl through the muddy field without getting zapped.

Brian hit one of these cords during his run. The jolt knocked him out cold, and he woke up with his nose bloodied and his face in three inches of mud puddle.  

His wife, Kelly, wasn’t too happy about that. Kelly works as a nurse, and she knows how medically amazing it was that Brian was even alive at this point in his life, much less getting his heart stopped and restarted at a Mudder run.

Here’s what makes Brian’s story so unique—

Back in 1999, Brian was diagnosed with a rare disease called Aplastic Anemia. It’s basically a bastard of an ailment that keeps your body from making enough blood. For 12 years he fought it hard with a variety of immune-suppressive therapies that allowed him to live a fairly normal life.

He got married.

He and his wife had kids—two wonderful daughters, both as beautiful as the sky is blue.

He embarked on a challenging career as a junior high math teacher. It proved hugely rewarding whenever he sensed he was helping the next generation become great.

But then in 2010 his game changed.

After a day of teaching, Brian went to coach a JV football game. He wasn’t feeling well and though he was coming down with the flu, but figured if he could just finish the game and make if home, he could sleep it off.

He made it home.

But it wasn’t the flu.

He was hospitalized with multiple organ failure. Doctors diagnosed him with another rare blood disease called Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria. Essentially this new disease was attacking him the same way as the first, but from a different angle.

For all you medical statisticians, a normal blood platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000.

Brian’s count was 6,000.

He was a dead man walking. Literally, his family and friends prepared for a funeral.

But here’s where the story turns good. Really good.

His wife Kelly scoured the Internet and discovered big medical advances had been made since Brian first got sick. Across the country, Dr. Robert Brodsky, head of hematology at Johns Hopkins, had pinned both these diseases to the floor. For the first time in their lives, medically speaking, Brian and Kelly felt hope.

The family got the green light from Johns Hopkins and flew to Baltimore. Brian spent an entire summer at the hospital. He underwent a lengthy, risky, and complicated series of Chemo treatments and blood transfusions, a bone marrow transplant from his sister Kari, and then more Chemo.

When all was said and done, doctors did not merely use that blessed word “remission” …

They used this incredible word:


His family was ecstatic. His friends welcomed him back from the dead. Both diseases were completely, irrevocably, one-hundred-percent gone.

Brian was able to pick up his life where he’d left off. He resumed teaching. He started coaching again, and he started sketching out a dream.

At first it was such a ridiculous idea that Brian brushed it aside. But the more he chewed on the idea, the more appealing it became.

For a guy who once had been so weak he couldn’t get out of bed, he now wanted to complete a Tough Mudder—the Iron Man of all endurance competitions.

Brian wanted to attempt the race on behalf of everybody battling sickness who couldn’t undertake such a physical challenge for themselves. He signed on with TEAM JULIA, a non-profit agency that raises money for cancer victims and their families as well as cancer research.

And Brian wanted to attempt it simply to celebrate the second chance on life he’d been given.

He wanted to attempt it because now the race for him was a possibility.


He went into training. He ran, he jumped, he lifted, he climbed. He worked to where he could easily crank out 100 pushups at a time.

He ran the race.

And he crossed the finish line—triumphant!

I tell this story for two reasons…

First, Brian’s a man who leads well. His example is an inspiration, and he’s simply got a cool story to tell.

Second—and this is what relates to us all—every one of us has got some kind of ‘tough mudder’ in our lives. Some sort of goal that seems so unlikely to achieve. Some sort of destination that tests our commitment and determination. Some sort of metaphoric finish line we should be striving to cross.

Maybe it’s to achieve something in our careers.

Maybe it’s to conquer an addiction.

Maybe it’s to fully commit to our spouse. Or to spend enough time with our family.

Our tough mudder is to become a better man.

Brian completed his Tough Mudder thanks to faith, family, medical marvels, and his own steely fortitude. Whatever your ‘tough mudder’ is, the invitation is to head the same direction.

Crawl through that mud.

Dive down into that ice water.

Wake yourself up after being zapped by that idiotic electrical cord.

And finish your race triumphant.

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