At the bottom of the Everest ramp was a woman who had been trying to get up it, I don’t even know for how long. Seven tries. Ten tries. Twenty? We didn’t know who she was. We didn’t see any teammates. We only saw her final running attempt, on which she came up short in reaching the arms of other Mudders who had long before finished the course and were just there helping everyone.
At that point, she had had enough. She collapsed. She began weeping. She could not do it. She had to accept that.
My heart sunk. The hearts of everyone atop the wall sunk. The hearts of the bystanders sunk.
This woman was alone, and she had given it everything she had to get to the end. And she had come up just short.
And then, one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed took place.
A man in a long blonde mullet wig, and a filthy and tattered tuxedo top, ran to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. “We’re going to get you up this,” he said. I don’t know if she heard him through her sobs.
This was the same man who moments before had given me the advice I needed to finally get to the top of Everest. “You have to run, and you have to believe nobody is up there,” he told me. “You have to run like you have to get to the top yourself without any help.” I trusted him because he started the race in the same wave we did, and he had raised his hand when they asked who was on their 9th or 10th Tough Mudder. I took his advice, and on my next attempt I went higher up Everest than I ever had before, and my teammates were able to get me up the rest of the way.
“We’re going to get you up this,” he said again.
This time she spoke the words most of us were trying not to think.
“How? I can’t.”
He didn’t answer. He simply started… ordering. “Make a human ladder!” he yelled to two other men nearby. “You… here.” He pointed to the bottom of the ramp. The man eagerly laid face down where he was told.
This leader among leaders got above him and added himself to the ladder.
Another man added himself to that.
And the ladder was too short.
That was when David, a newcomer to our team who none of us knew too well, scurried to the top of the pile, and flattened himself against Everest.
“Now, CLIMB!” the man in the tuxedo shirt told the woman.
“CLIMB! YOU’VE GOT THIS!” We all chanted from up top!
The woman wiped her tears away, carried herself to the bottom of the human ladder, and she hesitated for a very long time. What was going through her head, I can only guess. This will never work. I’m too heavy. I’m not strong enough. I just want to quit. I have no idea. I just know that her entire being wanted to shrink away in that moment. Her body language left no secrets.
“Start climbing! Come on, you can do this! We will get you to the top!” the ring leader shouted once more.
And this time, she began climbing.
Everest is slippery. It’s greased down and purposefully designed to be an incredible struggle.
And still, this woman climbed.
The members of the ladder instructed her on where she should place her feet.
They held her steady as she pushed ever higher.
And when she had gone as high as her human ladder would take her, those of us up top reached with every millimeter we could extend…
And we came up short.