COLUMBIA – Jon Rosen emerged from the depths of the woods dragging his umbilical cord.
With his body concealed from the neck down by a white sheet and a headless baby doll torso dangling from his chin, the 59-year-old raised the umbilical cord in the air with pride as he approached the crowd that was watching in awe.
Just in front of his makeshift umbilical cord of old panty hose was his girlfriend, Lisa Hollenbeck.
She lay flat on her back with her knees propped up in a reclining wheelchair wearing a muddy pale blue gown as five men splattered with fake blood on their scrubs wheeled her across the finish line.
It was Baby’s Day Out.
“The title of the costume was Baby’s Day Out, and it just kind of evolved,” Hollenbeck said. The 56-year-old shook her head with amusement as she laughed embarrassingly. “It was really bad. We were really over the top unfortunately.”
The reigning champions of the Xtreme Cross Country race put on by Off Track Events will once again dress up for this year's race Saturday at the Midway Truck Stop.
Unlike a normal race, the goal of this event is to get as muddy, as crazy and as obscenely dressed up as possible. The obstacle-ridden course covers grassy fields, mud pits, creek beds, steep hills, hay bales, fences and other ridiculous barricades.
It’s an event where anything goes.
"I happened to have a broken foot last year, so I couldn't run," Hollenbeck said. "So we found a wheelchair, and my boyfriend, along with other people we recruited, pushed me through."
The winners of the race, which has evolved since its first run in 2004, are not determined by who finishes first but whose costume is the most extreme.
“Last year, we finished (the race) absolutely last. There is a prize for the fastest finisher, but that’s secondary,” Rosen said, seated comfortably in his home. “This isn’t that kind of an event. The honor prize is that one, right there.”
He paused and pointed towards his mantle.
Amidst family pictures sits an octagonal wooden object. Rusty barbed wire is intricately woven around its perimeter and tightly secured by eight large nails. At the center is a fairly realistic human skull delicately splattered with red paint. A metal plate engraved with the letters XCX is rooted behind the head.
“That’s the glory,” Rosen said. “Nobody can take that away from us.”
On top of obtaining the trophy that is handmade yearly by race director Mike Denehy, Hollenbeck, Rosen and their bloodied band of nurses received free admission to Off Track Events for one year.
But Saturday, a new champion is expected to be crowned. Hollenbeck, who will be attending her sixth XCX, and Rosen, who will be attending his fourth, are not looking to repeat as the most outrageous costume after back-to-back years of going all out.
“I can’t tell you what we’re going to be, but we’re keeping it very low key this year,” Hollenbeck said. “After last year, we decided it’s time to pull it down a notch.”
In 2009, their costume was called Pumpkin Heads. Equipped with carved out pumpkins that rested on their bike helmets, they placed in the top 10.
Despite the creative idea though, the costume proved costly for Rosen.
“I went for the biggest pumpkin I could find,” Rosen said. “Turns out, carrying a pumpkin on your head when you run is a really bad idea.”
Rosen began to clap, demonstrating the sound of a pumpkin constantly colliding against his head.
“I was concussed by the end of the race and had to go home and lay down,” Rosen said. “It took a few days to get over that.”
The race takes place at the Midway Truck Stop sandbar. It spans four treacherous miles and begins in waves of four 15-minute time intervals that begin at 9 a.m.
Onsite registration, which remains open to the public on Saturday, begins at 8 a.m. It costs $35 to participate, which includes the race, a Shakespeare’s pizza party and a T-shirt.
Those looking to compete in the costume contest can take the advice of a reigning champion.
“You really have to bring it. To win, you've got to be over the top,” Rosen said. “We invested a lot last year. Not money, but time, energy, and …”
He pauses, and looks for the perfect word.
“And emotion. We really went for it.”