October 30, 2014

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South Amherst braces for weekend influx for ‘Tough Mudder’

SOUTH AMHERST — A bright red T-shirt hanging above the cashier’s counter at Piggy’s Main Street Market boasts that it is in beautiful downtown South Amherst, a town so small the convenience store also doubles as a movie rental business, where copies of new releases rent for $2.79 a night.

After this weekend, though, when up to 15,000 hardcore athletes will test their agility and mental fortitude during the Tough Mudder competition, Piggy’s may have to change its slogan to let people know it’s not only OK to get down and dirty in South Amherst, it is also encouraged.

But before owner Michelle Henke heads to the printer’s for new shirts, she and others in the small village of 683 homes, 10 businesses, six churches and fewer than 2,000 residents will have to get through the weekend.

“The Tough Mudder builders have been over at the quarry setting up for weeks, and one guy walked into here a while back, took one look around and just said, ‘You need more stuff,’ ” Henke said, standing in her store already stocked with chips, pop, bread, milk and other items. “So I’m going to be ready with more Gatorade, Powerade, bottled water and food that can be microwaved. We will have extra people, too. Everyone who works here wants to be here. The race is pretty intense stuff from what I hear, so we’ll have whatever (participants) need.”

Intense may be an understatement.

The competition includes wading through cold and muddy water, climbing monkey bars, crawling through tunnels and dodging electrically charged wires that can give participants a high-voltage jolt. The obstacles have descriptions like “Kiss of Mud: Eat dirt as you crawl on your belly under wires set only eight inches from the ground” and “Boa Constrictor: Crawl through a series of pipes that may force you into freezing, muddy water.”

“We have never had anything like this in South Amherst,” Henke said. “I mean, there is the flea market down the road that draws a pretty good-sized crowd, and then there is the Lorain County Speedway, but we don’t see big crowds around here.”

In less than four days, the population of the town — so small the sole pizza shop opens only for dinner — will temporarily multiply exponentially. Understandably, the mood in town Tuesday was a mix of nervousness and excitement.

“I don’t know how I feel. Ask me on Monday,” Mayor Barbara Becker said. “I think we have everything in place, and hopefully everything goes off without a hitch.”

In the months since the Buckeye Quarry along state Route 113 and North Quarry Road was chosen to be the site of the Tough Mudder competition, Becker said hundreds of hours of thought and planning have gone into making sure the event does not disrupt the town too much.

Participants are being told to park at the old Lorain Ford plant on Baumhart Road, and a shuttle service will bring folks to South Amherst. The school and sports groups in town have been told not to schedule events during the weekend.

But Becker said people do want to partake in the fun.

East of Chicago pizza will open at 11 a.m. The ice cream stand in town hasn’t even opened for the season, but the owner will set up a food trailer to sell sandwiches.

“Everyone in the area is having a rummage sale of some sort,” Becker said. “This isn’t going to cost the town money because Tough Mudder is paying for police and fire services, but I think the people in town will make some money.”

Barb Bickel, Visit Lorain County executive director, said no economic impact studies have been done on the event, but local hotels and motels are expected to be booked and businesses in previous host cities have seen a “significant impact,” which goes beyond tourism spending.

“I think this is going to be really good for the town,” said 59-year-old David Schiazzano, whose home on West Main Street backs up to the quarry. “I love it. I’m an athlete myself. I mean, I’m too old to compete in anything like this, but maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I would have given it a shot.”

Schiazzano has watched with interest the setup at the quarry from his backyard. White tents have been erected in recent days as crews work to be ready for participants.

“People all over the place will know where South Amherst is after this,” he said.

That’s exactly what Becker hopes, particularly since news reports from Cleveland mistakenly said the event was taking place in Amherst, a larger town than South Amherst, albeit still a small town.

“We are South Amherst,” she said. “We are small, but we are mighty.”

Traffic change

Quarry Road will be closed to traffic from Middle Ridge Road south to state Route 113 beginning at
5 a.m. Saturday. The road will reopen Sunday evening.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.