The SISU IRON is one of those events that is hard to describe – most of what you experience cannot be
put to words. Part race, part survival skills, part feats of strength, the IRON tests you to the very core. It
is designed to break you down into simple building blocks and then reconstruct you. The end result is
that the event builds better athletes and better humans.
This would be my second consecutive year of participating in the IRON. I enjoyed it so much the
previous year that I encouraged several of my Corn Fed family to join me in this year’s event. In total, 11
of us Midwesterners toed the line when the clock started at 9 pm on Friday night. I knew this year’s
event was going to be very different from last year’s – harder, more intense, and less forgiving. I did my
best to try to prep the Corn Feds in the weeks leading into the race with tips, training days, and
encouragement. In the end though, sometimes previous experience is the best tool you can have in
your pack… I was banking on that and my own training to pull me through.
One short but fun task (eat a donut hanging from a string)went off before the main event started.
Shortly thereafter we all gathered in the amphitheater area for opening remarks, where Daren gave a
very inspiring and emotional oratory. Matt followed up with an oath that all were required to recite in
which we vowed to race with integrity and honesty (and basically that we signed a death waiver).
I received a pass for the first event of the evening – 10 of us whose “Why I’m Doing the SISU IRON”
write-up were selected and published were exempt from this grueling event of barrel rolls with a strobe
light, PT, and charging in and out of the cold frog pond. While it was nice to not start the evening wet
and chilled, part of me didn’t feel right watching my friends go through funishment. I cheered and
offered encouragement where I could though.
The tasks thereafter came quickly – lots of time spent in the water for the first hour or so. Physical
challenges like PT from Coach Pain aka Coach HellYeah as he came to be known at the event, mental
challenges like solving math inequalities and then applying those values towards an algorithm that
would solve a scrambled quote (I lucked out here in that I was hanging with Scott Weir, and the two of
us deciphered the quote without needing to use the equations – and we quickly spread the word). My
partner in crime for many of the tasks was Danielle Ross, who I’m happy to call friend and who
motivates me to perform. The level of female athletic performance was very impressive and – might I
say – rivalled (and in some cases surpassed) that of the men. Women like Danielle Ross, Leah Erickson,
Amber Lukes, Mary Carideo, Bonnie Mobley, Vlada Davydova, and Janice Ferguson breathed life to the
event that seemed to be absent last year. I was excited to be among such strong women!
The two most meaningful tasks to me were Community Service, in which we spent time beautifying the
grounds of Trask (because paying it forward rejuvenates the spirit), and Victoria’s Challenge, named for
a SISU member who had passed away. Victoria’s Challenge was a timed 15 mile run down to Dave and
Buster’s and then back up the mountain. Months of training and a little recon on the route before the
race paid off, as I was the first woman to return to camp, alongside Louis Thunder Badger (tied for 2nd
overall). I was ecstatic!
Patches were earned for major tasks, but something that meant even more to me was when an event
leader would recognize special effort among the racers – scribing a letter on our race bibs to eventually
spell “SISU.” I received my fourth and final letter at the fire starting task by Kevin Kierce, and I don’t
think I smiled so much than during that moment.
The famed final task – the waterfall hike – was much more treacherous this year. Low waters led to
more jagged rock exposure, dense plant overgrowth, and slippery conditions. My exhausted legs at
times needed to physically be lifted with my hands to help step up onto tall rocks. I called out hazards to
those behind me whenever I slipped, stubbed a toe, or hit my head. Reaching the falls, we filled our
buckets to the required depth and started our uphill march back to Trask. My body ached and my brain
was fuzzy from no sleep, but my spirit felt strong. I marched into camp and presented my bucket to
Dave Lokey and Dave Huckle, who confirmed my completion of the event. And, just like that, I was
finished. I breathed a sigh of relief coupled with exhaustion, and went to task of sewing the 7 earned
patches onto my race bib.
When the awards ceremony kicked off at 6am, I watched as 25 of my comrades earned their dog tag,
handcrafted beer, and iron spike – out of over 200 registrants and a little less than 100 starters, a mere
26 of us completed the event. I cheered for all of them, clapping loudly for each recipient because I
knew just how hard they had worked to get where they stood. My spike and tag meant so much more
to me this year, and I stifled some tears as Daren handed them to me. When the time came to
announce the recipients of the coveted Ironman and Ironwoman awards (voted on by fellow racers and
meant to recognize the person they felt raced with the most heart, honor, and integrity), I glanced over
at Danielle as I sat next to her, thinking she would be the winner. I was shocked when my name was
called instead – I slowly stood and walked back up to Daren in disbelief as he held the custom axe
award, visibly fighting to keep from crying. In hindsight I should have said some words to thank the
event directors and my fellow racers, but I was in such a state of disbelief that it was all I could do to find
my way back to my seat. Even now as I stare at the axe bestowed upon me, I get misty-eyed.
In a world where things are automated and everything is handed to you, sometimes you lose your sense
of self. Deep down I think we all yearn to toil like our ancestors did. Things are more valuable when you
put effort into it, and achievement means more when hard work prefaces it. The IRON is an event that
brings us back to our roots and allows us to experience those things: physical labor, tasks of patience,
feats of pure athleticism, and tests of mental fortitude. It drives us to remember that, at our very core,
we are capable of achieving so much more than we ever believed. The IRON builds better humans, and
that is why it keeps drawing me back.