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Tough Mudder makes safety changes on W.Va. course

October 17, 2013
Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Organizers of an obstacle course in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle say they've changed some safety procedures for this weekend's event, including the oversight of a large water pit involved in a drowning six months ago.

Tough Mudder's Mid-Atlantic event is set for Saturday and Sunday at the Peacemaker National Training Center in Glengary. Organizers are expecting more than 8,000 participants and 3,000 spectators.

Avishek Sengupta, 28, of Ellicott City, Md., died a day after being pulled from the water pit at the "Walk the Plank" obstacle. A medical examiner ruled he drowned.

It marked the first fatality for Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Tough Mudder, which debuted in 2010 and will have 53 events worldwide this year.

"We are continuing to use that obstacle and we're confident in the safety protocols we have in place," said Tough Mudder Chief Operating Officer Don Baxter.

An investigation report previously released by the Berkeley County sheriff's department concluded there was no indication that Sengupta had been struck before or after entering the pit on April 20. Citing witness accounts, the report said members of Sengupta's group became frantic when he didn't emerge, and several minutes elapsed before he was pulled from the pit's cold, deep, murky waters.

Following the death, Baxter said Tough Mudder closely examined safety procedures on the course.

"Walk The Plank" involves climbing up a wooden wall to a platform, then jumping 15 feet into the pit while being monitored by volunteers, lifeguards and divers.

Baxter said additional safety rails have been added to the obstacle and lifeguards will now focus on specific areas of the pit.

"We have a number of lifeguards who were watching the pool as a whole and would survey the entire area of water," he said. "Now we've essentially just focused our responsibilities with individual lifeguards watching individual parts of the pool and watching participants go into the water and then come back out again."

The Tough Mudder course has 20 obstacles that challenge participants' mental and physical stamina and strength. Some involve jumping into ice-filled water, traversing a field full of live electric wires, and crawling on hands and knees through water with live wires closely overhead. There also are two endurance exercise areas and three mystery terrain challenge areas.

Throughout the 11-mile course, part of which runs through Virginia, there is an estimated 700,000 gallons of mud and a vertical change of 1,775 feet. Participants must be at least 18 years old and sign a liability waiver.

"It is impossible to remove risk entirely from these kind of events," Baxter said. "But we work very hard to make our participants as safe as we can."

Amphibious Medics provides onsite first-aid support for Tough Mudder events. The number of emergency services personnel, lifeguards and divers in place at the West Virginia event was unavailable. Baxter didn't know an exact number, and messages left with Amphibious Medics and the sheriff's department weren't immediately returned.

To help manage the number of participants, groups are sent onto the course every 15 minutes.

"We're glad to have them back," said Cole McCulloch, the training center's owner who said the community remains "heartbroken" over Sengupta's death.

"They've made some modifications, and that's a good thing," he said. "We'll wait and see how it's going. We're hoping it's going to be run well."





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