LAKEWOOD RANCH — As a college wrestler, Matt Selman, a short, stocky man, used to grapple much larger foes.
Soon, Selman and nine of his friends will face the Tough Mudder, an event that posts signs at each course that remind competitors, “Remember, You Signed a Death Waiver.”
But the team is not as tough as Selman’s children.
Selman and other East County residents, including Aaron Corr, owner of TreeUmph! Adventure Course, and Aaron Klein, pastor at Current Community Church, have formed a team to compete in the Nov. 2 Tough Mudder, in River Ranch, as a way to raise awareness for osteogenesis imperfect (OI) and money for Shriners Hospitals for Children, in Tampa.
One-and-a-half years ago, Selman, a commercial real-estate investment salesman, moved to Lakewood Ranch from Atlanta to bring his two children, Charlotte, 8, and Calvin, 6, closer to Shriners, where they are treated for OI, a genetic bone disorder, also known as brittle-bone disease; it is characterized by fragile bones that break easily.
Under the team name “Mudder for OI,” with the slogan “Kids with OI are tougher than us,” the group will compete in a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course, designed by British Special Forces, to inspire the Selman children.
“Even if the Tough Mudder is a ridiculously hard event, what these kids deal with is so much harder,” Selman said.
The Tough Mudder series has 70 scheduled events in 13 countries this year. Courses can include open fires, live electrical wires and obstacles with names such as Cage Crawl, Walk the Plank and Electroshock Therapy.
The team on which Selman is participating came together though church — seven of the members attend Current Community Church — and speaking with friends of friends. Many in the group knew little about OI.
One teammate, Evelyn Dinkins, will travel from Atlanta.
Mark Leatt, an engineer and East County resident from South Africa, says his children often play with Charlotte and Calvin during open gym after services at Current Community Church.
Calvin, a thrill-seeker like his father, swims and plays baseball and golf. Like Charlotte, who is more cautious, he looks like and plays the same as his peers. The siblings weren’t born diagnosed with OI. Selman’s wife, Elizabeth, didn’t even know she had it.
That changed when Charlotte, then 2-and-a-half years old, fell off a climbing wall and fractured her vertebrae.
A specialist in Atlanta took one look at the family and diagnosed Charlotte, Calvin and Elizabeth with OI because they all have a blue tint in the white part of their eyes, a giveaway of the disease.
Their cases are mild, but the children go to Shriners every few months for bone density treatment. Since they moved here, Charlotte and Calvin have not fractured any bones.
At Shriners, the family sees people who suffer even more.
“You see what the children overcome, and we knew we had to do something to give back,” Selman said. “Until you are exposed to something like that, you just go through regular life. My kids are fired up about it.”
As the event draws closer, the team meets at Greenbrook Adventure Park and runs — often at different paces.
“There’s usually one person so far ahead of the other that he can stop and do push-ups while he waits,” Leatt said.
They also practice strength and balance at TreeUmph!, where they climb and swing from trees.
Corr prepares by doing his everyday job.
He hangs props and waves batons for TreeUmph’s Zombie Zip, a special Halloween event.
“Doing those things is a great workout,” Corr said. “I try my hardest not to be the weak link.”
As Seldman, Corr and Leatt slip on gloves and attach harnesses in preparation for a climb atop trees, Leatt, striding in front of the pack, punches his fists forward like a boxer.
“The day of the event will be a hellish day, but I’m more worried it will hurt like hell the next day,” Leatt said.
So far, through donations and awareness gained from making announcements at church, the team has raised $5,000.
They hope to raise $15,000.
“As a unit, we’re trying to pull this off,” Corr said. “When you face something that’s a bit daunting, to know you have a meaningful task behind it makes it easy to do.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].