ODESSA — The mud sticks to his legs up to the knee, his legs weak with fatigue make his trek through the countryside a battle, a true test of his strength and fortitude. He is a warrior.
No. Check that, he's an accountant. He is a retired craftsman, a real estate agent or customer service specialist. Attracting large crowds to desolate fields in rural locales, America's latest fitness craze is turning average folks into fierce athletes tackling obstacles and pushing themselves to new limits.
Endurance challenges like last weekend's Sqwish Sqwash Challenge at Starkey Ranch in Odessa, or this weekend's Savage Race at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, are bringing together people of all ages — not in the name of competition, but in the name of challenging one's self.
"Running is boring, but this is different," Sqwish Sqwash competitor and Trinity resident Bruce Connolly said. "I heard these types of things were inspired by Navy Seals training, which interests me as a Navy veteran. Our training wasn't too tough, but what the Seals guys do was different. This seems like a great way for me to mix up my running workouts."
The Sqwish Sqwash Challenge last Saturday was set up as a distance run, offering a 5-mile and 8-mile rendition of the challenge. About 1,000 participants came out to conquer the obstacles and experience a bit of camaraderie.
"We had five natural obstacles and 13 man-made obstacles," Sqwish Sqwash organizer Max Villalobos said. "The weather over the last few weeks made setting up this event difficult because it was very wet out on the course, but we had a successful event and people enjoyed themselves. The challenge is part of it, but coming out and getting to know people and enjoying the event socially is one of things that has made these kind of events so popular."
The Savage Race planned for this Saturday is expected to present more obstacles to the competitors, similar in style to the Tough Mudder race that was staged at the same venue last year. Whether it's traversing a slippery set of monkey bars, crawling under a bed of barbwire or climbing over 8-foot walls, this challenge promises to test any athlete.
"We expect 7,000 to 10,000 people this weekend," Savage Race event manager Sam Abbitt said. "There are a lot of fun races out there, but none that put in the amount of work that we do in creating the course so that it's a very different experience than you'd have anywhere else. We have 25 obstacles … . This will be our biggest event yet."
Abbitt created the course with the intention to challenge his little brother, a recent Navy Seal graduate stationed in California. Abbitt's brother will compete on Saturday and to put this creation to the test.
"It's an exciting thing for me to have him come home and do this event," Abbitt said. "It's a 6-mile race and it's going to be so much fun. It's rare to find an opportunity to put yourself in the situations that people do at Savage Race. It takes people out of their comfort zone and gets them working with their friends. Everybody is doing something a little crazy and you can see how much fun it is in the smiles on their faces."