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Through Volunteerism and a little elbow grease, Muddy Mamas Mud Run empowers women to climb, crawl, run, and walk their way through obstacles.
by Nicole Jovel and photos by Bill Vannurden and Turner Photography Studio
"Our volunteers are our heart,” says Terri Baker, volunteer coordinator for Muddy Mamas Mud Run, an annual obstacle course mud run supporting Girls Inc. of Washington County and Girls on the Run of Washington County. With roles like guest check-in, water station duty, clean up, setup, finish line support, merchandising, parking, and more, it takes roughly 300 volunteers to run the event.
Leading up to the day of the event, there is quite an undertaking as volunteers transform the Washington County Ag Center by digging mud pits and building structures for obstacles with backhoes, Bobcats, water trucks, and more. A regular group of volunteers take vacation time from their day jobs weeks in advance to ensure that everything will be ready for nearly 2,000 females age 10 and up to run, walk, climb, and crawl their way over, under, and through the muddy obstacles. “It almost chokes you up when you come in in the morning and see everything set up,” says Allen Grove, an event volunteer. “You know something great is about to happen.”
The obstacles range from a twist on the traditional monkey bars called “Climbing the Corporate Ladder,” to the less-traditional “Spa Day” obstacle where participants crawl through a mud pit on their hands and knees underneath chicken wire.
“Without our volunteers, some women wouldn’t make it,” adds Terri, who is also a board member for Girls Inc. “The muddy hugs, pulling people out of the mud, cheering people on when it gets tough; it’s all for the girls to feel like they can do anything they put their minds to. We want every woman leaving this event to feel bold and powerful, and that’s what our volunteers make possible.”
The event is designed to bring awareness to issues facing females today — physical health and fitness, building self-esteem, and promoting overall well-being. “It’s two organizations collaborating and working together whose missions are so aligned — the event is what happens when we all work together,” says Sabina Spicher, Girls on the Run past president. “This event has been life-changing for people, just like Girls Inc. and Girls on the Run have been life-changing for people.
It’s a passion-driven event that could not happen without the generosity of our volunteers giving of their time, efforts, and energy.”
Though it may sound intimidating that the course has 17 obstacles, volunteers insist that anyone can finish them and there is always the option to go around an obstacle if need be. But if you give an obstacle a try, there is always a volunteer there to give a helping hand and assist anyone to complete it — no one is a stranger the day of the event. Some volunteers like to work the same obstacle year after year because they think the best part is helping someone overcome a tough obstacle. One volunteer brings his personalized “Get Muddy Hugs Here” sign with him each year to offer some extra encouragement. Another says that volunteering at Muddy Mamas is even better than one of his favorite pastimes. “Why would I want to be at home or anywhere else and not here? It’s even a lot better than going fishing,” says retired Smithsburg resident Larry Harris.
Though some volunteers are more visible and others are more behind-the-scenes, they all leave a mark that is unforgettable to many. “Some do it because they have wives or daughters who are participating,” says Sue Fahey, a board member for Girls on the Run and Muddy Mamas volunteer. “They come to support them and all the other participants.” Their reward is seeing how proud the participants are when they finish one of the obstacles or cross the finish line, and the fun they have along the way. Some even say you can feel the positive energy in the air the day of the event. “There is so much laughter,” says Pam Clemmer, an event volunteer and board member of Girls on the Run. “It makes it so much fun to watch.” In fact, the music cut out during the event its first year and “all you could hear was laughter,” says Sabina. “I almost didn’t want the music to come back on.”
The event, which is nearly equal to a 5k in distance, is untimed because the goal is finish, accomplish, and overcome no matter how long it takes. The idea for it was born at Girls Inc. Executive Director Maureen Grove’s house when a group of six friends were sitting on her deck and she pitched the idea. “We’re a close knit group and help each other out,” says John Rinehart, who has been an event volunteer since its inception in 2013. “When she told us what she had in mind, we all wanted to help.”
Though the group rallied behind Maureen and the idea, John says they were nervous the first year. “We kept our fingers crossed the first time around.” But the first event in 2013 went off smoothly (minus that aforementioned glitch with the music) and word of mouth quickly spread, which has helped the number of participants grow each year.
For the volunteers, seeing women being strong, confident (and muddy), is all the thanks they need for giving their time (and in some cases hugs or obstacle-building skills). It’s so rewarding that not only do dozens of volunteers come back year after year, but the number of volunteers has more than tripled over the brief lifespan of the event. “Our volunteers are everything,” says Maureen. “This is a group of hardworking people with big hearts that tear up each year when the horn blows and the first wave of women runners take off.”