"Are my fingers going to fall off? No? Okay, well I’m not going to give up now.”
With those words former Stevens softball player Amanda Petrocelli set off on another frigid 10-mile, obstacle-laced lap at the first annual World’s Toughest Mudder competition in Englishtown, N.J. Petrocelli was among the top-placing women in the event that lasted 24 hours from Dec. 17-18 and had an attrition rate of over 90 percent. A photo of her carrying a pair of tires through the race’s trademark mud accompanied the Star-Ledger’s front-page article the next day, prompting a flood of comments and contacts over the holidays.
Understandably, Petrocelli spent the next day in bed, recuperating from her exhaustive and damaging effort put in over the previous two days. Petrocelli finished the event fourth among women and 29th overall.
In Tough Mudder competitions — the rage in extreme fitness competitions — athletes navigate an obstacle course laid out over 10-12 miles and designed to turn the toughest weekend warriors into shivering, cramping, panting heaps. A regular Mudder is over after one lap. At the World’s Toughest Mudder, the object is to go around as many times as you can in 24 hours.
They’re called Mudders because they slog through waist-high mud that soaks them to the core and swallows sneakers. They fall from rings and monkey bars and rocking platforms into icy waters. They climb two-story high cargo nets and taunting walls. They crawl through watery tunnels and carry tires. They try to scale huge slides coated with cooking oil. Drenched, they fight their way through curtains of live wires that crackle with electricity, burning and stinging when they brush the skin. The race continues after darkness falls. Competitors don headlamps and safety lights and continue their laps into the night.
While the races are competitive, Petrocelli says they are not really about getting the best time.
“There was nothing like the camaraderie experienced at the World’s Toughest,” said Petrocelli. “The instant connection you feel with each and every fellow mudder is like no other. You empathize with one another immediately through it all, helping each other through the course and between laps. It is crazy, but the whole atmosphere is very tight-knit and supportive. Some people actually come back after they complete the course and help other people finish the race. They stayed in the tent area when they were done and helped others get changed, fed, showered. There was actually a woman who was signed up and couldn’t race. She came anyway, with the sole intention of helping other races. The people at these races are special people, a lot of them very selfless.”
For the World’s Toughest Mudder, each person was advised to bring a tent to sleep in, as well as a list of other supplies needed for a 24-hour mudfest. Wetsuits were highly recommended as well.
“Thank god I had that wetsuit,” said Petrocelli. “Many people had tents set up. I’m not sure how many actually ended up sleeping in them, though. I had a sleeping bag but didn’t sleep a wink. I used the tent for storing extra gear. My sneakers/laces were so frozen as the night fell, I couldn’t change them.”
In the harsh conditions, only 25 percent of people even attempted more than one lap. Hypothermia was a common phenomenon, but Petrocelli was in first place among women at the start of the third lap.
“My hands were purple and blue, and they were so completely swollen that I had to climb the monkey bars with my elbows and feet instead of my hands. I was banging my hands, rubbing them on trees trying to get feeling back in them. I really thought I might do some serious damage to my body. My least favorite obstacle actually became my favorite one – I have a little bit of a fear of heights. But now that I’ve done the Walk the Plank five times between the two races I think I’ve officially conquered that fear.” (Walk the Plank involves a two-story plunge into a freezing lake).
At her first-ever standard Tough Mudder race in November, Petrocelli ran with several former Stevens student-athletes, including current Stevens assistant women’s basketball coach Jean Matusiak. Petrocelli has also met people in her first two races with whom she now plans on doing more Tough Mudders with in the future.
She says she did her first standard Tough Mudder for her birthday on November 12.
“It just sounded like a really fun thing to do,” she said.
Afterwards, Petrocelli claimed it was a spur-of-the-moment thing to do the World’s Toughest Mudder.
“I didn’t think it was a possibility for me to qualify for it, but once I found out I did, I couldn’t say no.”
The races were only a month apart, so Petrocelli was able to keep her training intensity at the same level. She would do a variety of activities to reach the level of fitness required for Mudders, including kickboxing, lifting, going to the gym, doing crossfit and doing other people’s Tough Mudder-prep workouts.
In addition to being an über-competitive athlete, Petrocelli also works full-time as a sales marketing engineer at an environmental company in Jersey City. She studied biomedical engineering during her time at Stevens.
In regards to her time as a college athlete, Petrocelli says that “being on the Stevens softball team was a help, because I was on the first varsity softball team in school history. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were also able to create a lot of traditions. With this being the first World’s Toughest Mudder competition, we also didn’t know what to expect, but we were all very excited to set the precedent. I really miss the competition, and this helps me reconnect with that.”
When asked if she would do it all again, without hesitation she replied: “Yep. In a heartbeat.”
She already has this year’s season pass.