health

This woman with HIV is one tough mudder.

tough mudder australia

 

By SARAH NORTON

Deanna Blegg beat hundreds of men for the chance to compete in one of the toughest physical challenges on earth – but the athlete says it was nothing compared to her long battle with AIDS.

On November 15 this year, Deanna represented Australia in the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) – a 24-hour non-stop obstacle course in Las Vegas.

The 45-year-old mother of two was the only woman in the Australian team of four, and had competed against hundreds of men and women to earn her spot on the team.

“135 people were picked…and we met a month later at “O-school”. O-school was a 25-hour trial in which we were put through many challenges. The first starting with a five hour run, and finishing with a five hour run,” Deanna said.

Ultimately five athletes – each with their own unique stories – made the cut. And it wasn’t gender specific.

The WTM is designed to push Mudders to their physical and mental limits. It’s an eight kilometre loop course in the Desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, with 29 obstacles per lap. The idea of Tough Mudder is to run as many laps as possible. In addition to the obstacles, you have to battle harsh elements – they fought sandstorms with winds of over 100 km-an-hour whipping their faces with sand while the wind chill factor got down to minus five degrees at night.

“The most intimidating was an 11 metre jump called ‘the Cliff’,” says Deanna.

An incredible 800 people pulled out in a matter of hours, but the Aussies continued to the end.

The team had a strong start and set a consistent pace. But late in the afternoon one of their teammates took a bad landing on the cliff jump and seriously injured himself. The extent of the damage wasn’t obvious to the team until later in the evening. By midnight, their mate was in a bad way.

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tough mudder australia

“We had the choice of splitting the team and each running as individuals and potentially all placing in the top ten, or continuing on as a team. At that stage we were in contention for first in the team category. The decision to stay as a team was made and that’s we did,” says Deanna.

A strong team mentality is what got them over the finish line, but Deanna also knows the feeling of battling a course alone.

She says, “I am a mother yes. Training is fitted in and around my family. Early morning, evenings, during the day.”

The ex-triathlete takes advantage of every spare hour in her day. The training starts long before her children wake, and Deanna doesn’t waste time watching TV. “On average people watch TV two hours a day. Convert that to training,” she says.

Deanna has overcome many hurdles in her life, both on and off the course. But the toughest battle she’s had to fight was when she found out she was HIV positive.

Deanna has been living with HIV since she was 24.

tough mudder australia

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She says of her HIV diagnosis, “It was initially living day by day. There were no medications around back in the early 90’s so life was very unpredictable. Yes, I had a positive attitude, yes I had endurance yet HIV is a nasty insidious virus that destroys the immune system. I had no tools to fight it. I developed AIDS within two years of being infected.  A downhill journey,it seemed.”

Medication became available in 1997 and from there she had the tools to fight it – HIV medication, a positive outlook, a focus on health, an incredibly supportive family and a close circle of friends.

“My kids love me for who I am. They are proud of what I do. My son, 11, wears my “Under Armour” Team Australia gear whenever he gets an opportunity. My husband’s daughter too also manages to sneak it out of the washing pile and wear it proudly. Both my son and daughter have raced with me. I love that. I feel so proud with them being by my side,” she says.

Her family and her illness is what has given Deanna the motivation to succeed.

“Obstacle racing attracts an incredible amount of women.  Sometimes the women outnumber the men. It is a sport where for most the pressure is off and they can go around the course in a group of friends.  I love the sport for that reason,” she says.

And in other news from the week –

– The Canberra Capitals coach, Carrie Graf is concerned that potential cuts to ABC’s TV coverage of the WNBL could be devastating to the progress of women’s sport in Australia. Women’s football players, the Canberra United, have also said they’re concerned for the future of women’s football if the ABC broadcasting budget was cut.

– An upcoming Wheelchair Basketball Clinic called Get Involved will be introduced by Australian Gliders Head Coach, Tom Kyle. It will be funded by Coca-Cola Australia Foundation and guided by the Australian Paralympic Committee. The free clinic will happen on Sunday 30th November in Newcomb.

– Ellyse Perry has helped the Southern stars secure a series whitewash against the West Indies this week. Along with Southern Stars captain, Meg Lanning, all-rounder Ellyse led Australia’s number one cricket team to a 4 – 0 clean sweep victory during both the one-day and Twenty20 series.

– Last weekend Perth Glory defeated Western Sydney Wanderers at NIB Stadium to win the W-League premiership, to secure the club’s first victory since 2004.

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