Southwest Las Vegas resident beats the odds in Tough Mudder competition

The worst was behind him. All that was left was a man-made field of dangling live wires, each carrying a 10,000-volt shock. He would have to cross through that electric field to reach the finish line.

Gathering what was left of his strength, the retired Marine sprinted through the obstacle, traveling with such velocity that he fell on his face near the end.

Tired, chilled to the bone and ravenous after an 11-mile hike filled with obstacles such as an ice bath and a barbed-wire pit full of cold mud , southwest Las Vegas resident Justin Snyder won the title of Tough Mudder, along with thousands of others who showed up to participate in the Southern California Tough Mudder event May 29.

The event was held at a ski resort in Big Bear, where Snyder said weather predictions a week earlier claimed that contestants would face sun and 60 degrees. This was not the case.

Snyder had driven the five hours from Las Vegas to Big Bear that morning, ready to start the 10:45 a.m. event with no sleep and little food.

“I probably should have eaten something before and actually slept,” he said. “That might have made things a little easier, but I doubt it.”

Snyder knew early on that the course might prove to be more than many of the mudders had bargained for, with temperatures at base camp dipping below 30 degrees and wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour.

At the course’s highest elevation of 7,000 feet, a spot dubbed Primal Peak where mudders screamed their intention to finish, Snyder said it was snowing and 10 degrees.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we were about to go through,” he said. “But it never crossed my mind to quit, not once.”

Snyder credits his four years in the Marine Corps for his stamina and willpower.

He served two active tours of duty, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, where he said he endured endless days and nights of frigid temperatures.

“I just kept thinking that I’d been cold and wet much longer than I was going to be cold and wet on that course,” he said.

In 2004, Snyder was assigned to one of the Marine units designated to carry out Operation Phantom Fury, whose mission was to take back the city of Fallujah, Iraq, from insurgents.

Snyder took shrapnel in his legs after an explosion he said he can’t remember. He said all he can recall is looking down at his legs and seeing them mangled and bleeding.

“It was like the end of the world for us there,” he said. “Straight hell on earth. If I can get through that, I can get through anything.”

Snyder was awarded the Purple Heart and ended his service in the Marine Corps in 2007.

He moved to Las Vegas to be close to his sister, who is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.

Snyder said a lot of the obstacles along the mudder course were mental.

“I think we had it a lot harder than the people who ran it the day before in the great weather and the sun,” he said. “The obstacles and terrain are brutal, but to do it in those temperatures was indescribable. There was a point where visibility was no more than 20 feet from fog, and I would watch people ascending the mountain disappear into the clouds ahead of me. I’d look behind and see people here and there, everyone covered with the thermal coverings they gave us. It was surreal. I thought it would never end.”

Friend, fellow Tough Mudder and Marine Corps Sgt. Barbara De La O also finished the event and said she was proud that Snyder could be counted among those who completed the course.

“It was brutal up there,” she said. “Only the strong survived, and even some of them didn’t make it.”

Thirty-seven percent of the people who signed up for the event weren’t able to finish. Many were carted down the mountain by the truck load suffering from hypothermia.

Snyder made it to the finish line, shivering and a tad disoriented after five hours. He was handed a victory beer and a bright orange headband that read “Tough Mudder 2011.”

Snyder said his reasons for participating in the event were very personal, and he plans to do it every year for the rest of his life.

“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” he said. “Now that I have, I’m hooked. I would count this among the most high accomplishments I’ve had in my civilian life.”

Contact Southwest and Spring Valley View reporter Amanda Donnelly at or 380-4535.

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