A large contingent from Newtown and the area representing the team Tribe Mud For Brains — 31 people in fact — showed strength, endurance, mental and physical toughness, as well as plenty of support for each other in the New England Tough Mudder, at Mount Snow Ski Resort in Dover, Windham County, Vt. on June 24.
Tribe Mud For Brains, representing The Avielle Foundation, made the trip and completed the grueling, test-your-mettle ten-mile course chock full of mud crawls, tower climbs, monkey barlike stations, and many other challenging obstacles in honor of Avielle Rose Richman, one of the Sandy Hook students killed on 12/14.
The mission of The Avielle Foundation is to prevent violence and build compassion through neuroscience research, community engagement, and education. The foundation uses many activities, such as this Tough Mudder and the upcoming Spark Yoga Festival to be held at NYA Sports & Fitness on August 26, as outlets to get community members to challenge themselves and promote good health, while supporting its mission.
Among the participants is Avielle’s father, Dr Jeremy Richman, a neuropharmacologist, who founded the Avielle Foundation along with his wife, Jennifer Hensel, a multidisciplinary scientist. They have worked hard, with the help of the community, to make good things happen in their daughter’s honor.
“What I like about it is there’s always something challenging, an obstacle that takes you out of your comfort zone,” Richman said. “There’s something for everyone. There’s height, balancing, using upper body strength.”
Tribe Mud For Brains has participated in the Tough Mudder in each of the last four years, and has grown from a team of nine in 2014 to 21 in 2015, to 31 each of the past two years. “I’d love to have 300 people,” Richman said.
Avielle is remembered for many things, including wanting family members to frequently share stories. They certainly have plenty of great ones to tell, as do all of the participants of the Tough Mudder.
“I participated in the Tough Mudder because it is a fun challenge that I wanted to try at least once. However, more importantly I wanted to show my support for The Avielle Foundation by running for Tribe Mud for Brains and raising money as well,” said Newtown’s Sophia Andrew, one of the team participants.
Team members wore “Avielle Foundation” shirts and other competitors on the course asked about the foundation, Andrew said. “It was very meaningful to be able to have fun and run this challenging course, but also spread the word about this wonderful foundation and fantastic achievements they have made,” she added.
Andrew said something called the Funkey Monkey was the obstacle she enjoyed most.
“As a former Junior Olympic gymnast, the Funky Monkey really brought me back to my element. It was an obstacle of monkey bars and wheels to swing on, all over water. I really had fun swinging around and completing the obstacle without falling,” she said.
The most challenging part of the course for Andrew, whose dad, John, and brother, Tristan, also participated, was not the obstacles themselves but the ski hills, many of which were muddy and very slippery, that they had to climb to get from obstacle to obstacle during the six or so hours on the mountain, she explains.
Although individuals can work out and participate in obstacle course races without the help of family and friends, there is a true need for teammates in the Tough Mudder, Richman notes. Richman points out that most of the obstacles, including a warped wall just to name one, require help from family and friends to conquer.
“It takes a team, it takes a tribe, it takes a whole village so to speak,” said Richman, adding that he enjoys the team element. “If you don’t have your teammates you can’t overcome most obstacles.”
Richman refers to the Tough Mudder or the Ragnar relay running events the team participates in as a crucible activity.
“These are events or goals that push you beyond your comfort zone, beyond your self-perceived limits. They test your fortitude, and provoke suffering. Authentic change is a product of this discomfort and suffering, the outcome of these crucible events is profound personal change and growth,” Richman said.
“We know that the brain is never in a static state, it is always changing, and testing our limits provokes healthy brain growth. We need to always have a crucible event ahead of us — perhaps giving a talk to a large audience, reading that fat book that somehow has always been put aside because it appears too daunting, or commit to your first 5K, marathon, or dance class.”
Richman invites more people to join in working together to test themselves together to back the mission of The Avielle Foundation.
“Support from the community is quite meaningful to us personally and community engagement is one of the missions of The Avielle Foundation,” Richman adds.
Find out more about the foundation, and upcoming events, such as the Spark Yoga Festival, at aviellefoundation.org.