The crowd went wild again as I was climbing out of the pool.
I turned around to see that the girl who could not and would not jump before Ashley had somehow found the courage to take the plunge herself. I was sad to have missed it.
After she emerged, she hugged Ashley and told her had Ashley not done it, she never would have done it. It was Ashley jumping that filled her with courage. Ashley began crying with overwhelming appreciation for her own successful jump. To become the catalyst for another achieving what was thought impossible was an overwhelming thought at best.
It wouldn’t be the last time her moment inspired another, either. At the very next obstacle, the second “Mud Mile,” the inspiration of her jump would help Kenny through his impossibly scary obstacle. The big. Black. Narrow. Tubes.
Just as we did with the first Mud Mile, Rick and I teamed up with Kenny to help him get atop each giant mound. Halfway through, we reached the first pipe. For two days Kenny had told us this was his scariest challenge. He was as claustrophobic as a person can be, and those pipes were not only long and black. They were lined with mud and water.
As we approached the pipe, he also began hyperventilating. I saw the look in his eyes. He would have welcomed sweet death if it would have been easier than the tube. There was mayhem all around as other teams splashed through.
Again I was taken back to a time when I struggled with claustrophobia. In my sister’s bedroom growing up, there was a big window seat. One time I climbed inside and they shut the top of it. Then, they all sat on it and wouldn’t let me out. I remember the panic. I remember the screaming. I remember knowing that I was going to die. From that day on I was claustrophobic and it would take me years to conquer.
From that, I also knew that claustrophobic people can’t be talked into getting inside of anything tight and enclosed. They will panic at the very thought. And Kenny started doing just that.
Rick did his Rick thing and promised Kenny he would stay directly in front of him, talking him through it. You can’t not trust Rick. I knew that the anxiety of knowing others might come in behind him would add to his fear, and I promised him I would guard the entrance and let no one through until he was safely out on the other side.
Kenny didn’t cry. But I could tell he wanted to. And then I saw him take the biggest breath I’ve ever seen, Rick asked him if he was ready, and he followed Rick through the first pipe. He came out a champion, wetter and muddier than before.
When the pipe was clear, I followed. Alone. No one saw me emerge. And that was okay. This was Kenny’s moment.
We made it over the next large mounds and to the final pipe. This one was worse than the first. The pipes were inclined, and you had to pull yourself through them with a rope because they were too slippery and steep to crawl.
Again Kenny hyperventilated. Again he dug down deep. He trusted Rick. I cleared a wide birth for them both. And they inched their way up the tunnel together. Once up the other side, I heard cheering and whooping and hollering. I wished I could have been there for it. I felt like a proud papa. That was some scary crap.
I made my own way up the pipe, and though my team was ready to get moving again, and though Kenny was still getting his much deserved kudos, I did a summersault out of the tube just to make a bigger splash.
The whole team had made it through. And we kept going. Together.
Later, Kenny would tell Ashley that the only way he did it, was because she had jumped from the plank. He had seen the fear in her eyes, he had seen her do it anyway, and it was all he needed to know that fear was something to be overcome.
From there, there were more walls to get over. There were giant nets to make our way under. There were ravines to climb and miles still to walk.
The weather was cool enough. There was a nice breeze and occasional clouds. We were winding to the end. Kenny’s legs were hanging in there with only occasional problems. It seemed we were almost there.
We got to where we thought there was the final turn toward the end of the course, and all of our jaws dropped at what stood in front of us.
The path didn’t bend.
It didn’t turn.
It didn’t point us toward the finish line.
Instead, it pointed straight up a nearby…