I’m your Huckleberry

About a year ago I set up an interview with Amber Keneally, the wife of Scott Keneally, to chat about the film Rise of the Sufferfests. Upon arrival, Scott took me to watch a short clip of the first part of the film. It was of Mr. Mouse. I had heard of him, he is the Godfather of obstacle racing or obstacle running as he would prefer, but I just didn’t know what to expect of him. He is captivating.

Back in 1987, Mr. Mouse created the first-ever obstacle course called Tough Guy. It was designed on his farm and people just started coming to compete and wanted to beat him on his own turf. Within a couple of years, a few women wanted to make sure they too were able to compete amongst the men on his course. They took Mr. Mouse, tied him to a tree, hung a brick from his balls, and said they would kick the brick if he didn’t let them compete with the men. He allowed these women to compete with the men and women have been competing on his course ever since. (Good lesson learned. If women want equality…all we have to do is hang bricks from their balls and tell them what to do? I wish I would have known this years ago!)

Sam: What is your favorite childhood memory?

Mr. Mouse: My childhood memory didn’t come until about forty years ago. When I came here and took in a lot of children that were unfortunate, rough necks off the streets….and I built a raft and put it on the pond and I just sat and watched. I enjoyed the kids and I enjoyed what I didn’t enjoy as a kid. Huckleberry Finn! I have him right here.

(His wife went and got a statue of Huck Finn from the other room, which they had just found a couple of days prior to our meeting, and brought him around to show me. We were Skyping.

Allow me to pause further for a moment. Getting Mr. Mouse to agree to an interview and chat with me wasn’t the easiest of tasks. I had to assure him I wasn’t a spy for the “evildoer” Mudder Dean, the founder of Tough Mudder. Then, the time change created conflict. I had to skype with him during lunch one day in my classroom, which turned out to be wonderful because he is such a great storyteller. It was a fitting scene. If I hadn’t been giving final exams I would have introduced him to my students. That day I had a quote on my whiteboard it said, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” – Mark Twain from Tom Swift. I had that quote on my board for about a week or so because I didn’t want to erase it. I feel it was meant to be there while Mr. Mouse and I spoke.)

Mr. Mouse: My childhood started a lot later in life. I didn’t have a childhood and had to be a father at 7 years old. So, my favorite childhood memory was my first day at school. I said to my mother, “don’t take me to school. I will walk there on my own.” But, she told me later that she followed me at a safe distance. I was independent at 4 years old. Mother said I was born in a thunderstorm and that’s what made me totally and utterly fearless about anything. Life in those days, in the good old Wolverhampton, was hard and tough. In New York, you had the gangs and boroughs and all the rest of’em. We had that all around here.

When I was able to walk, I had to go a mile and a half with an old pram and collect a half hundred weights of coke (a carbonized coal baked in an oven to take out the impurities), which is a coal supplement that kept us all warm and everything else. But! On the way back I had to pass through 3 or 4 gangs/street gangs that took pride and joy in capturing me and sitting me in the pram and shoving me back down the big hill. I’d steer the old pram down and if it hit a wall and fell over, I had to load it back all up by hand. Then I had to get back home! If I didn’t get back home and if I was late; I would get a scolding. I’d get a belt and all that rubbish. The worst thing was the poker.

The one gang captured me one day and you know they tortured me… that was real back in those days. So, they took me and tied my hands to the railway line, you know where the trains come along and then they left me there. In the distance I could see round this bend the train coming and so I leaned sideways so it would cut the ties on my wrists and I just dusted myself down. I was 8 years old!

Sam: You were very clever.

Mr. Mouse: That’s the making of what I am today. So then (later in life) I was going to go to America because my mother had two sisters who were there in 1947. One went to Ohio and they were both in the service. We dreamed of this magical place and they would send up food parcels during the war to help us……tins of fruit and clothes and everything else. You know, I was well dressed in secondhand USA clothing. And the vision I had when I was 9 or 10 years old was to go to America to start a life. My uncle said to me, and they came over, they could afford to come over for a trip….and he said to me, “don’t go there. It dog eat dog.” He said, “I’ve had to give up my job to come here because someone would steal it from me.” So, that put me off, and besides, I had a mother to depend on and I had to knuckle down.

Sam: Based on your experiences what are some life philosophies that you live by today?

Mr. Mouse: Mother was the type of person who breed me and taught me to shrug things off. Life must carry on. Let’s get up in the morning and look up at the sunshine and see him smiling and get up there with him. Whatever happens, happens for the best. You are a survivor. You have got to survive. So, I was born a survivor. All throughout my early life was making me as tough as I am and you know I became very, very hard. I completely filled up with self-pity and today I’m sympathetic and I help, you know? In those days it would be a good shaking and a knocking to put people in the right, who were self-pitying. In that way, I saw it as help. Then, I had to go into the Army at 17….18.

(At this point his wife had walked into the room and we had lost our train of thought and started chatting about Huckleberry Finn, once again.)

Sam: I love to teach Tom Sawyer. I try to every year if I can.

Mr. Mouse: I only found it last week (the Huckleberry Finn statue) to remind me of my beautiful childhood. To remind me of what I missed as a child. That’s why later in life I started helping kids around the place. I enjoy that. I enjoyed driving around the streets and saying, “What are you doing?” Get’em in the van and bring them down to the farm and let them loose. I would go to the orphanage and bring them all out here (the farm) and give them a party. That was enjoyment. Today is a very rewarding life. Today, I say, I do not regret one second of my life. That is a philosophy every person should pick up and make. I condemn greed. Sufficiency is everything. What do you do when you get a billion pounds? How are you going to bloody spend it?

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach 18.” – Mark Twain

“In Huckleberry Finn, I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good heart as ever any boy had.” – Mark Twain

Both of these quotes in some way define Mr. Mouse. In no way is he ignorant, but, he didn’t grow up with much, and he has heart. I do believe he is much more of a child now than he ever was in his much younger years. He does keep telling me he has another 60 years to live.

This blog is a mere 8 minutes of the 120 minutes of conversation I had with Mr. Mouse. What I haven’t put in this blog: his thoughts on Joe DeSena, in 1994 when MTV brought Real World/Road Rules to his farm and filmed an episode competing on his obstacle course Tough Guy, his children, wife, and his role in the London Marathons. There is so much more! The premiere of Rise of the Sufferfests will be in Monterey, CA after the Spartan Race. Go check it out and you will see Mr. Mouse on the big screen.