Muddy competition pushes Calgary students to drop phones, focus on mental health

There’s a year-end obstacle course, including massive mud pits, that has been quietly growing and inspiring Calgary students to put down their phones and pick up some great fitness and mental health habits.

5K race, 15 obstacles, 2 mud pits, 14 schools, 2,000 students = mental health win

Thermopylae games

CBC News Calgary

3 years ago
Thermopylae games 0:43

There's a year-end obstacle course, including massive mud pits, that has been quietly growing and inspiring Calgary students to put down their phones and pick up some great fitness and mental health habits.

For student and competitor Kya Marsden, it's about working together.

"We have been preparing for this since September," Marsden told CBC News.

"About twice a week we come together and train just for this day. It's the big finale."

Student Kya Marsden says she looks forward to the games all year. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

It ticks all the boxes for her.

"Getting in the mud, just getting through it," she said.

"It is a lot, physically. But it really trains me and helps me become a better athlete. It helps me in all the events that I do."

Students seem to gravitate toward the mud pits in the Thermopylae games. The annual event now draws about 2,000 students from 14 schools. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Valley Creek School teacher Mike Maher says the Thermopylae games and race have evolved, and he should know because he created them 12 years ago.

"Started in 2006 at John Ware School, then the race itself that we are doing today was started in 2011 at Valley Creek School," Maher said.

"It's been going ever since, growing every year."

Teacher Mike Maher started the games in 2006. They evolved into a 5K-obstacle course in 2011, when he moved to Valley Creek School. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

The race is five kilometres covering 15 obstacles, including two 400-square-foot  mud pits. About 2,000 students from 14 schools are competing.

He says the games can add a nice balance to the digital world most students live in.

"With technology, physical fitness has taken a backseat to social media and being online. This allows student to get back together. They compete but it's a team event and a social event."

Teacher Renee Mechelse says physical fitness is directly tied to mental health. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Renee Mechelse, a French and humanities teacher at the school, says the annual event builds in mental health awareness, too.

"We have a focus on physical activity and mental health, in relation to how people socialize with friends, how you do in your studies, your self-confidence. All of that comes into play when you are more physically active," Mechelse said.

"It's super important for students to get outside, 30 minutes a day minimum, to focus on improving their mental health. They are very excited about the mud. They love the mud."

The obstacle course is five kilometres with 15 events, including the extremely popular mud pits. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

With files from CBC's Julie Debeljak