Earlier this year, I walked away from my first Monster Challenges experience with a pit in my stomach. A disappointing performance combined with some on-course snafus in the elite wave had tarnished my initial view of the event. So when an upcoming event was announced, I debated whether or not I would return to the race that had chewed me up and so violently spit me back out, a muddy emotional mess.
Despite my initial doubt, it quickly became clear that returning to Monster Challenges was a must. I attribute this change of heart to Deby, Event Coordinator for Monster Challenges, and someone who I believe has truly become the driving force of this event. Deby lives and breathes this event, and it is instantly evident upon meeting her that she is incredibly passionate about what she does. Her Monster Challenges tent can be found at the majority of local obstacle races, and most of us who frequent the local racing circuit have come to know her well. Her bright smile, genuine charm, and vibrant personality make it impossible not to adore her, and she has successfully set her race apart from all others, making it a must-do on all racing schedules. This is an event that has become a huge family reunion of sorts, and Deby leads the way as the joyful matriarch, happily adding numbers to the Monster Challenges family each event.
I realized that I had to go back. Each time I spoke with Deby, or witnessed her interact with fellow mud runners (whether it be at an event or on social media), I realized that not only does Monster Challenges have a dedicated group of loyal racers who absolutely love the event, but Deby herself has built such a strong relationship with those of us who are passionate about racing; you just can’t not go!
When this most recent Monster Challenges arrived, my social media feeds were filled with excitement all weekend. People really LOVE this race! And I am thrilled to have gone back! I overcame the challenges that had defeated me earlier this year, and came away feeling as though I had gained the redemption I so desperately sought. My entire family had an absolute blast!
I reached out to Deby after her recent event, with the hopes of digging in a bit deeper as to what Monster Challenges is all about. She eagerly accepted, and shared the following tale of what lead to her to become the true heart and soul of Monster Challenges. Here is her story:
“Jim Grayford, Guy Grayford, and I have worked together as home builders for years. When the bottom dropped out of the economy and home building came to a screeching halt, we were looking for things to do.
Warrior Dash had its first event in Lake Wales and we were 1) amazed how simple it was, and 2) how many people showed up. Jim approached me with the initial Monster Challenges concept. He asked if I could put together some flyers and take care of permitting since I had done those things in the home building business. Honestly, I was clueless about operating a mud obstacle race.
Originally, we had a piece of property in mind that was on Sugarloaf Mountain (also in Clermont, FL). It was bank owned, but they wouldn’t budge on a deal. So, we started looking at private property in South Clermont and worked an arrangement with the Arnold Family. It was apropos that they have the Monster Truck as well! By the time we had the agreement in place, Savage Race had their first event. So we had a better idea what to expect; but that day was horrid! It freaked me out. There was a terrible storm, but they handled it very well.
Anyway, we had our race scheduled for April 21 and April 22, 2012 (yes, a two day event). There were a total of 330 people registered. I really didn’t play an active role. I was more or less a paper-shuffler. Jim had decided that the object would be to “finish clean.” Well, that wasn’t working. Needless to say, the first one was horrible. If I could go back and recreate the first event, I would….obviously knowing what I know today.
The second event was in September 2012 and we had about the same number of people. We added some more mud, and moved the spectator area to the back portion of the Arnold property. It was a good event, but we weren’t doing a very good job of marketing ourselves.
In December 2012, we had another event – much to my chagrin (about 125 attended). However, that’s when I met Tracy Trombley, David Blanchard, Mike Deater, and Eduardo Gonzalez – they were representing team MudRunFun. I spent the better part of three hours talking with them. I started to research and attend other events, as Jim had taken a full-time job with another homebuilder and didn’t have the time to devote to Monster Challenges. Randy Yoho of Mud Endeavor was the first race director to offer us a space in his venue.
By the April 2013 event, we had managed to attract about 600 people. To me, that was huge….as I laugh out loud typing this. I absolutely contribute that to team MudRunFun, and especially to David Blanchard. He had approached me about sponsoring an elite team for Extreme Nation and we accepted. We introduced David, Vinnie Fountain, Troy King, and Joselito Rivera as our Elite Team at the April 2013 event. We all know the rest of the Extreme Nation story.
By September 2013, I was spending most every day, all day (and night), working on Monster Challenges. We had brought Quan in to help introducing people to Monster Challenges at other events. He would run with the flag, set up a booth, and talk everyone’s ear off! We had about 800 at our September 2013 event. So, word was spreading about Monster Challenges. We all decided that 1200 was the goal. It was manageable and still intimate. Since we all have “real paying” jobs, it was difficult to manage all of the things required to have a successful event without someone devoting being full-time focused. That person is me.
When I started meeting the everyday people who participate in OCR/mud runs, I was attracted to them. Not a physical attraction; it was their determination, their history, their passion. The many a story behind why they do it just fascinates me. And, as one of the oldest people (and a woman) in this business, I feel like they are all my kids. Watching them grow from event to event is heartwarming. Seeing them get better and better; less afraid; beating monster challenges….like seeing your own children grow.
I have been plagued by a bad back since just after the start of Monster Challenges. Apparently, there are four herniated disks in my lower back. I was told I would never be able to run again. After nine epidurals and countless medications to “heal” it, and repeated trips to the neurosurgeon who said he could fix it by putting a knife to me, I have started my own therapy and am working to get back the strength I once had. I threw away the prescriptions and started walking. The first several weeks it hurt like hell and it took me an hour to go barely a mile. In four months, I have lost 20 pounds, changed my diet to minimize carb intake, and now “walk” three miles in 32 minutes….I’m damn near running.
Our participants have been my personal motivation. So many have overcome adversity and keep moving forward. It was the inspiration for the Dragon Slayer Award that we presented to the first recipient last weekend. I couldn’t even get through the thought of her struggle without getting choked up. But, she is always smiling, always helping, and always a loving mother to not only her child, but the two she is trying to adopt after they were taken away from their own mother. I believe that you work hard for everything. Nothing should just be handed to you because you’re a nice person. But I also believe in family, community, teamwork, and passion. I have a wonderful supporting family, and I live in a very giving community; without my husband teaching me that a good marriage is made with teamwork, I wouldn’t have the passion that goes with it. All of that is part of Monster Challenges.
We recently had our largest event (October 2014), with 1500+ people, including the kid’s course. I left that venue with a great feeling. My goal was to step out from the check-in tent and be a part of the joy taking place. It was very close to seeing my own children graduate from high school and college. I got muddy just from the hugs! It was an extremely proud and satisfying day.
We hope to continue providing a venue of fun, yet challenging obstacles that everyone, especially families, can enjoy. We will never move from venue to venue, town to town, but we will continue to move forward. Tweaking it along the way; making improvements to obstacles, adjusting rules to be fair, and hoping to create an even more festival-like atmosphere in the future.
I am not all there is of Monster Challenges, but Monster Challenges has all there is of me.”
Photo Credits: Gameface Media