It’s early. The 45-pound plates were rusting from living outside on the porch. We needed to move them 100 yards from the back of a car to the start point, so each of the four of us grabbed one making it in one trip. Rust stained our chest and sleeves, tainting our fleeces and t-shirts, but no matter. It was a minor sacrifice for the sufferfest we were about to witness. The morning beach air and chilly breeze balanced out the sunshine and warmth we shared. We were there to support a close friend as he embarked on a physical challenge not often seen.

It was titled the St. Baldrick’s $10K Challenge. In order to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, benefitting children with cancer, Stephen DeToma committed to doing an immense amount of masochistic exercise in exchange for the donations he had collected:
• One-mile Bodyweight Sled Drag, 200 pounds
• One-mile Bear Crawl
• One-mile Casualty Carry
• 1000 Burpees

All in one day.

I caught up with Stephen to ask a few questions about himself, the event, and St. Baldrick’s.
How did you come to your health & fitness lifestyle?

I played paintball when I was a kid. My Dad ran a paintball field. When I was like, 14 to 18 or 19, I was working the paintball field almost every weekend, playing on competition teams. But that was my only physical activity. Even for practice, I should have been running and lifting and doing things that would make me better at playing paintball; I just figured I could just show up, do shots of Jack Daniels, run fifty yards, and light people up and it would be fine. So, no physical activity.

When [Heather and I] got engaged, it was like – well, if this is a thing, this is serious, and we’re going to be together for ever, then I want forever to be long enough so I’m going to get motivated to start taking care of myself. We ended up trading – I wanted her to learn how to shoot. She said, “Great – you do that, and you start coming to yoga.” We did that for a while, going to the range and yoga a few nights a week.

Then a buddy of mine had been trying to get me to go to CrossFit with him, and the way he started to do that was he would show me the Hero WODs*. Murph** – are you fucking high? There’s no way I can do that. I just wrote it off, and he kept trying to get me to go and trying to get me to go. Long story short, he ended up taking his own life – kinda out of nowhere. That was rough. In dealing with that, I basically crawled into a bottle of Jameson for about a month.

He had been working at the company I’m at forever, and he was really well known around Santa Cruz. Local boy, punk rock bands, and huge extended family. A handful of weeks of really horrible shit. In my head – you know, you start doing the “Fuck, why did he [commit suicide]? What the fuck was the rationale for all of it?” And I was thinking maybe if I actually said “Hey, yeah, I’ll go to the gym and do a workout with you,” Who knows?

But in my head I’m like “Fuck it. I’m going to stop procrastinating and I’ll do something.” So that was the first thing that got me up and got me like “Let’s get going here.” At one point one, my buddy Josh and his wife came down to visit one weekend. He said he was going to start training to do a Tough Mudder. “You should come do one with me.”

Around the same time, good friends of ours had been training for a [GORUCK] Challenge in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day.

On [the day of the Challenge], Heather and I were waiting around, waiting for text messages from her husband, wondering “What happened? What happened? Did she get a patch? Did she finish? Did she make it?” Finally, we get a message… She made it, she’s driving herself home. She got to the house and he said they had to carry her up the stairs and put her in an ice bath. And we’re like “Oh my God.”

The Tahoe Tough Mudder got cancelled. [Josh] sent me a message and said “Hey I went to go sign up and they’re not doing it.”

The next day, [my friend from Boston] asked “Are you doing Tough Mudder?” No, they canceled it. And I would always fly home to Boston on my birthday on July 4th.

“There’s a Challenge on July 3rd in Newport. You should come and do it for your birthday.”

That gave me like, four months. “Yeah. <sigh> yeah, I could probably do that. Yeah, fuck it.”

And then that was it.

I know St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a special charity for GoRuck. For you, what makes Baldrick’s special?

So, I missed the first Baldrick’s. It came up after I had done a couple Challenges, but I was still – hmmm, I’m not really gonna jump into that. I was still kind of a wallflower, even though I knew people. So I just kinda let that one roll by.

Baldrick’s comes up again, and I was like… I totally want to do this. I got the bug to not be a shitbag, basically. I got a pretty good life, you know? We don’t have a ton of money, but we wake up with a roof over our head every day, we’re healthy for the most part, there’s no reason I can’t be doing something to help somebody else. [Baldrick’s] was something that I can bite into and actually make a tangible difference. Not like I’m solving problems or anything, but the fact that at the end of the day I can say, “Holy shit, I raised $7500 with Heather and I combined for this charity.” I don’t have $7500. I can’t throw down at any point. But being able to draw that in, that gets exciting.

Really early on I decided if I’m going to do this, I’m going to jump in with both feet because that’s how I’d been living the last year. If I’m going to work out, I’m going to bust my ass. If I’m going to do this event, I’m going to step up. If I’m gonna be the guy, I’m gonna be the guy. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

At that point, everybody in the community knew me as “the Beard.” Everybody was like the Viking beard, the animal beard, the whatever – whatever you want to say. So, okay, I’m going to use that to my favor. And so that’s when I decided “Hey look, if you get me Five Grand the beard comes off.” And people I didn’t even know really started backing me and getting really excited about it, re-sharing [the page], and getting people to pitch in money.

