Embrace The Mudsanity

By Maura Gladys | Oct. 11, 2012, 4 p.m. (ET)
John Roethlisberger
John Roethlisberger performs his pommel horse routine during the U.S. Olympic Men's Gymnastics Trials in Boston on Aug. 17, 2000

Pure inspiration is hard to come by in everyday life. No one knows that better than Olympic gymnasts John Roethlisberger and John Macready. Roethlisberger and Macready competed in a combined four Olympic Games, driven by the inspiration of an Olympic dream. Now, their mission is to create true inspiration for others. They have already done that through their “Flip Fest” youth gymnastic camps, and they are attempting to further that reach through “Mudsanity,” a mud run held on Oct. 13, in Crossville, Tenn. (Visit the event homepage for more.)

“As an athlete, you’re always trying to find something that inspires you the way your spirt did, and that’s hard to find in the real world,” Roethlisberger said. “We wanted something that was challenging and that would inspire people, so we came up with Mudsanity.”

Mud runs have grown in popularity over the past few years, including events such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash popping up all over the country. Roethlisberger and Macready, who own a 150-acre property in Crossville, Tenn., an hour outside of Nashville, thought a mud run would be a perfect use of their land. But they wanted to make it more meaningful.

“We’re working with the American Cancer Society, to run for somebody who is fighting cancer, or even people who have survived cancer. Runners can write their names on their head and come to the race and let them know ‘I’m running for you,’” Roethlisberger said.

The race is also a part of the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation series (see more here), a slate of endurance events that allows competitors to raise money for the foundation.

The five-mile course on Lake Frances in Crossville will feature Olympic-themed obstacles, including a steeplechase with mud substituted for water, a long jump, rings and a balance beam.

“If you name it, we came up with it,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s meant to be fun, but it’s going to be a challenge. A lot of people are going to come out and be pushed to their limits. But, at the same time, we want that inspirational part, too.”

The mud run is just another big idea that Roethlisberger and Macready have tackled together.

The duo competed together at the 1996 Olympic Games and became fast friends.

“We were the two guys with the video camera that just went everywhere,” said Roethlisberger. “We went to the White House with it, we were goofing around in the Olympic Village. We just had a ball.”

Roethlisberger competed at the 2000 Games in Sydney, but both gymnasts retired that year. They stayed involved in their sport, and in touch with each other. Before long, Macready invited Roethlisberger to help him with a youth gymnastics camp he was trying to get off the ground. In typical Macready and Roethlisberger fashion, they knew they would need to make it great and make it their own.

“John’s really an idea guy, but, no matter what it is, it has to be a little more amped up that it normally would be,” Roethlisberger said.

With a lot of brainstorming, hustling and creativity, they had grown their Flip Fest (see more here) camp to 12 one-week sessions that see 2,000 to 2,300 campers come through each summer, participating not just in high-level gymnastics training, but in mud tug-of-wars, on giant swings and on ropes courses. Olympic champions have also been known to make appearances. The camp has seen the likes of Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Jonathan Horton and Alicia Sacramone come through.

“We were fortunate that we could bring in our friends and bring in the Olympians right out of the gate, because the kids love it,” Roethlisberger said. “But we also try to sit down and say, ‘We want to have typical camp activities, but we also want to do things that are a little bit off the beaten path.’ That’s a constant process for us.”

Despite the adage that friends should never go in to business together, Roethlisberger and Macready have hit on a successful dynamic.

“I think we push each other a lot, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we don’t want the other guy to outdo him. He’s always thinking big and I’m more of a realist. But I think we’re good for each other.”