Jesi Stracham finished a Tougher, Toughest and crushed 20 miles at World’s Toughest Mudder in 2017—in a wheelchair. Here’s her inspirational story and what she has planned for 2018.
A POSITIVE IN EVERY NEGATIVE
Jesi Stracham is a former all-terrain vehicle and dirt bike racer, both of which she started in 2005. Ten years later on January 18, 2015, Stracham was riding as a passenger on the back of a friend’s motorcycle that crashed, which literally ended her life. Or, atleast for a moment.
“I was on the back of a motorcycle and someone made a U-Turn into it,” says Stracham. “I got to die twice. I was resuscitated. I broke my back in two places, my ribs punctured my lungs and hit my spinal cord so my ribs actually paralyzed me.”
After spending three months in the hospital recovering, Stracham returned to off road racing. But this time in a single seat all terrain vehicle with a roll cage called a Polaris ACE. Between the crash and 2017, Stracham continueed exercising and living life to the fullest in her wheelchair.
Then, in 2017, a friend asked Stracham to substitute for her and do an obstacle course race in Charlotte, NC, since she couldn’t make it. Stracham accepted.
“I was like ‘Wow, this is insane,” Stracham recalls.
TOUGH MUDDER: TEAM JESI
Stracham’s first Tough Mudder was the 2017 Atlanta Tough Mudder Half.
“I was addicted to the Tough Mudder obstacles, I love them, my favorite being Augustus Gloop and Blockness Monster,” Stracham says. “I said to my team captain Sarah Fox, ‘I want to do World’s Toughest Mudder,” and Sarah replied, “Let’s do a Toughest first.”
Stracham completed the 2017 Toughest in Chicago, followed by the Tougher in Charlotte, NC and went on to World’s Toughest Mudder, effectively making history by being the first paraplegic athlete to earn the Holy Grail. Stracham chooses Tough Mudder as her top race series for the same reason as every Legionnaire.
“I choose Tough Mudder as a series is because of the teamwork required to get through the obstacles,” Stracham explains. “As a population in general, we need to come together more to accomplish more. The community is so supportive of you and accept you with open arms just as you are. The Tough Mudder community is so tight and I think that’s what made Tough Mudder what it is today.”
So how does Stracham actually navigate the course in a wheelchair? Well, for starters it’s an off-road wheelchair designed to take a beating in rocky terrain, unlike a road chair made for pavement. The fierce athlete skips obstacles with a high fall such as Kong or King of Swingers and takes the penalty instead. For climbing obstacles like Skidmarked, Stracham gets belayed up like in rock climbing and climbs up. During the Mud Mile, she’ll get out of her wheelchair, wait on the edge of the mud mountain, and someone will carry her over to the next mound where there’s another Mudder waiting to receiver her. For Funky Monkey: The Revolution, she’ll swim laps in the water instead of traversing the monkey bars and helicopter circles.
WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER
At World’s Toughest Mudder 2017, Stracham’s goal was 50 miles but she was “outvoted by Team Jesi throughout the night” and finished having conquered 20 miles. Stracham ran to raise money for her non-profit organization Wheel With Me (more on that below), and wound up raising $500. Why would a wheelchair bound person want to take on wheeling through the desert all night in the cold fall? Why drive by herself from Charlotte, NC to Las Vegas, NV to do such a thing?
“Since my injury, my goal is to show people that the opportunities are endless and you can go out and literally do anything you put your mind to,” says Stracham. “I’m pushing my body past it’s limit and my upper body can only take so much which causes me to engage my legs more. After each Tough Mudder, I have more feelings in my legs. That’s the biggest thing obstacle course racing does for me.”
Stracham trained for four months leading into the 2017 World’s Toughest Mudder. She does CrossFit three times a week at Project Momentum Fitness in addition to rock climbing.
“Basically, I do anything that will simulate the Tough Mudder obstacles use the muscles that are required on the course.”
Stracham has already signed up for another Holy Grail in 2018 and the goal at World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 is 25 miles. She also wants to do six events so she can earn her 10x headband.
WHEEL WITH ME
Wheel With Me is both the name of Stracham’s non profit organization and her YouTube series. She started the organization in 2016.
“Wheel With Me Wheel With Me is my non-profit dedicated to getting professional help for spinal cord injury patients to integrate them back into an independent community,” Stracham says. “The ultimate goal is to build a spinal cord injury community where there are people who understand what they’re going through.”
By community she just doesn’t just mean an online one; Stracham is constructing housing for spinal cord injury patients. The business model looks something like this: She wants to build a transitional trailer park so the front half of the park has two modular homes where a patient lives for 3-6 months post injury to learn live in an independent society. Then, there’s another part of the park which is a low income housing situation in other trailers where patients will live for up to a year.
“In 2014, there were 12,500 new spinal cord injuries and this year’s census is coming in at around 17,500,” says Stracham. “That number continues to grow but you’re not seeing these wheelchair users in public because the community is not set up for wheelchairs, it’s set up for walkers. You’re discouraged to go out and live life and I just want to encourage people to go out and live and give them the tools to do that.”
What’s most exciting about Stracham’s journey is that it’s just beginning. 2018 will Stracham’s best year yet and the Mudder family will be there cheering her on in the mud.
MORE ABOUT JESI
Residence: Charlotte, NC