This is not your average obstacle course or marathon run. It’s a cross between physical fitness (25 obstacles spread out over a 10- to 12-mile run), mental endurance and overcoming fears. Oh … and the biggest fear of all: the dreaded “Electroshock Therapy” obstacle, which entails sprinting through a field of live wires, some carrying as much as 10,000 volts of electric shock.
This is all par for the course for the Tough Mudder, designed by British Special Forces, which has inspired participants worldwide and raised more than $3 million for the Wounded Warrior Project. All profits go to stress recovery programs, employment, counseling and adaptive sports programs for veterans returning from the battlefield. This February,10 members of the Progressive Care Unit 6 at Torrance Memorial will compete on a course in Temecula to push themselves to the limit while building staff camaraderie. Sean Yokoe, R.N., manager, who is back for a second year of competition, will captain the team. The buzz about the Tough Mudder originally came from members of the ICU. But in his competitive nature, Yokoe said his unit would start their own team.
“It’s designed to make you face your fears,” he says. “I thought it would be a good teambuilding opportunity.” Some fears that team members have had to face include heights, claustrophobia and even water. But not Yokoe; he’s an adrenaline junkie and welcomes the fear. He’s gone skydiving and bungee jumping. And he’s no slouch in the fitness department. He’s competed in two full marathons and an Ironman 70.3 competition.
Yokoe stresses that the Tough Mudder is not the test of an individual. “It’s not really a race. You’re expected to help other team members and even people on other teams.” For instance, there is a 12-foot-high wall that requires competitors to work together.
So what does training involve? Yokoe takes his team to the ocean where they swim in the icy-cold winter waters. He says it’s good to get a little beat up by the surf. They also go to Torrance’s Wilson Park and climb trees, balance on narrow blocks of wood and do calisthenics. “It’s almost like the things you did as a kid,” he says. “We do the wheelbarrow, bear crawls and crab crawls. It’s good for the core and teamwork.”
Yokoe has no personal goals for this year’s competition. He’d like to go a little faster than last year’s five-hour time, but “it’s dependent on our slowest person,” he says. This usually means talking someone through his or her fears.
The team includes three nurses new to the Torrance Memorial staff. “It’s a great opportunity for them to bond with the veteran nurses,” says Yokoe. “It’s team-building that’s key.”
Ariel Axt, RN, is a newcomer to the competition and the Torrance Memorial staff. “I cycle, and I run occasionally,” she says.
She was encouraged to join the team so she could bond outside work with her colleagues. “I want to feel a sense of accomplishment by challenging myself,” says Axt. “Before this year, I didn’t run but my father did, so this is good family bonding too.” Back for another beating is Tough Mudder team member Josie Zepeda, R.N. This year she’s bringing her 19-year-old son onto the team. “It’s about personal gain and a sense of accomplishment,” says the 42-year-old. “You have bruises the next day and you’re exhausted, but it’s a great way to challenge yourself.”
With hopes of beating last year’s time, training has started earlier, and Zepeda says that coach Yokoe is often tougher on the group than the real course. “We jump on pillars, walk on planks and dive into the cold ocean water. Plus, no skipping obstacles is allowed. Sean wouldn’t let us,” she adds.
Although Zepeda is active—she bikes seven miles to work every day and runs with her son—this course can make anyone feel like a wimp. Last year, her biggest challenge was jumping from the 15-foot platform. “Once I got up there and looked down, it took me a few minutes. This year, I’m going up there, and I’m not going to look down. Just ask someone if it’s clear, and I’m off!” Yokoe’s athletic background and training make him a perfect coach. A classic gym rat, he grew up in Torrance, wrestling and playing baseball at West High School. After graduation, he continued to wrestle at El Camino College. Yokoe considers his athletic skills mediocre, so he decided he wanted to compete smarter—not harder. He got a degree in athletic training and a master’s in physiology. Eventually, he returned to school to get a nursing degree.
Yokoe seems most proud of his colleagues, who through perseverance have conquered their fears. “Most of the nurses have never done anything like this. One nurse couldn’t even swim and had never been in the ocean. But we talked her through it.”