Mud, sweat, but no tears: Women race to celebrate the life of a victim of domestic violence.
Amy Williams always wanted to fly. An emergency room nurse in Pottsville, Pa., Williams had begun taking classes to become a flight nurse and help people in crisis.
“She was so caring,” said her sister Jackie Lewis. “She was so full of life.”
But on a February morning in 2009, Williams’s abusive husband shot her four times in the chest before turning the gun on himself. Williams, clinging to life, called 911 and tried to perform CPR on her husband. She died in surgery later that afternoon.
In Williams’s memory, Lewis and eight other women raced as a team Saturday morning at Mudderella, an offshoot of the Tough Mudder endurance event meant to encourage female endurance and teamwork.
The Clarksburg, Md., event, sponsored by the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence, urged more than 3,000 participants to raise awareness of domestic violence and “own their strong” through a five-mile, 10-obstacle course characterized by grime and grit.
“Right now, the media is really dominated by negative headlines about domestic violence, particularly in professional sports,” said Lauren Brisbo, a spokeswoman for Futures Without Violence.
Nani Cuadrado, the captain of Lewis’s Mudderella team, discovered Mudderella’s partnership with the domestic violence organization and pitched the competition in February on a Facebook page dedicated to Williams’s life.
“We’d been wanting to dosomething to honor Amy for a long time,” said Cuadrado, who worked with Williams as a physician assistant. “Domestic violence touches everyone. No one is really immune. It’s the great equalizer.”
Lewis, whois raising her sister’s two sons, signed up. The six years after her sister’s death, she said, had been difficult to handle emotionally.
“I’m hoping it might help me turn things around,” she said before the race.
The nine women on the team began preparing: training every two weeks before the event and raising money. They held a boxing event encouraging people to “box bags, not women” and called on friends and family to donate what would eventually total more than $1,700 for the race.
On Saturday, team members donned purple shirts emblazoned with their team name: Amy’s Angels. Their logo— a woman flexing her biceps atop a cloud— matched temporary wing tattoos on their shoulder blades and purple polish on their nails.
As the clock ticked toward their 9:30 a.m. start time, they applied more temporary tattoos and face paint: Marshawn Weaver, 31, applied two temporary tattoos on her cheekbones that said “strong.” Lewis joined in with a tattoo reading “Power to the She.”
Once the race started, Lewis was all smiles, walking and jogging through bumpy paths of flattened grass and wading through pools of mud. For two hours, the team crawled under wires through a muddy field and scaled wooden walls with ropes slung over the sides, past encouraging signs such as “Girlfriend! Yaasss!” and “You. Are. Amazing.”
Teammates also scooped up cooling mud from the sides of the path and smeared it on one another’s necks and faces and slapped one another’s shoulders, leaving brown handprints behind.
At one point, Weaver whooped joyfully and raced past Cuadrado, startling her.
“That’s something Amy would have done,” Cuadrado said, as she slowed to cross a ditch in the road. “There’s a lot of sadness in the ER, but Amy’s enthusiasm was infectious.”
Williams was also empathetic; Cuadrado recalled a group of abandoned children who were brought in during a shift: “Amy took them back, washed their hair, cleaned them and treated them like her own.”
Domestic violence, she added, can afflict anyone regardless of their status or personality. “She was professional, she was beautiful, she had an escape plan for her and her sons, and she was still taken from us,” Cuadrado said about Williams.
Near the end of the course, Amy’s Angels hit the muddiest obstacle of all: three trenches of sticky, shin-deep mud called Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. As they walked toward it, the women started singing the lyrics to the classic song: “Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough . . . ”
They laughed and giggled as they waded through the mud, carried by a wave of euphoria. Clothes that had been only spattered were quickly caked, and one teammate lost her shoes in the third trench. As Lewis struggled to exit the last pit, teammate Katie Hursh reached out: “Do you need help?”
Lewis shook her head no. She could do it on her own.
Inch by inch, she clambered out of the mud. At the top, she cheered, throwing her head back into the sun.
TOP: Teammates from Amy’s Angels celebrate on an obstacle during theMudderella run inMaryland. ABOVE: Marshawn Weaver, one of Amy’s Angels, with a tattoo that says “strong.”