For disabled competitors, Tough Mudder’s obstacles pale in comparison

Margaret Moran
A competitor gets shocked before exiting the Electric Eel obstacle in July's Tough Mudder.
Sylas Wright / | Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. — This weekend, hundreds of people will test their will by trying to overcome freezing waters, towering walls and other obstacles as part of the popular Tough Mudder endurance series.

But members of one participating team have already conquered one of life’s biggest obstacles: a life-altering injury.

“The bigger picture is we want to inspire other people to kind of get out there, push their limits and continue to live life at a higher level,” said Joe Commendatore, co-founder of Hula Tribe.

Partnering with the Hula Tribe is Truckee-based High Fives Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money and awareness for athletes who have suffered a life-altering injury while pursuing a dream in winter sports.

Together they create Hula Tribe 4 High Fives, a 50-member team participating in Saturday’s Tough Mudder event at Northstar California. Its roster boasts professional athletes such as skier Rory Bushfield, Nitro Circus reality star Erik Roner and High Fives recovering athletes, including foundation co-founder and executive director Roy Tuscany.

“A really key part for us is proving to people that you’re still an athlete after an injury,” Tuscany said, who suffered his life-altering injury in 2006 when he overshot a jump while skiing at Mammoth Mountain. “Sometimes it might take two friends or sometimes it might take 49 friends so you can still preform at that athletic ability that you had before your injury.”

Tuscany, who today walks with a limp, with hills and stairs posing a challenge, will need to rely on his teammates to complete the obstacle-riddled Tough Mudder course.

“The whole new obstacle here is getting Roy through those obstacles,” said Commendatore, who has lingering effects from a car accident he was in with his father at 17. “… It’s pretty exciting to figure out how we’re going to work together to get Roy through it safely, so we’re really looking forward to that.”

Aiding the team will be a Mountain Trike, an off-road wheelchair Tuscany will operate.

“We’re going to be pushing it and pulling it and rolling it,” Commendatore said. “… Even though we’re kind of doing a lot of the work … it allows Roy to really be a part of that.

“He gets to use his upper body and control the vehicle obstacle to obstacle as well.”

Yet for some obstacles, Tuscany’s injuries will be an advantage.

“For the first time I’m actually excited that I have a lot of metal in my body, so I don’t have to do any of the shock components,” he said. After his injury, Tuscany had screws, plates and two 9 1/2-inch rods put into his body during surgery to stabilize his spine. “… Joe told me about how he got lit up last time, and it just scares me, the thought.”

To prep for the event, Tuscany said he’s doing a lot of yoga in order to be as flexible as possible.

The rest of the team has also been prepping, all at their own pace.

“Everybody’s training with the concept that we’re finishing together,” Tuscany said. “Everybody’s working at a different level, but it goes back to that team. There is no ‘I’ in team.

“… We’re completing this, and we’re going to have a good time.”

‘Every dollar raised helps’

The Hula Tribe 4 High Fives team is also spearheading a fundraising effort by participating in Tough Mudder. The goal is to raise $60,000 for the High Fives Foundation.

As of Thursday afternoon, $28,307 had been raised.

“Every dollar raised helps,” said Tuscany as he sat in the foundation’s CR Johnson Healing Center in Truckee, which provides resources for athletes recovering from sport-related injuries. “It goes to serve a purpose, and that’s a big thing.”

All funds raised will go toward High Fives’ Winter Empowerment Fund, which helps athletes living with a life-altering injury by providing financial assistance through awarded grants.

The fundraising effort will continue after Tough Mudder. To donate, visit http://www.HulaTribe

Commendatore is co-founder of Hula Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company that has been helping customers increase profits, decrease expenses and mitigate risk for the past 12 years. Learn more at http://www.hula

To learn more about the High Fives Foundation, visit

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