June 7, 2019 --
There is no time clock.
The Aboriginal Education Canadian Tire Little Mudder Challenge is exactly what it says it is – a challenge. It's not a race, so there's no need for keeping track of finishing times.
"Students love it, staff love it," said John Giannisis, a Learning Foci with School District No. 57's Aboriginal Education Department. "This is to challenge yourself and to challenge a team. We actually say in our pledge that there is no first place. You're here to start as a team, finish as a team, and that includes the staff too. So it's about building relationships, and healthier relationships, with the staff who train alongside the students."
The Little Mudder Challenge, for Grade 5-7 students, happens June 12-14 at Otway Nordic Centre. The first two days are for School District No. 57 participants and the final day is for private schools in the city and region. Participants will be put to the test on a 5.7-kilometre obstacle course that includes a large, net-covered mud pit they have to crawl through, climbing walls and balance beams. There will also be tests of strength and endurance like a tire pull and a medicine ball carry. This is the fourth annual Little Mudder, and if it's anything like the ones that preceded it, teamwork and sportsmanship will rule the days.
"Students help each other," Giannisis said. "One girl (in a previous Little Mudder) didn't want to go through the mud challenge so her whole school held up the net for her so she could walk – she didn't have to crawl. You see that stuff over and over."
While the Little Mudder produces dirt-in-the-teeth smiles and lots of laughter, it is physically demanding. That being the case, students and staff members who register for the event typically start training at the beginning of April.
"We suggest two to three hours (of training) a week," Giannisis said. "All our workouts are partner workouts or team workouts. So it's about working together and starting something. The race is 5.7 kilometres – a lot of the students couldn't jog that so they work up to that and they work up to it all together and take the Challenge together."
The Little Mudder concept started with Giannisis, who did his first Tough Mudder in 2013 in Whistler.
"You do them with three, four, eight people so it really helps you build relationships and I really wanted to bring that to the students because I know what it did for me and how it made me feel," he said. "So when I came into this department – I used to be a Community School Coordinator – this was one of my pitches, saying, 'Hey, I'd like to start a Little Mudder.' The first year was our trial and we've been going from there."
This year, every elementary school in the district – 32 in total – will have a team in the Little Mudder. That includes schools in Mackenzie, McBride and Valemount, the latter community a three-hour drive from Prince George.
Students and staff from Valemount Elementary were at the first three Little Mudders and are excited about the fourth. Twenty-three Grade 5 students, three staff members and parent volunteers will make the trip from the Robson Valley on June 13. They'll leave at 6:30 a.m. and won't get back home until about 7 p.m.
"(Students) just love the whole day," said Cheri Dehnke, an Aboriginal Education Worker at Valemount Elementary. "They get to come to Prince George, they get to participate. They've heard a lot of the stories. This year, it was a Grade 5-6 split class at first so some of the Grade 6s were asking, 'Can we join? We'd like to go again.' So the Grade 5s heard the stories from the Grade 6s about how much fun it was and what a good time they had."
Each school is offered spots for 30 participants. On the way to Prince George, the Valemount group will stop in McBride to pick up a contingent from McBride Centennial Elementary.
The Little Mudder will start at 9 a.m. and end at about 3 p.m. on all three days. Participating groups will arrive at different times, with three to four schools on the course at any one time.
The Little Mudder is supported by significant funding from the Canadian Tire Jumpstart national charity. Other supporters/sponsors are Up the Creek Garment Company, Save On Foods, Allen's Scrap & Salvage Ltd., HDFX, Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, JFT Secure, Dairyland, Maple Leaf Foods, Northern Ice Fitness, Prince George Portable Toilet Services Ltd., Local Rental Solutions and the British Columbia Regional Council of Carpenters.