2016-07-15 / Front Page

Helping the needy no obstacle to this South Portland man

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Chris Gorman of South Portland races through the monkey bars during a Tough Mudder competition held on Long Island, New York, in August 2015. Gorman will travel to Las Vegas in November to take part in the ultimate obstacle course in the World’s Toughest Mudder 24- hour race, hoping to raise more than $5,000 for the Keep ME Warm fund in the process. (Courtesy photo) Chris Gorman of South Portland races through the monkey bars during a Tough Mudder competition held on Long Island, New York, in August 2015. Gorman will travel to Las Vegas in November to take part in the ultimate obstacle course in the World’s Toughest Mudder 24- hour race, hoping to raise more than $5,000 for the Keep ME Warm fund in the process. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — In order to help Maine residents stay warm this winter, South Portland resident Chris Gorman will get as cold as it’s possible to be without actually freezing to death.

He’ll do that by competing this November in an extreme 24-hour obstacle course race known as the World’s Toughest Mudder competition. The event, which takes place in Las Vegas, includes many water challenges and, because the desert heat can plummet to bone-chilling depths at night, Gorman will have to run while wearing a heavy wetsuit in order to avoid hypothermia.

The course is so extreme that many entrants never finish the race, as they’re pulled from the event by medical teams before the sun ever comes up on the second day of the run.

But Gorman hopes to not only complete the challenge, he also wants to raise as much as $5,000 for Maine’s Keep ME Warm fund in the process.

Keep ME Warm provides emergency heating assistance to residents in need anywhere in Maine through a partnership of 10 United Way agencies and 10 Community Action Programs. The only statewide program of its kind, Keep ME Warm supplements local general assistance help with emergency drops of up to 100 gallons of heating oil to families that might otherwise try and suffer through the winter without heat.

In Cumberland County, the program is administered by The Opportunity Alliance, where it serves as a backstop to the Low- Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LiHEAP). As the director of resident-led community building at the Opportunity Alliance, a job that puts him to work in some of the poorest communities in Southern Maine, Gorman knows as much as anyone how desperate the need can be.

“With all the neighborhood work that I do, I see people struggle, especially the seniors,” he said. “You can see in their eyes the fear that they have as winter starts coming up, to know that they just don’t have the money, that it’s often a decision of, do we eat, or do we heat our home?”

The concern for the coming season, Gorman said, is that people who have donated in the past to help their less fortunate neighbors might grow complacent, might forget about the ongoing need, given the mild winter Maine lucked out on last year.

“I just figured if there’s anything I can do to spread the word, maybe by sharing the insanity of this race I’ll be doing, then why not try,” Gorman said. “I was thinking if I could pair anything with a fundraiser, it should be about staying warm. And in this race, because it gets so cold in the desert at night, and because of the water obstacles, for at least 16 hours of that race, I’m going to be just miserably cold. I’ll be thinking of nothing but, ‘This will be over soon if I can just get though it.’”

Gorman, now 39, began running Tough Mudder obstacle course events about four years ago. Wanting to keep fit as his body grew older, Gorman trained for and ran a marathon, but found that less than satisfying.

“I didn’t do it well, but I did it. I figured I conquered that, so I didn’t need to do it again,” he said.

Looking for some other activity that would engage his mind as well as his body, Gorman chanced upon Touch Mudder.

Founded in 2010 as the Harvard Business School project of one of its cofounders, Tough Mudder has quickly grown to include millions of contestants worldwide. Generally staged on 10- to 12-mile courses, each event includes military-style obstacles designed to test mental as well as physical strength. Many of the challenges invite racers to conquer common human fears. Plunging into icecold water, leaping from great heights, and even charging through a field of live electrical wires, all are typical tests of grit and determination racers can expect to encounter as they compete not against each other or the clock, but against their own ability to keep on when everything in them is begging to quit. As such, only an average of about 78 percent of entrants ever finish the usual Tough Mudder course, event organizers say.

But Gorman has now run 32 Tough Mudders, as well as numerous Spartan races — a separate but similar brand of challenge course.

“When I first heard about Tough Mudder, I said, that looks like everything I used to get in trouble for when I was young. You jump off stuff, you get muddy, you just play. And they’re usually held on a ski hill during the summer. So, the courses are very hilly with amazing views. And they’re muddy. They always make a little extra mud for us. After the first one I did, I was hooked. I was like, ‘This is awesome!’”

You might even say Gorman has become something of a Tough Mudder addict. There are few events in New England, but races are held nationwide. So, a recent month saw him travel to compete during consecutive weekends on courses in New Hampshire, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“If I could do it every day, I’d be really happy. But I try to do it every weekend,” Gorman says. “It’s a lot of traveling and I usually come back all black and blue. People here at work are like, ‘Why? Why do you do that to yourself?’ But I love it and, honestly, I feel better know that I have at any point in my life.”

In order to train for the upcoming Las Vega race, which is sort of the Super Bowl of Tough Mudder events, Gorman is using his fundraising efforts as a way to saddle himself with new and interesting challenges.

As an enticement to donate, anyone who gives $50 or more can dictate what Gorman’s exercise routine will be for the following day.

“I’m regretting this already. My donation bar for that was way too low,” he said with a laugh. “So, far, the people who’ve donated have been friends of mine and they’ve been just mean. They care less about the Keep ME Warm fund than punishing me.”

Last week, for example, Gorman had to mow his lawn while wearing a 40-pound weight vest . . . after running 10 miles.

“That doesn’t sound so bad, but it was hot out. It was not enjoyable,” Gorman said, laughing. “But, hey, I’m game.”

Video of the workouts will be posted online, so donors can see their money at work. The easiest way to access the donation page Gorman has created for his effort is to first search out the Opportunity Alliance page on Facebook, he said.

All donations will go to the Keep ME Warm fund. Gorman is footing the bill for travel to the Las Vegas race and the equipment he’ll need to compete, as well as the “pit crew” of helpers he’ll need to run the race, all out of his own pocket.

“This is not a cheap thing to do,” he said. “The gear alone is costing me a fortune.”

In addition to his wetsuits, Gorman will need head lamps for nighttime competition, food (because it is, after all, an event that runs nonstop for 24 hours), and even multiple pairs of shoes.

“Everything starts to swell after running continuously for several hours, so you actually need at least three pairs of shoes in different sizes,” he said. “It’s an endless list of little things you need that people would never think of, things that you will never use again. I have this massive pile of stuff amassing that’s just for this one 24-hour period of suffering.

“It’s hard just to stay awake for 24 hours, but then to run for 24 hours straight, and to have more miles of running added every time you fail to complete an obstacle, that’s really hard,” Gorman said.

For the November race, and the associated fundraising effort, Gorman has set a personal goal to complete 50 miles and to raise between $3,000 and $5,000 for the Keep ME Warm fund as a result.

“That would make me really, really happy,” he said. “I’m sure I will spend a lot of time in my own head over the 24 hours wondering, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But if I could raise that much to help relieve some wintertime stress for folks, to know I was helping that many people, I can suffer through anything.”

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