Climb. Sprint. Crawl. Repeat.
Twelve-year-old Larsson Wing gasps for air as he hurdles himself over the final obstacle. His face is stained with dirt and his body is soaked in mud. As he reaches the finish line, he is greeted with cheers and then sprayed with colored chalk.
“I felt really good,” he said, “and really filthy.”
This is Wing’s third year participating in The Tough Turtle, a 5k-adventure obstacle course along the Cayuga Waterfront and Black Diamond Trails. The race is designed to push your body and challenge your wit, all while maneuvering your way through the mud.
The Tough Turtle began three years ago to benefit The Ithaca Children’s Garden. Executive Director Erin Marteal wanted to bring the community together to raise awareness and funds for the garden.
“The idea is to get people outdoors having fun, being physically active and enjoying their time at the garden,” she said.
The Tough Turtle is the first and only obstacle course race in Ithaca. It is characterized by a main event for adults and youth, as well as a Tough Turtle Junior for those younger than twelve years old.
The main event consists of fifteen obstacles along the shore of Cayuga Lake. Each obstacle is sponsored by a different organization. For Wing, the tractor tire obstacle proved to be the most difficult.
“We had to flip a tractor tire over and over, and then we had to flip it back,” he explained. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow.”
Other obstacles on the course included a muddy army crawl, a compost slide and a hay bale mount. Participants raced from obstacle to obstacle and could choose to opt out of any obstacle on the course.
“We’re really flexible with everything just so everyone has fun,” said Tough Turtle Event Director Lindsey Hadlock.
This year, Home Depot sponsored the Tough Turtle Junior event. The kid’s obstacle course measured just under a half mile through the garden and included obstacles such as tunnels, slides and zip-lines. Children and their families were then invited to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and explore the garden’s snapping turtle pond.
“Everywhere I look I see people smiling and saying thanks for making such a great spot in the community for people to come and enjoy themselves,” said Marteal.
This year’s Tough Turtle saw over 400 participants and raised over $60,000. All proceeds from the event will provide critical funding for staffing and environmental educational programs for the Ithaca Children’s Garden. Hadlock says the event is one of the biggest fundraisers for the garden.
“Everything goes towards keeping the garden thriving so that children and their families can enjoy it,” she said.
Wing, mud stained and soaking wet, was happy to finish the race.
“I’ve done the race all three years now and it gets better as you go,” he said.