As I was approaching Five Grand, Heather said “Hey, if you hit $7500 I’ll shave my head.” So that’s when people really got whole hog into this and really got fired up. We hit just north of $7500.

Actually going to the hospital was super huge. Heather and I both, getting there and walking around, seeing the kids coming out and hanging out. On the drive there, we had this understanding that it’s just hair and it’s for the kids, and it makes the kids feel better. But when we actually got there and you see the kids hanging around and waving over the railing and they’re looking at you, everybody is yelling and screaming and having a good time. We saw a little girl grinning and smiling, and that was it. Any hesitation – gone. Any nervousness about having my head shaved – gone. We go out and have a really good event, hanging out with all the people like we normally do. But that 2-3 hours that we were there at the hospital, that was concrete. This isn’t just a ticker on the internet that I’m raising money for.

The previous year you had shaved your beard, but this year was different. This year you didn’t have the beard and you took on something unusual. What brought you to that?

It legitimately was, okay – we raised $7500 dollars last year, and because Heather was one of two or three women at the event, that was the big ticket. I “lost” to Erin Benjamin – she beat me by a couple hundred bucks. I freely admit I have a competitive streak a mile wide. I’m usually pretty good at letting things go, but if I have an opportunity to come back stronger I’m going to do it. That’s what this year was about. I did $7550 last year. How do I make more money out of that?

[Last year] a lot of people said, “If you were doing pushups or doing burpees or something to kick your own ass, I’d give you a fucking hundred dollars.” Then they said “No, you’d like that. I’m not going to do that.” Whatever. You just didn’t want to spend the money.

But the second time around, that was the thing that kinda stuck in my head – okay, fucking Gladiator Games. It’s that Bread and Circus style shit. It’s rubbernecking at an accident. People want to look at a train wreck.

People enjoy watching suffering – even when it’s self-induced.

Yeah. Last year, I was actively banging on doors, fingers in faces, “Hey you, just give me ten dollars.” I called people out, I tagged people on Facebook, I would make lists on my page. I was an asshole about it and just rode people into the ground. This year, you know, I’m gonna go the other direction. I’m going to put up this menu of bullshit, and I’m not even really gonna talk about it that much. I’m just going to put it up on the page, and every once in a while I’m going to make a post. But I’m not going to do the finger pointing. I’m not going to do the banging on doors. I’m just going to let it go and see how it does.

And people… people fucking gave… just to watch.

So where did you end up? How much did you end up raising?

Total was $8,976.

From your $10K Challenge, what were your biggest lessons learned?

Oh, man… Have a plan. Like [General] Mattis says, have a plan.

With knife hands?

Yes, specifically with knife hands.

When the donation for the burpees came in, I had a couple days to seriously consider the fact the burpees were going to happen. And then when it did actually happen… <sigh>

[The morning] I drove to the start point for everything, and I stopped at a 7-11. And there was a chalkboard in the 7-11 that said “True happiness is doing something for someone that can never repay you.” I needed to see that. Not like I was upset having to do it, I needed to have my head in the right space to remember what I was doing and why I was doing it.

It’s really easy to say, “Hey I’m going to do all this stupid, horrible shit” and to have people throw money down because I’m going to do stupid, horrible shit. It’s another thing to actually follow through and show up on game day and do what you said you were gonna do.

The first round when I took the sled around, I took the 200-pound sled around the quarter-mile and came in, I was thinking “I have bitten off way more than I can chew. I’m going to do it, but oh man this is gonna suck!”

Doing my first lap on the Bear Crawls, and I look back and Shawn [Landreth] is dragging around the sled. I said “What the fuck are you doing?” And he’s like “I’m buying your debt! I’m going to buy a quarter-mile off you.” In the back of my head, I’m thinking how do I view this in my own mind – is this me slacking off and not pulling my own weight? Or is this my friends seeing me going through this amount of bullshit and stepping and saying “No”? And realistically, that’s what I kept coming back to. We always talk about “one team, one fight,” “nobody fights alone,” and that’s what it really came down to. From doing all these events together for so long, we all have this engrained in our heads that when I’m watching one of my friends suffer, I don’t want them to have to suffer alone. I still did the majority of the workout, which was brutal, but when people say they are going to show up, they show up. And then they do more than you expect them to do. That was a massive takeaway.

What’s the one thing you want to teach people?

Perseverance. Strength through adversity. Having someone who doesn’t think they can do anything and doesn’t think they are good enough, and then find a sense of self-worth.

I find that there’s a lot of shit in life that doesn’t matter – things people put an extensive amount of value on that doesn’t fucking matter at all. When it comes down to it, you have to be happy with yourself and be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done a good day’s work. That you have done everything that you can, and maybe a little bit more, than you did yesterday.

When we talked at the $10K Challenge, you referred to the Hemingway quote, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” After all this, will you keep your mouth shut?

Ha. No. I always have dumb ideas.

*Hero WODs: Workout of the Day (WOD) named for a fallen hero, usually military, law enforcement, or firefighter.
**Murph: Hero WOD named for Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan.
For time:
1 mile Run
100 Pull-ups
200 Push-ups
300 Squats
1 mile Run

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