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Daniel Barden Mudfest Brings Community Together, Year After Year

Published: July 16, 2017

Andy Hutchison

In the aftermath of 12/14, there has been a lot of community support and encouragement in various forms. This sort of togetherness is evident in the Daniel Barden Mudfest, an annual obstacle course race at MJK Farm in Deansboro, N.Y., held in honor of Daniel, one of 26 people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The most recent Mudfest took place this past April, but organizers and participants already look forward to 2018, with planning underway for the April 21 event.

Each year, participants climb over 7-foot-tall barriers, with help from others, trudge through a mud crawl, and make their way across monkey bars, as well as through other fun yet challenging stations during the event.

Many Newtown families travel to New York each April to take part in the Mudfest. This year, in fact, 49 families from Newtown were represented in the Mudfest, according to Karin LaBanca, who along with her husband Frank, is among the event’s lead organizers. Their daughter Maggie was best friends with Daniel.

“It ties into Daniel’s philosophy of being a kid, enjoying the moment, and being helpful with one another,” said Michelle Greenspan of Sandy Hook, one of many family friends of the Bardens who has participated in the Mudfest in each of its five years.

“It’s a feeling of community, and bonding, and teamwork. It’s helping our friends, family members, and strangers over obstacles,” added Ms Greenspan, who placed 17th overall among 166 competitors in the 5-mile course this year and was the second-fastest female competitor, finishing in a time of 1:11.07.

Ms Greenspan downplays her success and takes pride in what it means just to participate in the Daniel Barden Mudfest.

“It builds bonds and it makes you feel good that you helped other people in the race,” she said.

Karin LaBanca’s brother, Dan Williams, and sister-in-law, Melissa Williams, of Deansboro, and Jessica and Dave Poyer are also lead organizers of the event. Mr Williams attended Daniel’s funeral and left with motivation to organize the Mudfest in his honor. Mr Williams’ friend Jack Buschmann owns the 275-acre dairy farm, part of which, every spring, is converted into a muddy course.

Organizers look forward to returning families again participating, and volunteers becoming involved.

Volunteers are needed to help out with registration, obstacle setup, and management on Mudfest’s Kids course, as well as on the 5K and 5-mile courses, along with cleanup, crowd questions, and photography.

When Mother Nature cooperates and provides rain in the days leading up to the event, the course naturally becomes muddy. But even if it doesn’t rain, organizers wet the ground to be sure participants cross the finish line covered in mud.

“We enjoy it as a family event and a memorial to Daniel. It’s really a terrific event from all angles,” said Newtown’s Scott Harper, who participates with his wife and four children. Mr Harper’s family is friends with the Barden family.

Mr Harper adds that beyond the obstacle-filled races there is plenty of fun for everybody with post-event food and music. “It’s got something for everyone,” Mr Harper said.

Ms LaBanca said there were 1,200 participants in the untimed 5K course, in addition to the 5-mile competitors. Numbers of participants increase every year, Ms LaBanca said.

“This was our biggest year ever,” said Ms LaBanca, adding that the number of participants has grown to about 1,400 overall. The site notes that in 2013, the first year, more than 1,000 runners took part, with twice that many spectators.

“There are people who sprint the course and people who walk it,” said Ms LaBanca, adding that there are about 100 volunteers each year, as well.

What makes the Mudfest special are the number of participants who have returned every year, and the special feeling that continues for weeks after the event. In support of Daniel’s brother, James, among the repeat participants are members of James’s soccer team, along with contingents from the Eggleston and Larson families of Newtown.

This spring, Newtown’s Dave Conrad placed 25th in the five-mile course in a time of 1:17:10. Michael Greenspan, Michelle’s son, placed 43rd overall with a time of 1:23:12. Newtown’s Travis Huzina was 44th in 1:23.16, and Newtown’s Thomas Skrelja was 45th in 1:23.25.

Maddy Albee of Newtown, placed second in the 1-19 female age group with a time of 1:54:05. Jennifer Heitzke of Sandy Hook placed third in the 50-59 female age group with a time of 2:36:18.

Regardless of how competitors do, their contributions create a winning scenario. Proceeds from the event are donated to several charities, chosen by eighth grade students who apply for the Daniel Barden Mudfest Adventure Scholarship. The Adventure Scholarship takes place in the Adirondacks of New York state, and 14 to 16 students from the central New York area and Sandy Hook area go on a ten-day, 80-mile canoe trip. Lead sponsor Pepsico kicks in $20,000 annually, and Utica, N.Y.-based Saranac Brewery contributes to the cause.

Those interested in volunteering may learn more at Those who would like to sign up for next year’s event should check back on the website for registration information.

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