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One Man's Journey from Kidney Donor to World's Toughest Mudder

By Matt Alesevich | 15. Juli 2015


While it’s common for Tough Mudder participants to fundraise for and donate money to charity throughout their Mudder journey, 33-year-old Ben Chan from New York City has taken role of donor to a whole new level, exemplifying what it means to be a Mudder. 

Sharing the same hometown as Ben, we recently caught up with him to hear his inspiring “scars to stars” story.

People run Tough Mudders to donate to charity. Your Tough Mudder story starts with a unique donation. Can you share?

In early 2012, I had dinner with my friend Chris who was suffering from kidney disease and was going to need a kidney transplant. I got tested in late 2011 to see if him and I were a match, but I never heard back. While I was away traveling, Chris’s doctor told him we were a match. Once I found out, it was an easy decision for me. I had two of something that he needed one of.

So you signed up for a Tough Mudder before going under the knife?

Back then I did not lead an active lifestyle. My exercise consisted solely of daily long walks. I knew that I'd have to take better care of myself post-transplant, so before going under the knife, I set a goal and signed up to do my first Tough Mudder with my friends Saba, Sara, Lance, and Nelson. The transplant happened on May 25, 2012, but it took several weeks for me to feel completely normal. I didn’t do any running until the week before Tough Mudder, when I ran my first 5K. Ever.

What was that first Tough Mudder like in 2012?

On October 20, 2012, undertrained and overconfident, Saba, Sara, Lance, Nelson and I spent over five hours, running (okay, mostly walking), crawling, jumping, and sliding around the Tri-State Tough Mudder course in New Jersey.

Conquering each obstacle was like a mini victory.

I had never done anything like Tough Mudder before, and I’m glad that I had my friends to lean on. Even the Mudders that we didn’t know were friendly. We gave and received a lot of help that day and conquering each obstacle was a mini victory.

How did you eventually build up to a World’s Toughest Mudder?

In 2013, my friend Danilo organized a team of twelve runners to do a 200-mile relay race in the Adirondacks.  He was one runner short and even though I had never run anything more than a 10K, I signed up for the leg with the highest elevation. After running a lot over the holidays, my friend suggested I do a marathon, so I signed up for the 2014 Los Angeles Marathon. I ended up doing three more marathons that year.

Between marathons, I joined a Tough Mudder Legionnaires meetup group in New York, and the group's founder, Matt Emmi, mentioned he had an extra entry for World’s Toughest Mudder. It wasn’t even on my radar, but I remember following WTM online in 2012 and 2013 and realized that I had to experience it for myself. I loved it, and I'm looking forward to participating in WTM again and actually training for it this time.

Matt Emmi and Ben Chan at World's Toughest Mudder 2014.

How many miles did you complete and what was the vibe like on course?

Matt Emmi and I did 30 miles (6 laps) before we succumbed to the unexpected desert sandstorm. I’m used to camaraderie at Tough Mudder events, but WTM exceeded my expectations. There were helping hands, kind words, high fives, hugs, and all kinds of support everywhere on the course. I got freaked out at the (35-foot high) Cliff obstacle and wouldn’t have gone through with it if Samantha Brazel from Australia, who I met three hours before, hadn’t offered to jump with me.

Why are you coming back for another World’s Toughest Mudder and what is your goal in 2015?

I’ve made a lot of new friends in the WTM Facebook group that I can’t wait to mud it up with. My girlfriend, Chevon, who I started dating after last year’s WTM, has graciously agreed to be in my pit crew. Matt and I are aiming for 50 miles. This time we’ll be better prepared gear-wise. My goal is to squeeze as much as I can get out of my remaining kidney.