Tackling the beast: Krahn to race to raise money for big cats

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, November 6, 2013

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Preparing for an extreme obstacle course race called the Spartan Beast takes months of training.

The event pushes competitors to their limits – both physically and mentally. Many don’t even finish.

But Derek Krahn of Bridgeport will have at least one advantage over his competitors: his workout partners are actual beasts.

They are also his inspiration.

Tiger Strong

TIGER STRONG – Derek Krahn and JP the tiger participate in a friendly game of tug-o-war. Spoiler alert: the tiger won. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Krahn is the operations director at the Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) located at 245 CR 3422 near Bridgeport. The facility currently provides sanctuary to 44 big cats, mostly tigers but also lions, cougars and leopards. All of the animals were born in captivity. Many had been “pets” of previous owners, and none could return to the wild and survive.

CARE provides a nurturing home to these animals. Because it is a non-profit facility, donations are needed to keep the sanctuary operating. Krahn said that normal operating costs run from around $5,000 to $10,000 a month, and that doesn’t count the cost of replacing items on a regular basis. For instance, the enclosures for the cats cost around $50,000 each to build.

While the sanctuary always accepts donations, Krahn wanted to do something more to help raise money for the facility. Looking to do something creative, he came up with the idea to participate in the Texas Spartan Beast in Glen Rose in mid-December.

Krahn admitted that he had heard of the Spartan Races, but he didn’t know much about them. He had participated in a couple of mud runs in the past, though. As for the physical preparation, he’s not a stranger to fitness routines. In addition to his responsibilities at CARE, he’s also on active duty in the Air Force.

Still, he admits he was a little scared when he started looking at the course and possible physical challenges of the Spartan Beast.

“It’s a 10- to 12-mile run,” Krahn said. “There’s going to be different obstacles. They don’t tell you what the obstacles are going to be. But it involves being wet and crawling through muddy pits with barbed wire over them, and there’s fire and sometimes there’s people with softish clubs waiting to kind of pummel you through some gauntlet type stuff.”

But he was committed to following through on his pledge to help the big cats.

Sacrifice with Ice

SACRIFICE WITH ICE – To prepare himself both physically and mentally for the challenges of the Spartan Beast, Derek Krahn submerges himself in a trough of ice water for 10 minutes. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

His idea was to call his adventure the Big Cat Mud Run, and he’s seeking local businesses to sponsor him. He’s even created a blog where he chronicles his preparation for the event:

For a one-time, $100 donation to CARE, participating businesses will be featured on his blog and on CARE’s social media outlets, the company’s logo will be featured on a shirt Krahn will wear during the run and the company’s name will be made into a “Big Cat Meat Message” complete with photos.

More on the meat messages in a moment.

On Monday, Krahn offered to demonstrate his dedication to the cause and his willingness to sacrifice his body. A trough filled to the brim with ice water sat under the watchful eyes of cougars on one side and tigers on the other. It would soon be part of the training for the Beast.

“Frigid water is a staple of the mud run experience,” Krahn explained.

But before taking his icy plunge, he took a moment to demonstrate a tiger tug-of-war. The key, he said, was to find a tiger who was interested in participating but not so obsessed that he won’t let go of the rope (rope, in this case, being a donated fire hose stuffed with hay).

JP fit the bill.

After getting a good grip on the rope, JP gave a good tug, forcing Krahn to brace one leg on the fence as he pulled back with all his strength. While he loves to play, JP will stop for a snack when a piece of chicken is introduced. He did, sending Krahn flying backward.

The tiger tug-of-war is not actually part of Krahn’s workout, but it demonstrated the awesome strength of the majestic creatures and the playful bond Krahn shares with the animals.

Having exercised his muscles, it was then time to test his mental toughness with a dip in the icy water. To keep his mind sharp, Krahn did a series of activities such as writing a letter to his aunt: “Dear Aunt Sharon, I’m doing something very foolish and ill advised. Love, Derek” he wrote, adding a drawing of a tiger at the bottom. He then tried his hand at solving crossword puzzles.

About six-and-a-half minutes into his ice water bath, Krahn showed that while his body might be freezing, he had a warm spot in his heart for the creatures around him.

“It’s that mind over matter thing,” he said through shivers. “And I love these cats, so much. They’ve taught me so much about myself. I spent so much time here during my formative years. It was something greater than myself, bigger than myself … And the fact that I had to bow to their power and everything. So I wanted to do as much as I could to repay that debt that they did for me in helping me become the well-rounded person I am now.”

After passing the 10-minute mark, Krahn emerged from the icy water and ran over to pose for a few photos with Cassie the cougar and JP before heading inside for a quick shower to warm up.

There was one last stop to make. Inside the enclosure for Sydney and Rasa, the question of “What is a meat message?” had been answered, literally, when the words “This is a meat message” had been spelled out on the ground using pieces of meat. Once everything was set, the two tigers were released into the enclosure for a little treat.

Krahn said that businesses who donate to the Mud Run can have their logos or company name spelled out in meat, and then photos will be taken of the tigers enjoying their treat and sent to that business.

With the run still a little more than a month away, Krahn will continue his more “traditional” training methods of running and performing pull-ups and push-ups and a variety of other strength and endurance building activities. While he might be having fun getting the word out about his fundraiser, he’s serious about his desire to raise money for his beloved big cats.

The Beast may be about to meet its match.


While Krahn is targeting local businesses to raise money for his Mud Run, there’s a fun opportunity for families to visit CARE over the next two weekends as the facility hosts its third annual fall festival.

It will include raffle prizes, games and prizes for kids, the opportunity to give the cats presents and pumpkins to play with, photos, special tours, cookies and cider and, yes, your own opportunity to test your strength in the tiger tug-of-war (for ages 18 and up).

A minimum donation of $10 for children 12 and under and $20 for adults is suggested.

Event times are Saturdays at noon and 3 p.m. and Sundays at 1.

For more information, visit


Video of Krahn’s dip in the ice bath can be viewed on his blog at The site also features information about making a donation to his cause.

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