An exploration of the inspirational—and squishy—phenomenon that is Tough Mudder and a school nurse’s tips on how to beat stress and safely stick to your fitness goals.

By Kimberly Crane

Covered in mud and loving it, Team NJEA Tough Mudder was thrilled to finish its first race together on Oct. 8 at Raceway Park in Englishtown. The team is now signing up members for the 2018 Tri-State Tough Mudder next October. Team NJEA wants to ask you the same question that comedian and Tough Mudder promoter Sean Corvelle asks: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

What is a Tough Mudder?

A Tough Mudder is an obstacle-based endurance course that spans 10 to 12 miles. A half-mudder may be four to five miles. The brainchild of Will Dean and Guy Livingstone, the first Tough Mudder was held near Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2010 and attracted more than 4,500 participants. Events are now held nationwide and draw 10,000 to 15,000 experienced mudders, known as legionnaires, and an ever-expanding group of first timers.

A passion for teamwork

High school math teacher and Manchester Township Education Association President Dan Staples was hooked on mud early in the game. Staples has competed in an impressive 32 tough mudder events. He ran his first mudder in 2010, and again in 2011 with a few of his co-workers. They called themselves The Dirty Birds, an homage to the Manchester High School mascot, a hawk. T-shirts were created and soon The Dirty Birds logo could be seen at tough mudder events across the county.

Staples credits his original team with giving him the inspiration to organize a team for NJEA.

“I saw the power of networking and how teamwork connected people over distance and demographics, Staples said. “Every core network needs these deeper connections. NJEA members are a union family. I saw this team as a way for us to support each other on a different level.”

Staples remarked on the pre-race Team NJEA huddle and the look on first-timers’ faces when approaching the initial obstacle, a 12 foot wall.

“They were looking at it thinking, ‘No way!’ but everyone did it,” Staples said. “Everyone got over the wall and it gave them the confidence to go on. I was so proud of them.”

From “No way!” to “What’s next?”

Mudders come from all walks of life, age groups, and fitness stages, but a look at the Tough Mudder website,, is enough to make even a seasoned athlete cringe, never mind those of us who haven’t worked out in a while.

While you should, at minimum, be able to run a few miles, the event is not really a race. Time is not a factor for most teams. Your team is there to support and encourage you, not to force you to hurt yourself. Facing your fears, setting personal bests, completing as many obstacles as you can, and helping your team cross the finish line together are the objectives.

Team NJEA Tough Mudder wants you to join them in their next adventure in teamwork. You can connect with the team on Facebook at Team NJEA Tough Mudder 2018 or email Dan Staples at for event information and dates.

An uncharacteristically clean moment for Team NJEA Tough Mudder members during pre-race camera mugging.

I signed up for your mud party. Now what?

Here are some Tough Mudder training tips to help you do your best in your first run, and every one thereafter:

• Circle the date of the race on the calendar.

• Train with other people (Team NJEA is planning 2018 regional training sessions).

• Make your training sessions fun.

• Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

• Try new exercises or fitness routines in addition to running.

“Running a Tough Mudder is the most fun you will ever have testing your personal limits and maximizing teamwork,” Staples said. ”I know that Team NJEA will continue to grow as more members experience the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment after finishing the course.”

Obstacle races are a great teambuilding experience for local associations. Check out these upcoming 2018 events:

• Tough Mudder Philly: Plantation Field, Coatesville, Pa. – May 19 and 20

• Warrior Dash: Alpine Scout Camp, Alpine, N.J. -June 23

• Rugged Maniac: Raceway Park, Englishtown, N.J. – July 7 and 8

• Tough Mudder Tri-State: Raceway Park, Englishtown, N.J. – Oct. 6 and 7

NJEA UniServ Field Represetnative Alex DeVicaris is a legionnaire mudder.

“One of the things I love about Tough Mudder events is the teamwork and help at the obstacles,” DeVicaris said. “Even at the World’s Toughest Mudder events, where mudders are competing for serious prize money, I would give my opponents a boost at an obstacle, and they would turn right around and reach out a hand to pull me up.”


A school nurse weighs in

Sheila Caldwell, BSN,RN,CSN-NJ a school nurse at Cambridge Park Elementary School in the Matawan-Aberdeen School District, sees many members’ New Year’s health resolutions come and go. She has also witnessed remarkable success stories. Caldwell offers some precautions and advice to members who want to start a new fitness routine.

“To get yourself on the road to a healthy fitness plan, you have to be in the right mindset,” she advises, “A personal contract to yourself is the way to go. Create it, sign it and post it on your bathroom mirror.”

A resolution kept

When a co-worker committed to eating healthier and exercising regularly, Caldwell was impressed with his resolve.

“Over the course of two years he researched healthy recipes online and joined a gym,” Caldwell noted. “He started off slowly and gave himself incremental goals that would boost his confidence and perseverance.”

Caldwell’s colleague completed his first 5K after six months of training, which was a huge accomplishment from where he had started. He later ran a 5K without losing stride and eventually worked up to a 10K run.

Caldwell reports that her colleague has also maintained healthy eating and feels much better. A key factor was not having lunch in the staff room—a popular dumping ground for leftover sweets. Instead, he devoted 15-20 minutes of lunchtime to some type of movement. There were times, however, that he felt isolated by friends who didn’t understand why he couldn’t join them for lunch.

Stress is common

Feeling alone in your healthy resolutions is not the only road block to achieving fitness goals. Caldwell shares that members have many complaints about how they feel, especially as they get older. Exhaustion and stress are two common laments, along with joint pain, shortness of breath, lack of motivation, and the increasing mental and physical demands of the school day.

“Members just want to crash when they get home,” she says. “Virtually all member health complaints relate to stress. Having a plan to reduce stress helps.”

Since stress is a key factor in failed resolutions, identifying sources of stress is essential. Self-assessment tools that provide tips on reducing the stress in your life are available from the American Institute of Stress at

Another resource is a health-based app called WholeLife NJ that was launched at the New Jersey School Health Summit from The Center for Prevention and Counseling. Created by educators, parents and students, the app offers recipes, activities, articles and other health-related information to iPhone and Android users.

Doctor’s orders

It is important that you speak with your physician when starting any fitness plan. For people age 40 and over, a physician’s authorization to start a fitness plan should be obtained. Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can all be better controlled and, in some instances, eliminated with a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. Your physician will best advise you on what level of exercise is appropriate for you.

The School Employees’ Helath Benefits Plan (SEHBP) offers discounts on gym memberships with some plans. In addition, many local fitness centers offer discount rates to NJEA members and their families. Visit and click on the “Search Discounts” link. Use the drop-down menus to select your county and “fitness centers.”

To avoid injury to joints and muscles it is important to build endurance and flexibility. Many fitness centers have consultants or trainers who will develop a plan with you and assess your goals. Are you looking to just lose a few pounds? Do you need to fit into an outfit for a wedding? Or do you want to join Team NJEA Tough Mudder for the experience of a lifetime? Knowing your goals will help you stick to your New Year’s fitness resolutions and achieve success.

Sheila Caldwell, a school nurse in the Matawan-Aberdeen School District, and Dan Staples, president of the Manchester Township Education Association, contributed to this article.

Kimberly Crane is an NJEA Communications Consultant and the vice president of the Highland Park Education Association. She previously served as HPEA president. She can be reached at

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