BRATTLEBORO -- Whenever Robin Rieske finds herself struggling along the rigorous West Dover course, she needs only to glance down at her shirt.
It's there that she sees the names of her friends that have life-threatening illnesses and reminds her that the pain she is feeling is nothing like what they are dealing with.
Rieske, 51, of Brattleboro, will be participating in Tough Mudder New England today at Mount Snow. She and her boyfriend, Brian Cohen, will begin the brutal 10-mile journey at 9:20 a.m.
"I have three goals: finish it, not get injured, and do at least half of the obstacles," said Rieske, who has lived in Brattleboro for 25 years and works for the Department of Health. "And I also want to have fun.
She did her first Tough Mudder in 2012 in a group of 14 that also included locals Kristin Cassidy, Kate Link, Hillary Famolare, Susan Lucier, Aileen Maenza, and Hugh Silbaugh. And she teamed up with a couple of friends from Salem, Mass., to conquer the course last year.
Her teams always go by the name Fango Freaks -- fango means mud in Italian -- and her posse wears orange shirts.
"I like the mud crawl. You are just completely in the mud. You are just dragging your entire body in the mud. You don't get shocked or super wet," said Rieske, referring to an obstacle known as Kiss of Mud.
She and the other Mudders will also have to scale a wall that's 3.5 meters high, using a muddy rope; swim through ice water; go across monkey bars that are greased with mud; run through a field of live wires; and complete a dozen other obstacles.
"My biggest achievement last year was doing all of the monkey bars. I'm much stronger in my legs than I am in my arms," noted Rieske. "I love to hike and I think the uphills are the hardest part of Tough Mudder."
She has been preparing for today by hiking and attending boot camps.
"There are people of all shapes and sizes that participate in this. Everybody's there helping each other. People stop and help," stated Rieske.
Her grandfather was in World War II, her father is a Vietnam veteran, and her brother is in the National Guard, so the fact that Tough Mudder is a proud supporter of Wounded Warrior Project is a big reason why she keeps returning to the scene.
"It's cool that it's taking place near Memorial Day. I do support those coming home from war," said Rieske, whose team completed the mission in four hours in 2012.
Today, she will be taking on obstacles such as Funky Monkey, Arctic Enema, Quagmire, Berlin Walls, Pole Dancer, Pitfall, Fire in your Hole, and Electroshock Therapy. And if she's unable to complete one of them, she'll likely wait for some assistance from another Mudder or simply look down at the names on her shirt.
Shane Covey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.