ST. JOHN | When a bold but undisciplined Luke Skywalker claimed that he wasn't afraid to take the arduous journey in becoming a Jedi knight, Yoda replied, "You will be."
When Doug Kluga of St. John decided to enter his first Tough Mudder extreme endurance obstacle course race with long-time beach volleyball teammate Pete Weiand, brother-in-law Cesar Flores, and Flores' brother-in-law Mike Pagen, he thought he was physically and mentally up for the task.
But Tough Mudders, billed as the "toughest events on the planet," have a way of unearthing stored away phobias. And among the things that gave Kluga the willies involved electricity and water.
"I was lucky ... I didn't get shocked," Kluga said of two of the 25 obstacles he and his team had to negotiate during a Tough Mudder event in November of 2011 at the Badlands Off Road Park in Attica, Ill.
Two and a half years later, Kluga is preparing for this weekend's Tough Mudder in Seneca, Ill.
One electrifying obstacle was entitled "Electroshock Therapy," which came at the end of the 12-mile course where participants had to scurry through a muddy passage plagued with weeping willow-like electric wires draping from above ... some of which were live.
Going in, Kluga didn't think he had a fear of heights, but then came the "Walk the Plank" challenge.
"You're jumping from 20 feet into a muddy pond, and you don't know how deep it is," Kluga said. "Plus, you've got people jumping in right after you."
Tough Mudders originated from the obstacle courses used by British Special Forces to test and weed out candidates. Are these events deadly? You betcha.
"'Dateline' did a show on Tough Mudders, and asked an organizer if there has ever been a fatality," Kluga said. "The guy said, 'No ... but there will be.' "
He was proven correct. On April 20 at a Tough Mudder event in West Virginia, 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta died after "Walking the Plank" and not surfacing.
Despite the danger, Kluga is stepping back into the fire ... literally.
"I don't know if they're going to have that at this one," Kluga said in reference to "Fire Walker", a trail of kerosine-ignited hay that may or may not be included in the Chicago area Tough Mudder, taking place Saturday and Sunday at the Seneca (Ill.) Hunt Club.
"They usually tell you two weeks before the event of what the obstacles will be," said Kluga, who signed on with a local coed team for the Seneca "mudder."
"You can't do it alone," said Kluga, who at 47 years old will be among the oldest competitors at the two-day event, which is due to attract 6,000 participants each day, "and a lot of people won't be able to finish it, anyway."
Tough Mudders are generally not timed. Kluga's Badlands-event team finished the course together in three-and-a-half hours.
"It was fun, believe it or not," said Kluga, who has enlisted a personal trainer to prepare for his next one. "Still, there are concerns. I was worried about hypothermia (at Badlands). For this, I'm more worried about dehydration."