Facing fears is rarely fun, but a physical-fitness obstacle course and a first-year event Saturday in Palmetto Bluff made it possible.
The "Face Your Fear" challenge drew an army of more than 180 participants, who crawled under barbed wire, jumped off a steep ravine, waded through a pool of ice, slogged through lengthy stretches of pluff mud and crossed the finish line soaking wet and muddy.
Thomas Viljac, a Bluffton developer who organized event, plotted out the 10-mile "Valor" course with 25 obstacles, a 3-mile "Courage" course with 16 obstacles and a 400-meter "Seal Pup" course for kids, which had no obstacles.
The challenge was meant to simulate a military-training course, and those who finished were awarded a set of dog tags. The money raised from entry fees was donated to various nonprofit, armed-forces organizations, such as the Navy Seal Warrior Program, which raises money to support families of Navy Seals currently serving or killed in action.
Viljac said the point of completing the course was to test mental strength more than speed.
"It's not a race, it's a challenge," he blared into a megaphone before the race. "Dig down deep. When you think you're down, come back up and keep going."
Kimberly Foxworth of Beaufort turned 53 last week and she said she took Viljac's words to heart.
"The ice pit was my favorite because I knew that was when I would have to face my fear," she said after completing the 3-mile course. "I'm glad it's over, but it was awesome."
Most of the participants competed in pairs or groups, often helping each other through obstacles. While some ran for fun, others ran for special causes.
"It's so much more fun than just straight running," Rebecca Gay of Bluffton said. "Having to jump the hay bales was like playing Super Mario in real life."
Gay ran with six other teammates to raise awareness for a group that began in October called "Operation Saving Jake," which works to place rescue dogs with former military personnel who struggle with mental and physical trauma. The team ran Saturday in honor of Jacob Thompson, an Air Force paratrooper who struggled with severe injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. He committed suicide four months ago, according to the group's vice president, Olivia Garza.
The Operation Saving Jake team wore matching T-shirts with the silhouettes of a kneeling soldier and a dog and handed out pamphlets on about their group.
"We don't want any vet to have to die the way Jake did," Garza said. "A rescue dog knows when a person has gone through trauma just like they have."
Such down-and-dirty races have become more frequent in the Lowcountry, with Parris Island's Swamp Romp, Savannah's Color Vibe 5K and Charleston's Spartan Race. Viljac has said he's already planning the next Bluffton race.
"It's kind of addicting," Adrienne Sarazin of Beaufort said as her friend and teammate, Jackie Flores, also of Beaufort, nodded. "(Jackie and I) did one and now we're signed up for, like, five."
Follow reporter Anne Christnovich twitter.com/IPBG_Anne.
Face Your Fears race set for Saturday in Bluffton, Feb. 19, 2013
Bluffton man plans extreme 'Face Your Fears' race, Aug. 11, 2012