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In honor of 2 Million Mudders crossing our finish line, throughout the month of August, we'll be highlighting the personal fundraising efforts of inspiring Mudders. To learn more about running and raising for charity, visit our official 2 Million Mudders page.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. But look at any photo of Kai Madden running a recent Tough Mudder and a thousand questions probably come to mind.
Since 2013, the 40-year-old Derby, England native currently living in New York has run his Tough Mudders in a bear suit. While him and his team are all smiles on course, his reason for running in costume is more solemn than festive; more inspiring than whimsical.
We recently caught up with Kai to hear his side of the story - a story that starts with a picture worth a thousand words.
How many Tough Mudders have you done in your bear suit?
I’ve done eight Tough Mudders, and I’ll be doing my ninth this year in Jersey City on November 7. That one will be my third in the bear suit. I did Tri-State 2013 and Poconos 2014 in the bear suit.
What’s the most challenging part of running in the bear suit?
The shear weight of it when it’s wet. When it’s wet, it’s bad. Imagine running with a 50 pound weight on your head. After every water obstacle, I have helpers ring out the nose.
Lots of people run in costume for fun. But your bear costume is symbolic, right?
With the exception of my first few Mudders, I run to raise money for a charity called Animals Asia. I started volunteering for them and helping them host events in New York City, but I figured Tough Mudder is something difficult that takes a toll on you, so why not raise some money in the process? I’ve raised $40,000 to date through Tough Mudder.
What is the mission of Animals Asia?
They’ve expanded into welfare for all animals and are working to bring attention to the cat and dog meat trade, but a big mission of theirs is ending bear bile farming. In these farms, bears are kept in a very small cage for up to 30 years and are milked regularly for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine. The bile is believed to have certain benefits when consumed. The bears are mostly sick, neglected, and starving and people are consuming bile from these diseased, tortured animals. It’s not good for the bears or the people.
This concept might be new to a lot of us. Is closing these farms a growing movement?
The farms are mostly in China and Vietnam, but there are actually a lot of celebrities behind the cause. Ricky Gervais, Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, Olivia Newton John, Lesley Nicol and Peter Egan along with the rest of the Downton Abbey cast are among the many celebrities that have lended their support. It’s growing.
What does Animals Asia do with the money you raise?
Animals Asia operates two beautiful bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. To date, they have rescued around 400 farmed bears. The money goes toward their care and feeding and helps with the rescue of other bears.
Out of all the animal rights charities out there, why Animals Asia?
I read about these farms in the newspaper when I was a kid in England over 20 years ago. There was a picture of a bear in a cage so small it was bulging out through the bars. It made me really upset.
Running the Tough Mudder in a bear costume is my way of making up for lost time.
That image stayed with me all this time, and one day I just decided to do something about it. It felt really good to take action rather than turn a blind eye. That’s when I found Animals Asia. Running the Tough Mudder in a bear costume is my way of making up for lost time.
How did one guy in a bear suit manage to raise $40,000 and counting?
Someone turned me onto Crowdrise a few years ago, and it was so different from other platforms. They put the fun in fundraising. It started with donations from friends and family. Then in 2012, Crowdrise had an Earth Day fundraising challenge. Because of the generosity of fellow supporters around the world, we were so close to winning, but didn't quite make it. However, in that one fundraiser, we raised over $27,000, which was unbelievable to me.
What’s your motivation to keep running and raising?
I think of all the bears who’ve anguished in a cage for so many years. The encouragement from spectators and other Mudders is also what keeps me going. They laugh and cheer and stop to take pictures. It's always nice when people ask about why I'm running in a bear costume. The energy from fellow Mudders is amazing. That’s what really motivates me.
So is there any chance of you running the 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder in the bear suit?
[Laughs.] I’ll tell you what. If a company or individual was willing to sponsor me and donate a large sum to Animals Asia, I'd consider running World’s Toughest Mudder in the bear costume. That'd be awesome. I'm not really that fit, but I’d tough it out for the bears.