If you’re still wondering why people push themselves through mud puddles and under barbed wire, over cargo net bridges and into freshly dug trenches, snake into pipelines and jump off cliffhangers, for miles, for fun and maybe for a warm beer at the finish line, then you need to understand Eric Heiser, 38, of West Bend, Wis.

If you’re still wondering why people push themselves through mud puddles and under barbed wire, over cargo net bridges and into freshly dug trenches, snake into pipelines and jump off cliffhangers, for miles, for fun and maybe for a warm beer at the finish line, then you need to understand Eric Heiser, 38, of West Bend, Wis.


He went from lying on a ski hill with two broken legs in January 2014 to the 5K Warrior Dash obstacle course race in August.


He’s now a four-time veteran of the Warrior Dash and will compete again Aug. 1-2 in Johnson Creek, Wis.


You can’t just call him an adrenaline junkie. He’s a sergeant in the Army Reserves, a husband, a hard worker and a bit of an adventurist. But once a year, another side of him comes out.


The 5K Warrior Dash features about 12 obstacles, including Plunge, Under the Wire and High Tension, and they usually require climbing and crawling, nimble feet and upper body strength. It sounds a lot like the other big time OCRs (obstacle course races) we’ve come to know around here, such as the Tough Mudder and Gladiator Assault Challenge. This one is just a shorter distance, much like the Spartan Sprint at Miller Park in Milwaukee.


Heiser chose the Warrior Dash years ago because it fit his fast-running, all-out style, which he also uses when he is in the Reserves. Stationed in Milwaukee, he is a railway crew member working as a train operator, mechanic and track mechanic.


A soccer player and wrestler in high school, he works out two or three times a week, and he and his wife, Amber, do a handful of 5Ks every year. He’s fit, running an 8-minute, 30-second mile.


But this Warrior Dash is something to look forward to every year because the obstacles throw in challenges beyond any regular 5K run.


Heiser said the new Goliath obstacle is especially heart-pumping. Warriors climb the cargo net, cross a narrow beam that serves as a bridge and then plummet back to earth on a slide into a mud puddle.


"I think it’s maybe 30 feet off the ground," Heiser said. "There’s a small lake underneath, so you just fall into water. But they have ropes that you hold on to.


"Some people ask for a push down. They said, ‘I’m closing my eyes — push me!’ "


He’s confident now, but when he did his first Dash in 2011, he felt he wasn’t in the greatest shape, and the over and under hurdles were a challenge.


"That just killed me," he said.


But he improved every year, and he completed the last two in about 38 minutes — even the one right after the two broken legs.


"The place they have here in Wisconsin is beautiful," Heiser said. "There’s a big outdoor hunting club, so they’ve got tons of land around it. They’ve got two ponds and a stream that runs through, which is one of the obstacles that you go through twice. You’re going through farm fields and rolling hills."


This appeals to the bike riding and hiking enthusiast in him.


"I love the big party they have afterwards," Heiser said. "It’s just a blast. I look forward to it every year."


The Warrior Dash gave him something to shoot for after he broke both of his legs snowboarding near his home in West Bend after he locked his knees coming down on a jump. He needed a metal plate and screws to reconstruct his knees.


He couldn’t walk for three months, needed another three months for rehabilitation, missed half a year of work and just when he was set to return, he got laid off from his job at a trucking company.


His wife’s father and grandfather built a ramp so he could get in his front door, and friends helped rearrange the house so he could move around. Once his incisions closed, Amber took him to the YMCA pool a couple of times a week to keep him from playing video games and watching movies all day.


And yet, he was back at the Warrior Dash less than a year later.


"The first year it was just for fun — to see what it is all about," Heiser said. "Now, it’s to see if I can push myself a little faster every year. And to get more people to go — because it’s more fun when you have more people with you.


"Balance and hand and feet coordination are really good for those cargo nets and going across high beams. But even if you don’t have that, there’s plenty of other people there to give you a hand. Most obstacle course races are all about teamwork — whatever it takes to get you to the end.


"You can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it," Heiser said. "It’s 90 percent mental."


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