When asked to describe what Tough Mudder means to her, 40-year-old Tiffany Aab of Poway, California needs only one word: inspiring. “Out there in the desert, the human spirit is alive,” says Aab. “So many people overcoming personal obstacles, or running for friends who passed away. It is hard not to push on when you’re surrounded by others who inspire you.” Except here Aab may have forgotten to look at herself.
Over the past year, Aab has completed 17 obstacle course events, and a handful of 5K, 10K, and 12K races. 10 of those obstacle course events were Tough Mudders, and were completed within an 8 month period. Furthermore, Aab raced World’s Toughest Mudder, arguably the most difficult 24 hours that any Tough Mudder will ever face. How did a teacher from Southern California suddenly decide to change her life? It’s a long story, but an empowering one.
Several years ago, Aab was in a scary situation. For five years she was in the throes of a domestic violence marriage where, despite her family’s best intentions and attempts, Aab was unable to leave. “We were married,” she says. “I wanted to make it work. I felt responsible for him, I saw the good in him, even though that was a side that rarely came out. I was ashamed of the situation, I was afraid of failure.” For years Aab learned to cover her bruises and eventually began to isolate herself from even her closest friends. More than once, Aab thought of leaving. “Many people on the outside say, why didn’t you leave? But until you are in the same position, you just can’t understand. This was my life, my dreams of a family, a person I loved, in so many ways it was just easier to stay, ” she says. At the time Aab was living in Abu Dhabi, working as a English teacher.
Unfortunately, the violence only continued to escalate. In an attempt to make a change for the better, Aab brought her husband to the U.S. Things got worse, until Aab finally had enough. “On Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I threatened to call the police if he didn’t get out of my house.” He threw clay flower pots at her, and they hit her in the head. Aab locked her husband out of the house and enjoyed Thanksgiving with her son and family. While Aab now lived apart from her husband, she was still regularly in contact with him, and unable to get away. The feeling of responsibility as his sponsor to this country she continued to send him money, something she is still ashamed of doing.
Several months later, in July of 2015, Aab was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 1A breast cancer. She opted for the least invasive treatment, which was a lumpectomy and decided to change her diet, focusing on her personal health and wellness. Aab quickly lost weight thanks to a healthier diet, and knew that the next step was filing for a divorce.
Sometime after her divorce, Aab stumbled across an ad for an obstacle course race. “I decided I was going to do these types of events,” she says. “I was going to change my life.”
While Aab was excited to run her first Tough Mudder, she was also nervous about certain obstacles. “Artic Enema and EST,” she says, naming the two troubling challenges. “I had a bit of difficulty on the monkey bars, but all of the other obstacles were doable with teamwork.” Aab completed the course with two friend she met through other events, but it was a member of the World’s Toughest Mudder community who sparked the idea for World’s Toughest Mudder.
“He told me of a night of grown men crying, injuries, and sandstorms,” she says, “but in the same breath he said he couldn’t wait to do it again.” Aab immediately research the event. “When I found out the date, I knew I just had to do it.” World’s Toughest Mudder was her next big challenge.
Although Aab had only been participating in obstacle course races for a few months, she dove head first into training. “I planned and prepared for the race by reading everything that I could,” she says. “I needed to get more time on my feet, and get as used to the obstacles as possible.” To do so, she ran 9 Tough Mudders, traveling to as many locations as she could afford. When not on the road, Aab did boot camps and strength trained during the week. She also participated in Hash Runs on Saturdays and attended OCR based training every Sunday she was not racing. When she showed up to Las Vegas in November, she was ready.
The morning of the race, as hundreds of people ate their pre-race breakfast and mentally prepared themselves for the next 24-hours, Aab was getting ready to have her head shaved. A few months before, she had stumbled across Tough Mudder Matty Gregg’s personal St. Baldrick’s page, where he was fundraising for childhood cancers. “I donated and then talked to him about what St. Baldrick’s means to him,” she says. “In that moment, I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to give back.” Aab’s childhood friend, Tondra, who had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, shaved Aab’s head for her. “Shaving my head was very symbolic to me. It was like a clean slate, a fresh start.”
A few hours later, Aab started her first World’s Toughest Mudder, completing 35 miles and 7 laps–and, most importantly, toughing out 24 hours of obstacles. “I learned a lot about myself and feel I had a solid experience and know what I need to do in order to get 50 miles next year,” she says.
Aab is already readying herself for 2017’s World’s Toughest Mudder and is excited to be to volunteering for Toughest Los Angeles, and bringing new mudders on course, for both Saturday and Sunday events. She plans on racing Toughest Mudder Midwest in Chicago and Toughest Mudder South in Atlanta among other events. Look for Aab out on course–after all, she’s the inspirational one.