Are So-Called 'Adventure Races' Being Honest About How Dangerous They Really Are?

Woman taking part in an obstacle course eventRemember, you signed a death waiver. Those are the words greeting participants of the Tough Mudder obstacle course events, held worldwide. Some of the obstacles encountered on the Tough Mudder courses include a field of dangling live wires of up to 10,000 volts of electricity; running through a field of flames to jump a fire pit; and one called Walk the Plank, in which you jump from a 15-foot-high platform into icy water below.

It was at this latter obstacle that a man was tragically killed at a Tough Mudder in West Virginia last April. It was the first death in Tough Mudder history, which has had more than one million participants in its over three years to date.

Freak accident? Or a warning sign that obstacle course events like Tough Mudder should be shut down? Here’s my opinion:


You take part in an event like a Tough Mudder at your own risk. Do some of the obstacles sound incredibly dangerous? Yes, but that’s the point! If you think it’s too dangerous, there’s an easy way around that -- don’t do a Tough Mudder.

It’s common to have a knee-jerk reaction when a tragedy occurs. It’s certainly not fair that 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta died during what is supposed to be a challenging but ultimately fun event. It’s also easy to point fingers in a case like this -- Sengupta would still be alive if he hadn’t participated. He would still be alive if he hadn’t attempted that particular obstacle (participants are allowed to skip any obstacle they want since it is not a race). He might still be alive if the emergency personnel on the course had gotten to him sooner. In the end, though, everyone entering these kinds of events knows (or should know) that you enter at your own risk

In fact, as well as the ominous reminder that you signed a death waiver, there is also a mandatory insurance fee as part of the registration for the event. It covers participants for up to $100,000 in medical costs for injuries on the course, as well as a $10,000 accidental death benefit. 

Tough Mudder is also not the only potentially dangerous physical event available for thrill-seekers. There’s another popular event where participants jump out of small aircraft at 10,000 feet or higher, reliant on a parachute to save them. It’s called skydiving. Or another, where you leap backward off a cliff face, tethered by a simple system of knots and ropes. It’s called rappelling. Or jumping off a bridge, attached only by a stretchy elastic cord that is (hopefully) short enough to stop you before you hit the ground. That one’s called bungee jumping. These are all dangerous events, for all of which you are required to sign death waivers, and all of which have had participants die.

Like any sport, and any event, the best thing you can do is be aware of the risks and to train appropriately. If something seems like it’s too risky for you, go with your gut and don’t participate. Finally, and sadly, sometimes tragic accidents happen, whether it is part of an event or just part of daily life. 

Have you done a Tough Mudder? Do you think they’re too dangerous?

Image via The 621st Contingency Response Wing/Flickr

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