Today, we’re delving into the world of Eric Dutcher, a type 1 in the Dallas, Texas, area who’s created something he calls Project MUD. It stands for “More Unstoppable Diabetics,” and was born of his psychosocial shift a decade after his T1D diagnosis — one that took him from a bleak, hopeless situation to finding confidence and energy, fueled in part by the woman he would go on to marry.
Over the past seven years, Eric’s taken part in dozens of endurance athletic events around the country and across the globe — and he has no intention of slowing down!
The warmth of the oven filled the room and joined into a dance with excited conversation. The table was set for Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone was joyful except me. I stared down at the foreign objects before me: needles, vials, test strips and lancets. Set in their neat places inside a plastic kit, they were like a diabetes playset for kids. But I was 26 years old, and nothing about what I was going through felt like play-time. Just days earlier, I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
The blow was massive. The new, exhaustive diabetes self-care routine, the fear-based messages, and preconceived societal views created an intimidating tyrant. I felt as though I had returned to my pre-teen years and was facing the biggest bully I had ever seen. My spirit of adventure was eclipsed by fear. All my hope and joy was drowned by voices telling me to not exercise, to tip-toe through everything, and to live a very limited life.
I spent a decade and a half like this, with no confidence, no hope and no adventure. Before diagnosis, I had played little league baseball and swam. I loved playing pick-up basketball. Ironically though, my most physically demanding events came after diagnosis. The dark days of doubt actually forged the strength that has led to my biggest accomplishments.
I have now completed somewhere between 20 and 30 events in multiple countries and from coast to coast, all in the last seven years – since meeting Heather, who would eventually become my wife.
When I met my wife Heather, I began questioning my boundaries. She boosted my confidence. I was reminded that challenges can undermine one’s self-confidence, but can also create strength that propels us forward. I unpacked my dreams from dusty boxes and began shedding the bonds of diabetes. The adventurous spirit I had as a child returned, and I entered obstacle runs. I met a new community of people who were uplifting and spirited. No grumpy person wakes up in the early morning to slug through miles of mud and obstacles. The optimism was infectious. Most importantly, I completed each race and I did not die, despite all the nay-saying. Along the way I made mistakes: I lost an insulin pump and shot over 300 mg/DL, I failed to bring fuel and needed to take 5 GU gels from another runner, and I exited a triathlon swim at 400. But all of it was a process. I learned that things could go wrong and you just adapt to do what’s needed to correct it. I gave myself the grace to fall, which gave me the chance to try anything. I learned that the path of success was never revealed without the past failures on either side.
My world became boundless and I rushed forward completing over a dozen obstacle course races. Connecting with the Diabetes Sports Project (DSP) I found other athletes who inspired me to new accomplishments. I competed in multiple marathons, triathlons and a Half Ironman. I joined Don Muchow, a type 1 diabetic athlete, and ran 110 miles in four straight days — the equivalent of four marathons. Don went on to set the record by running across Texas (850 miles) in the shortest time. Now, I never miss a chance for a challenge and even hope one day to be a contestant on CBS’ Survivor.
Heather and I were married seven years ago. She ran the first MUD run with me and has encouraged me forward since then, occasionally joining in a 5k run. She is such an important supporter spurring me forward. So much so, that World’s Toughest Mudder is actually on our wedding anniversary in November!
While I still work for MoneyGram managing a large portion of their US and Canadian business, Heather and I have formed a Counseling and Life Coaching Business. I am being certified as a Life Coach and she is completing her Master’s in counseling and will soon be a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Our practice has been recognized by the medical field as filling a key gap and has recently been named an official resource for newly diagnosed patients at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
Heather provides full spectrum counseling and I journey with diabetics and their families as they explore relationships, goal-setting, exercise, questions of faith and diabetes burnout. We offer virtual coaching internationally as well as local physical coaching. I even go to children’s sporting events and sit with the parents to counsel on how to help their child continue their passion. For adults, I will sign up to events that they want to complete and run alongside. We journey with diabetics where they are and help them get where they want to be. I love moments when we have helped children who have been told they can no longer get in the pool to get the tools to dive in again.
My unstoppable mentality all began with a single mud run. Now, I am looking to help unlock other diabetics’ lives. In this journey, I discovered 90% of diabetics feel more comfortable having another diabetic alongside them as they test their limits.
This spawned Project MUD (More Unstoppable Diabetics), which is a partnership between Tough Mudder (TM) and the Diabetes Sports Project. TM is an extremely team focused obstacle challenge. Runners are not timed, and everyone is encouraged to make sure all participants cross the finish line. Many of their obstacles cannot be completed alone, which mirrors our need as diabetics to take strength from the community. Every member of their management team I spoke with had someone in their life who had been touched by diabetes, which made them perfect partners.
Project MUD has one main goal: to inspire other diabetics to become unstoppable. We are recruiting the first all diabetic team to participate in the Worlds Toughest Mudder (WTM) in Atlanta on November 16th. WTM is the biggest event in the obstacle course world. Participants complete as many 5-mile course laps as possible during a 24-hour period. We are excited to have a team of inspiring athletes prove that we can take on and compete in the top such event in the world.
Additionally, we are hosting city events around the country to give all diabetics the opportunity to try their first mud run or expand their limits. Tough Mudder has a 5k and an 8-10 mile classic course. Later this month, I will be running both races in Long Island with other diabetics. I am very excited to be joined by (pro football player) Brandon Denson, who broke a barrier by being the first diabetic on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. Later this year we are participating in Tough Mudder events in Denver, Dallas, and Central Florida as well.
The decade of darkness that I endured when I was first diagnosed left me broken and scared. The loneliness in that time was overwhelming. I had resigned myself to a life chained to mediocrity and grafted to a couch of caution. A single mud run started a journey of exploration that led to the realization of dreams I had locked away forever. With the chains gone, who knows where I will go?
I am hoping that through Project MUD, we can encourage others sitting in the dark to come out and re-pursue their dreams. We want them to press against what they think is possible. There is freedom to be had despite having diabetes. There is much to accomplish. We just have to learn to throw diabetes over our shoulder and take it where we want to go. Over time, I have come to realize that diabetes was never the bully or the obstacle. It was just a variable that I had to include. With that new approach, I have conquered more than I had ever dreamed was possible. I can’t wait for others to face the mud, overcome their obstacles, and take diabetes on the journey of a lifetime.
Thank you for being such an inspiration, Eric. And best of luck on your upcoming Mudder challenges!