Confessions of two Whole Hog survivors
Sunday 23 June will not be a day that many remember but will live long in the minds of two outstanding individuals. Stuart Thomas and Alex Taplin are the assistant managers of Bob Beckett’s high performing McDonald’s restaurant at Meole Brace, Shrewsbury. They took on this challenge as a way to bond and work well together, laying the foundations of a solid team; it was time to engage their tenacity for a worthwhile cause outside of the restaurant.
Like most, they set aside time each week to train, to sweat and to push each other on, with the determination to represent themselves well at the Whole Hog. The months became weeks and the weeks became days, as the Hog soon approached them. The morning of the run did not bode well; the heavens had opened, leaving an already treacherous assault course, more worthy of its name. But they would continue, after taking up the mantle and fundraising within the restaurant, with all of the crew members egging them on, they were aware of the task ahead.
The day started out like any good day should, with a McDonald’s Breakfast. After taking on fluids, they made the drive to Alton Towers, calm against the unbaiting rain. Upon arrival they were greeted by the familiar faces of the ‘North West Franchising’ team including Nikki Remmer, Steve Shaw, Dave Wright and Ash Raju as well as their Franchisee Bob Beckett. After a couple of quick photos, for a classic before-and-after shot, Stuart and Alex warmed up, limbering those long forgotten calf muscles. After signing in, they proceeded towards the start of the course, ready to be loosed into the wilderness. The Whole Hog assault course is something neither had attempted before, so the expectation was already one of intrigue and trepidation.
Off they went, the initial stages were a steep descent down a hill through a dried up stream bed, hopping puddles and mud, taking the safest looking passages possible. They then traversed a man-made spider web as they made a quick escape from the woodlands, only to appear in front of rolling fields in which they used their youthful exuberance to pull away from the pack. After the fields came the brook, ice cold mud filled their shoes as they ran down the river bed towards the next obstacles. Balance and guile was needed to traverse the long wooden boards that zigzagged the river, back and forth they came, doing their best pirate impressions as they walked the planks. Out of the brook, they made their way across more fields; hearts were racing as the lungs began to billow. They were making headway, now following a farmer’s access road, the next obstacle lay ahead. What can only be described as a very muddy hill, the next challenge involved grabbing a very sodden rope and hauling themselves up a near vertical bank of mud, restitution only coming from trees to lean on as they endeavoured to conquer the Goliath. If this wasn’t challenging enough, a cargo net lay at the top to climb up onto the next path, with energy sapped and sinews strained, on hands and knees then crawled to the top.
After a brief respite, albeit a walking pace between the top of the cargo net and water station, Stuart and Alex broke into a jog, began careering down the hill through a forest path. Upon reaching the bottom, they made their way back down the farmer’s access road, passing friendly faces that had yet to traverse the perilous hill rope. Stuart and Alex could hear screams and giggles in the distance, as some befell the mighty rope. They had no time to stop; they had the wind in their sails and the fortitude to continue. The next stage involved the brook, which had now turned into a river, lay before them, wading knee deep through its icy bitterness they then commenced to move up through a trench that was strewn with thick mud. Not just any mud, this mud was waist deep and was looking for shoes. Picture quick-sand but messier. After the arduous and slow moving section, Stuart and Alex were granted reprieve by another section of the river, allowing them to wash off the previous tribulations. They could feel the end coming soon; they were over half way and felt a surge of energy to keep on going.
The last few obstacles were crawls under tarpaulin netting, crawling under a muddy bridge and swimming through the deepening river, where a man and his dog were watching on gleefully. Then a long jog back towards the starting hill, the ever daunting prospect of another climb looming closer still. Another rope, another slope and another sloppy path, thankfully not as steep as its adjacent relative. After hauling themselves to the top, they heard voices. Stuart and Alex could see Bob Beckett through the trees, urging them on with the willingness to succeed. The penultimate obstacle was a wire tight rope through the woodland. I should explain that Stuart and Alex are not the smallest or lightest of gentleman, one being a rugby player and the other a take no prisoners centre-back, balancing on a wire was a lot harder than assumed. But still they persevered, pressing onto the final obstacle, the dreaded sewer tunnel. A 12m tunnel – much like the crawl tunnel you see on commando training videos. The steward on the obstacle said that only one of the team had to complete it, but Stuart and Alex weren’t accepting that. They started together, they worked together and they were determined to finish together. They both crawled on, on elbows and toes, it was far too small for hands and knees, and they emerged triumphant, knowing they had a 2 minute sprint to the finish line. They crossed the line together, with joy and happiness, knowing together they had done something fantastic for RMHC.
After being regular visitors to Alton Towers for fun and enjoyment, the Whole Hog did not disappoint. There are already plans afoot for a team from each of Bob Beckett’s stores to challenge the gauntlet thrown down by Stuart and Alex with the astounding time of 1 hour and 33 minutes. They finished 3rdoverall, which was remarkable, raising a grand total of £357.54 for our precious charity RMHC.