An obstacle course created by an Allentown father for his kids and a few dozen community children has come under fire by Tough Mudder, the nation's biggest organizer and promoter of extreme endurance contests.
On Tuesday, Tough Mudder filed a 75-page suit in federal court claiming that "Mini Mudder," a race designed by Barry Dobil Jr. for elementary schoolchildren, has infringed on its trademark and is damaging its brand.
Reached Thursday, Dobil said his Mini Mudder event was not created as a money-making enterprise but said he could not comment further.
"I'd love to tell you my side. It's nothing but positive," he said. "I just can't with the litigation."
A spokeswoman for Tough Mudder could not be reached for comment.
Dobil, a production manager for a boutique candymaker, is a past participant in Tough Mudders. He organized the first Mini Mudder in 2012 after his son begged him to find an obstacle race for children. Dobil reached out to Tough Mudder organizers through their website and asked if there was a contest for kids. They steered him to a web page of frequently asked questions. It stated the company did not run children's events because of liability issues, said Dobil's attorney, Damon Neagle.
The first year, about 40 children gathered in a nearby park and clambered over and through a collection of 22 obstacles.
The attorney said Dobil videoed the event in order to pitch it to Tough Mudder and convince the company a children's race was doable.
"Tough Mudder made it clear they weren't interested," Neagle said.
After another Mini Mudder in 2013, Dobil began to receive inquiries from people who wanted to organize their own Mini Mudders. Dobil put plans up on his website and consulted on about 10 events, Neagle said.
Dobil has kept the Mini Mudder "completely nonprofit" and never charged an entrance fee, Neagle said.
"He has actually lost money doing this," Neagle said. "He just wanted to offer something those guys were refusing to offer."
The Brooklyn-based company, which was born in 2010, had trademarked a number of names based on the word Mudder - Mudderella, Mudder Legion, and Mudder Nation among them.
At some point, Tough Mudder reconsidered its decision about not hosting children's events.
In late November 2014, the company applied to trademark "Mini Mudder."
On Feb. 1, the company announced it was "expanding Tough Mudder Inc.'s offerings" to include "a custom event aimed at children aged 7-12. " Two weeks later, the company filed its federal trademark suit in Allentown.
The suit asserts that Mini Mudder is trading off of Tough Mudder's success and intellectual property by attempting to replicate Tough Mudder in nearly every way. It seeks damages valued at three times of Mini Mudder's profits.
Tough Mudder, which also staged its first race near Allentown, has had more than 2 million weekend warrior participants in its extreme endurance contests. Participants pay more than $100 a head for each event. The courses are typically are 10 to 12 miles long and incorporate up 25 to military-style obstacles, including the "Arctic Enema," a full-body plunge into ice-cold water, and "Electroshock Therapy," which entails running through a tangle of live wires delivering 10,000 volts. Each participant must sign a "death waiver."
Decidedly less extreme, Mini Mudder has had about 150 children participate in its contests. The Mini Mudder course is about a mile long. It incorporates about 22 obstacles including the "Dirt Road," which requires kids to crawl along a dirt farrow and the "Lava Pit," in which children on wheeled dollies pull themselves across a parking lot. Every kid who completes the course receives an ice cream sandwich.