9-year old completed a 24-hour obstacle race, and why I am not impressed

By SOLO

I’ve been waiting and waiting for someone to discuss the OTHER side of this awesome amazing inspirational motivational yippie-yay-yay story. No such luck. Folks are too busy clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

Fine. SOLO to the rescue.
I always have to do everything myself around here.*pouts

Yes, a 9-year old girl completed a 24-hour obstacle course designed by the Navy.

I am not impressed.

I have talked to some people that interacted with Milla directly, and she sounds like an awesome kid. I am not questioning HER authenticity or desire to do something hard, to do something cool, and to spend quality time with her dad.

I hope she does not read this article, but I hope her dad does (hi, Christian!).

The (very) few people who expressed some reservations, prefaced anything they said with “I know, I know, I’m an asshole for criticizing a child”. Let me very clear – I am not criticizing the child.

What I am criticizing is the portrayal, the branding, the narrative. Here are some highlights.

SEXUALIZATION

Let me just take the elephant in the room, and throw it across said room, and in your face.

I have written about sexualization of women in the sport before, after Spartan Race very hastily pulled a photo of an attractive scantily clad woman, climbing over a wall.

I’m all for conscious consensual self-sexualization of an adult woman. Meow, growl, purr-purr and all that.

This is.. different.

Milla’s father, Christian is a personal trainer and a gym owner, whose bio is peppered with statements like “what’s your excuse?”, and “getting comfortable getting uncomfortable”.

He changed his life around after he had a daughter, losing weight, getting in shape, and finding new meaning. You can see how this narrative would appeal to many fathers out there. It’s just so tempting. So redemptive.

Yet, watching a 9-year old pursing her lips and taking her top off before taking on a workout (seriously… what?), is not really the kind of uncomfortable I usually strive for.

Why a stage name?
Why seductive poses?
Why the bare midriff?
Why #abs and #goals hashtags? And how do #abs and #goals go together with #antibully or #loveyourbody for that matter?

The presentation seems to say: “Here’s my half-dressed daughter. Feast your eyes”. A little strange, no?

Understanding-Sexualization

Nope, not Milla. But, also a little strange, no?

DECEPTION

Forgive me, if I feel just a wee bit manipulated by posts that are supposed to be written by a 9-year old that proclaim that “the formula for success is simple: practice and concentration, then more practice and more concentration”. Huh?

An easy run of few posts through a grade level readability calculator suggests that the posts are written at a grade 6-7 level. Now that’s a pretty advanced 4th grader. Or… this is text written by her father.

Damn Russians. So cynical.

According to a client, Christian “will have you exclaiming “ARROOO!” and climbing 8′ walls before you know it”. The photos of his daughter doing just that come with the hashtags #perseverance, #tenacity, #impossibleisnothing, and #minime. The last hashtag, while commonly used by parents is a bit of a hint, perhaps.

The bullying narrative does not really add up. It seems like a story slapped on top of a story to make it more appealing to the masses. The masses are too busy applauding the badass 9-year old. Someone in the corner says: “Oh, right! She did it to raise awareness for bullying”.

I don’t really know what that means. Maybe this is a cultural barrier or something, but the entire “physical exercise to raise awareness” thing is foreign to me.

Kind of like pouring a bucket of cold water over your head to help those with ALS. How does this ACTUALLY do anything? Remember the 4 reasons I didn’t do the bucket challenge? [I think this is the part where I am finally getting called a hater, amirite?]

LACK OF HUMILITY

“Why THIS kid?”, some parents rightfully wondered. While the headlines of a 9-year old completing 30 miles on an adult obstacle race seem shocking, most racers have heard of similar instances.

A son of a good friend will be competing with him in a 50+ mile rugged trail race in few weeks. You can bet your Salomons that the boy does NOT have a freaking Instagram account.

Let’s establish the sad truth – the North American baseline for physical activity and fitness is quite… low. Many well meaning hotel concierges have assured me that two miles is NOT walking distance, and helpfully offered to call a cab. And yes, an average kid does spend way more time in front of a screen than outside.

Yet I could never understand the awe some adults express when watching a 7-year old traverse monkey bars with ease. That’s what they are SUPPOSED to be able to do. Actually, YOU should be able to do that quite easily also. Even though you weigh three to four times more. You can’t? That says more about YOUR fitness level, than it does about the child’s athletic ability.

So, no, there is no particular reason why a 9-year old cannot complete a standard Spartan or BattleFrog course, save for the heavy carries.

Walking, hiking and running for few hours in a row should not be a mind blowing achievement for an adult OR a child. This is what our bodies were made for.

“I DON’T RUN THE KIDS’ COURSE!”, Milla’s GoFundMe page (yes, there is one) boasts.

Umm… why not? She IS a kid.

What’s problematic here is the implication that the kids’ course is somehow “not as good” as the adults’ course.

A dad watches this kid hop over walls, and says “How cool! My daughters will find this inspiring”. I don’t know if they will. First of all, they can already hop over walls. Second, up until now they didn’t know running an adult obstacle race was an option. Now they have to run for 24 hours to be called awesome and badass.

This air of superiority is stifling:

I do not run the kids’ course.
I do not play video games.
I race with the adults.
I…
I…
I!!!

I am better than other kids.

Remember the discussion on taking the compliment, and the difference between agreeing with someone’s flattering assessment of you, and shoving a flattering self-assessment down everyone else’s throat? This is the latter.

A humility check is desperately needed. Otherwise, this smacks of Ronda Rousey. And I am not convinced that’s a great role model.

I do not even see an issue with a 9-year old “training” two hours a day (three hours? four hours? all have been mentioned, so which is it?), five days a week. I assume (and HOPE) that we are referring to lots of light to moderate physical activity, and specific skill work here – like hanging off rigs, and working on climbing over walls, not carrying a 90lb bucket up hill, and doing kettlebell swings – although the photos/videos shared may lead you to believe something different.

No one is arguing that a fit kid can probably swim for 750m, bike for 20km, and run for 5km. Yet, I am not seeing too many headlines with children competing in adult triathlons. It’s a sport. With regulations. And rules. Not to mention that it’s easy enough for an adult to get kicked in the head by a fellow triathlete.

There are events like Ironkids, Spartan Kids Race, and Junior Spartan Race, which do a wonderful job of giving children an opportunity to compete, and act as a gateway into adult events.

I (along with few race directors) was very surprised that BattleFrog decided to grant the exception to the age limit. This creates precedent, and a possible liability nightmare next time around. What happens now if an obstacle racing mom wants to run the next BattleFrog with her 5-year old? Do they say no? Why?

This story also begs the question of whether we truly want obstacle racing to be taken seriously as a sport, as the headlines get more and more sensationalist.

What’s next? A mother completing a Tough Mudder with her newborn twins? An obstacle where sharp knives are thrown at your head? Just as long as the camera is rolling…

Not impressed,
SOLO

P.S. I imagine that some folks who feel the same way may not feel comfortable saying so in the public domain. I totally get that. At least shoot me a message, will ya? Getting burned at the stake can be awful lonely sometimes.

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Posted March 31, 2016

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