VALPARAISO | Evelyn Gallagher has beaten ovarian cancer three times, so her definition of an obstacle isn’t the same as everyone else’s.
Mud crawls, rope climbs and hay hurdles are fun diversions compared to 18 sessions of chemotherapy and several surgeries. The 53-year-old Union Twp. woman first learned she had the “silent killer” 10 years ago and has since beaten it back through treatment, surgery and, she said, divine intervention.
“God blessed me, and I have a great family and great doctors,” Gallagher said.
As a celebration of life, Gallagher and 41 other members of team Mudalicious joined more than 2,400 official finishers at Saturday’s third annual Northwest Indiana Mudathlon at Graeber Family Farms.
Whereas Valparaiso hosted a triathlon and a 24-hour race last weekend, this was a party where entrants came for kinship and amusement, not age group titles or personal-best times.
“Other events are out there for hardcore athletes, but this is for people who want to have, as we say, a mucking good time,” said race director Jeff Graves, a.k.a. the Big Mudder. “It’s an opportunity for adults to act like kids again. Look at these guys walking creeks, climbing hay wagons. When’s the last time any of them did this? It’s something you can do as a family that’s fun.”
The three-mile course featured four parallel mudslides and a splashdown area, a cargo net crawl and numerous water obstacles. No one left the course dry or clean.
Some participants charged hard, but with a costume contest and opportunities to dance around obscenity laws with team names such as Muckin’ A and Muckin’ Fudders, the chipped timing took a backseat to photo opportunities and memory-making.
“I saw the race and just thought it would be a good time,” said Trent Koplinski, 41, of Chicago. “It’s a huge difference (compared to other endurance events) with so many obstacles. There’s not time to rest between anything.”
With bits of landscape littering his face and hair, Koplinski finished first in the first of 20 waves of participants, outkicking Chesterton 14-year-old Matt Estill. However, Estill was six seconds faster start to finish, at 29:47, and won the overall male title ahead of Koplinski, who was third overall.
“It was awesome out there,” said Estill, an incoming Chesterton freshman who does football and track. “I’ve never done anything like that before. It was pretty sweet.”
Greenwood’s Desiree Pratt was No. 2 overall and the fastest female (29:52).
Among the most noticeable team apparel were the handmade tutus worn by Mudalicious. Even the men sported them, though most put them on their head instead of waist.
Gallagher’s co-worker at Porter Hospital, Heather Punak, of Crown Point, fashioned the tutus for all members of the group.
Mudalicious was giving Gallagher an opportunity to show her zest for life, as she did by running the Turkey Trot 5K last Thanksgiving in Valparaiso when she was only halfway through a six-session chemo ordeal.
“We wanted something fun and adventurous in the summer, and when we heard about this it all magically came together,” Punak said.
The group, which started with just seven entrants and ballooned to 42 colleagues, including Dr. Maria Stamp’s entire office, raised money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. The Mudathlon’s official cause is The Gateway for Cancer Research. Other teams had similar charitable intentions and dressed thematically.
“It’s just a great feeling to have all of these people out for support and have the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund support awareness,” Gallagher said. “Some people find out about it too late.”